A history of LeBron James' scoring prowess against the Bulls


A history of LeBron James' scoring prowess against the Bulls

Yes, we know: LeBron James is a crybaby, he’ll never be Michael Jordan, he’s 3-5 in the NBA Finals and you hate him. All of that is true as long as you believe it, no matter how silly it sounds. Got that out of your system? Great. Because King James is about to become the 7th player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. He’s seven away, and seeing as he’s scored in double figures in 836 straight games, we’re fairly confident he’ll reach it tonight against the Spurs.

And wouldn’t you know it? James has done his most scoring damage against the Chicago Bulls. In fact, of his 29,993 points, 1,534 have come against the Bulls. That’s one more than he’s scored against the Bucks (1,533), and just ahead of the damage he’s done against the Pacers (1,452), Hawks (1,431) and Celtics (1,411).

And you’re right: James has played the Bulls 54 times, the same number of times he’s played the Bucks, the most of any opponent. But that scoring average of 28.4 points per game against the Bulls is fourth most against any opponent. Only the Sonics/Thunder (28.5), Jazz (29.4) and Celtics (29.4) have been hurt worse on a per-game average than the Bulls.

That being said, the likes of Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler have held James relatively in check when it comes to scoring explosions. James’ career-high against the Bulls is 41 points (done twice), and only the Rockets, Cavaliers and Clippers have held James below that figure.

Here’s a few tidbits about James against the Bulls:

  • James’ best shooting season against the Bulls came in 2012-13, his MVP season with the Heat. James shot 63.8 percent from the field in four games. His worst shooting performance was 8-for-14 (57.1%).
  • James’ highest scoring season (average) was in 2007-08, when he averaged 35.7 points in four contests. His worst point total was 33, joining other game totals of 34, 37 and 39 points. Ironically he went 1-3 against the Bulls that season. The following year he won his first MVP.
  • James has never relied on his 3-point shot, especially against the Bulls. In fact, the most 3-pointers he’s ever made in a season against the Bulls is the current year (8-for-15) and he still has a game left against Chicago in March. This current season is also the best James has shot from the charity stripe against the Bulls, going 15-for-17 (88 percent).
  • James’ worst scoring season against the Bulls was in 2013-14, his final season in Miami. James scored 17, 21 and 17 points in three games, an average of 18.3 points. That year was the last time James has averaged 27 points per game in a season.
  • But that year wasn’t the worst shooting season James had. That would have been his rookie season, when James shot 38 percent in four games against the Bulls. James shot 41.7 percent from the field that season, the only time in his career he’s ever made less than 47 percent of his shots.

And here are the biggest highlights in James’ scoring career against the Bulls during his 15 regular seasons. Again, this includes nothing from the postseason, where James has also done plenty of damage.

Dec. 20, 2003: James wasted no time putting it on the Bulls. In his debut against Chicago, he scored 32 points on 11 of 22 shooting. Though he missed all five of his 3-point attempts he went 10-for-12 from the free throw line and scored the Cavaliers’ last 14 points in the final 5:07. The Cavs dominated the fourth quarter in a 95-87 win. Ironically James didn’t top 18 points in his other three meetings against the Bulls.

March 5, 2006: James finished off a dominant season against the Bulls in which he averaged 34.8 points. It was one of just two seasons in which he scored 30 or more points in each meeting against the Bulls. On this night he brushed aside a small first half by scoring 27 of his 37 points in the second half. In fact, he scored more than half of Cleveland’s 51 points after halftime as the Cavs outscored the Bulls by 21 points.

Nov. 5, 2008: It’s remarkable to think that James only topped 40 points against the Bulls in two of his 54 meetings, and they both came in the same season. Early in the year he was a force at home, scoring 41 points on 57 percent shooting and making 15 of 16 from the free throw line. He scored 41 while failing to make a 3-pointer (0-for-2) as the Cavs led the entire way. James led the game in scoring in both the first (10), second (8) and third quarters (14), and capped it off with nine in the final frame.

Jan. 2, 2009: A few months later James had his lowest scoring game against the Bulls. He managed just 16 points in 37 minutes, though he took only eight shots and deferred to his teammates. The Cavs shot 51 percent as a team and James had 11 assists.

March 14, 2012: James’ best regular-season scoring performance with the Heat against the Bulls came in January 2012. He scored 35 points in 41 minutes, shooting 12-for-23 and getting to the free throw line 15 times. His most memorable play came late in the first quarter when James took an alley-oop from Dwayne Wade and jumped over John Lucas III for a dunk. James scored nine points in a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw the Heat prevail, 97-93.

Oct. 31, 2014: James made his triumphant return to the Cavaliers in 2014, but the Bulls remembered him as just as good as he was in a Heat uniform. James scored 36 points in the overtime win, saving his best for the final period: he scored eight points, including the first six that pushed the Cavaliers out to a lead they didn’t surrender.

April 9, 2016: If we’re talking scoring, James’ best true shooting performance came on this day. He was as efficient as ever, scoring 33 points on 13-for-17 shooting, making 4 of 5 3-pointers and hitting 3 of 4 freebies. The 33 points on 17 shots gave him a true shooting percentage of 88.0, the best of his career against the Bulls. Chicago, however, won the game and kept its slim playoff hopes alive. The Cavaliers clinched home court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs two days later against the Hawks.

Dec. 21, 2017: James’ most recent game against the Bulls that pushed his total ahead of the Bucks by a lone point. He scored eight points in the final 140 seconds to seal the win for the Cavaliers, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 12-for-23 shooting. He also made all eight free throw attempts and hit a pair of triples. James’ next shot at improving on his Bulls total is on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

There's more questions than answers with Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen

There's more questions than answers with Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen

When the Bulls’ season ends in a couple weeks, there’s a good chance the biggest question will go unanswered, thus creating an uneasy feeling headed into the summer.

