Bulls

LeBron James continues domination of Bulls in Game 2s

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LeBron James continues domination of Bulls in Game 2s

LeBron James wasn't happy with his efficiency in Game 1, as the four-time league MVP shot 9-for-22 in the Cavaliers' 99-92 home loss to the Bulls.

So directing an offense without the services of Kevin Love and JR Smith, James took it upon himself to be more assertive, attacking the rim at will and finishing with - as he wanted - much more efficiency.

The end result was 33 points, and while he needed 29 shots to get there, 11 of his made field goals came in the paint. James was just 2-for-8 outside of the paint, but 11-for-19 inside it.

It was a dominating performance from the league's best player, and another Game 2 in which he dissected the Bulls defense following a quiet Game 1.

[MORE: Bulls 'smashed' by Cavaliers in Game 2]

In four career Game 1s against the Bulls in the playoffs, James has been quiet. His teams are just 1-3, and he's averaged 20.5 points on 42.4 percent shooting from the field and 5.5 free throw attempts per game.

But he's responded quite well in Game 2s - as he did Wednesday night. In four Game 2s against the Bulls, James has now averaged 30.3 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 7.5 free throw attempts per game. He's attempted 85 shots in those four games, more than the 73 he's attempted in Game 1s.

It's a stark contrast, where one of the game's smartest player has felt out a series in Game 1 before figuring out his direction on how to attack the opponent and the series. 2015 has been no different, as the Cavaliers were forced to adjust on the fly without Kevin Love (shoulder) and J.R. Smith (suspension). James played primarily inside at power forward in Game 1, though David Blatt moved Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup - and subsequently pushed James to the perimeter - where he was far more effective attacking the basket and even working in the post on Jimmy Butler.

[MORE: Butler expected to be named Most Improved Player]

So how has James fared in Game 3s against the Bulls? He's 3-0 in such situations, averaging 28.6 points on 46 percent shooting. The most important statistic may be that James have averaged 11 trips to the free throw line in those games. It's not necessarily an indicator of what may happen Friday night, but it keeps in line the notion that James becomes more aggressive and assertive as series go on. That was the case Wednesday, and it helped the Cavaliers even things up heading back to Chicago.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.