To the fault of no one, it’s possible we’ve seen the last minutes of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn together. Dunn is in a walking boot while LaVine’s knee tendinitis will keep him out for at least another week, and considering the way he’s played or been deployed, there’s not much for him to gain from playing again.

Markkanen could return in the next couple days if his back loosens up, but his greatest value in these final weeks was seeing how he meshed with his two co-stars.

The minutes they’ve played together haven’t provided any clear answers as to a pecking order, or even if there’s any effectiveness.

Yes, Markkanen has been a revelation and has more room to grow than the other two, while Dunn reclaimed his name after being labeled a bust following a disappointing rookie season.

And it’s probably unfair to judge LaVine on anything considering most evidence shows it takes at least 18 months to get back to full health from an ACL surgery. But given the objective of the season, the Bulls will likely walk away with an “incomplete” on their report card—and that’s probably optimistic.

The small sample size has shown moments but those moments have occurred when one was missing from the three. Dunn’s signature stretch was when LaVine had yet to debut, and LaVine’s flashes of control happened when Dunn was out with a concussion.

They’ve only played 12 games together and to the eye, it’s looked disjointed. The mismatch lineups certainly play a part in things looking so scattered, but even a closer look hasn’t shown more than a mixed bag.

According to NBA.com, the 3-man lineup has an offensive rating of 97.5 points per 100 possessions and a defensive rating of 119.2 points per 100 possessions. Even if you’re not into the advanced stats the way some are, it’s hard to ignore the numbers when the eye isn’t giving you much to combat it.

“I don't take too much into it just because of the fact Zach really joined the team full time with not many reps with that group,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Most of his contact practices were with Windy City. I am confident when we get all those guys together, especially this summer headed into training camp, we'll be a lot further ahead of where we were this year.”

Their collective plus-minus is minus-21.8 points and so much of that can be attributed to the trio not creating easy looks for each other. Dunn and Markkanen developed a decent chemistry, especially in December when Nikola Mirotic fueled a surge that saved the Bulls from temporary embarrassment.

“He was playing at such a high level,” Hoiberg said. “You look at his numbers during that stretch when I think we won 10 of 12, and went 15-11 I want to say in that six-week stretch in December and into January, and then unfortunately he had the bad concussion in the fall against Golden State.”

It also probably saved them from a sure-fire top three pick in the draft this summer, as they’ll resort to leaning on lottery luck to obtain a true franchise changer. LaVine was the centerpiece of the trade that delivered the trio to Chicago, and he’s admitted to frustration—which is to be expected given his recovery putting him behind from the start.

“I’ve had some parts where I’ve been frustrated, and I’ve had some parts where I’ve been happy with my play and the team’s play,” LaVine said earlier this week. “But I didn’t have any expectations really coming into it. I was excited to get back on the court and get back out here and playing, stuff like that. It’s been good overall just from the standpoint of me playing, and getting my rhythm back, getting with the team.”

LaVine and Dunn are in a unique situation where it appears both need the ball to be most effective, while also struggling to play without it. Will Dunn develop an outside shot respectable enough to allow LaVine easier driving lanes to the basket? And will LaVine find a way to make himself a threat off the ball to unlock a more deadly Dunn-Markkanen pick-and-roll?

He (Dunn) had a little bit of success, we put the ball in Zach’s hands a lot in that Minnesota game, and put Kris in the left corner where he did hit a couple shots playing off of Zach,” Hoiberg said. “Zach’s a guy that’s going to be a guy that has the ball in his hands quite a bit with the make-up of the team, and Kris has to be a guy that can be a reliable shooter.”

Markkanen will undoubtedly take another step in the offseason, even if he doesn’t play another minute this season. He doesn’t need to, anyways.

The wayward looks on the Bulls faces of their 135-102 drubbing at the hands of the Denver Nuggets said it all. Human nature is kicking in with this bunch, even if some of them have an opportunity to make names for themselves on an individual level.

The collective spirit has taken a few punches but by and large they’ve competed all season and should be commended. Wednesday night could be called an aberration of sorts.

“These guys are getting an unbelievable opportunity right now, to come out and prove they belong in this league, prove they belong in the rotation and prove they belong long-term with the organization,” Hoiberg said. “And we’re just obviously way too inconsistent with it. You can’t take it for granted. You got to go out, you got to fight, you got to scrap, do a lot of the little things. We’re not doing that.”

And even though Hoiberg is right, if everything revolves around Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen, how can the ancillary parts be truly assessed when they’re not out there to play off?

Denzel Valentine’s career night against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last Saturday would be easier to place into context if he were playing alongside Dunn or LaVine or Markkanen, hitting eight triples by finding the open spots in the defense.

Instead, one could merely write it off as the same type of aberration as a 30-point loss to a Nuggets team desperate to stay in the Western Conference playoff hunt.

“It’s different because personally, I’ve been through a lot of roles: Starting, coming off the bench, back starting without those three guys," Valentine said. "It’s definitely been challenging but at the same time I have to come out and play better. And we can compete a little bit better.”

And even with 11 games remaining, the images produced won’t provide much answers for the true big picture.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Would Jordan's Bulls have won 8 straight titles?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Would Jordan's Bulls have won 8 straight titles?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Vincent Goodwill look past the Bulls loss to the Knicks and debate if free agents Isaiah Thomas or Jabari Parker be a good fit on the Bulls. Plus why Fred Hoiberg is in the midst of his best coaching in his Bulls tenure. Kendall also explains why he’s not convinced that Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine can coexist on the court together. And is Collin Sexton the right or wrong player for the team come draft time? Plus the debate between KG and Vincent on IF the Bulls would have won 8 straight titles had Jordan not retired.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.