Bulls

Bulls rout Sixers to open playoffs

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Bulls rout Sixers to open playoffs

Playing the first game of the entire NBA playoffs for the second consecutive postseason, the Bulls didnt experience any of their typical early-start issues they had a 2-6 record in matinee games during the regular season Saturday afternoon at the United Center, easily handling the 76ers 103-91, as Derrick Rose took a major step in returning to his previous form after an injury-plagued season.

However, despite taking a 1-0 first-round series lead in triumphant fashion, the games ending couldnt have been worse, as Rose suffered what was determined to be a season-ending torn ACL with 1:20 remaining in the contest and had to be helped off by the teams medical staff.

After Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday opened the games scoring with a triple, the hosts rattled off 10 unanswered points, as four of the teams five starters got on the board in the early going, led by All-Star Luol Deng. While the Sixers responded behind Elton Brand the veteran power forward is familiar with the confines from his stint with the Bulls, for whom he won Rookie of the Year honors shooting guard Rip Hamilton clearly looked poised for the postseason, as the former champion with the Pistons scored 11 first-quarter points.

Philadelphia was mostly forced to settle for contested outside jumpers, a staple of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus vaunted defense and thusly dug themselves an early hole. However, the insertion of some of Philadelphias dangerous reserves including Chicago native Evan Turner, who was booed by his hometown fans for comments perceived as disparaging the Bulls particularly athletic backup forward Thaddeus Young, sparked the visitors, who closed to within 28-24 at the conclusion of the opening period.

After the Sixers ran off the second quarters first four points to tie the contest, C.J. Watson, Roses understudy at point guard the reigning league MVP struggled with his shot in the previous frame, going 1-for-7, but snatched five rebounds, dished out three assists and most importantly, appeared healthy led a Bulls push to give the home team some breathing room. But the feisty guests stormed back, as Turner, playing in a point-forward role with one of the positions predecessors, Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, watching from courtside, was a major catalyst.

Although Brand continued his solid first-half play, he was countered by his fellow veteran Hamilton, whose ability to get out in transition was a boon for the Bulls with Rose still trying to find his groove, as well as center Joakim Noahs high activity level. Toward the end of the period, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures, stemming from Roses emergence, as the All-Star point guard started knocking down shots, at one point making three in a row a driving layup, his patented floater and a pull-up jumper leading to the Bulls taking a 53-42 advantage into the intermission.

Turner, who started the second half in place of ineffective shooting guard Jodie Meeks, helped the Sixers cut the deficit to single digits, leading to a Thibodeau timeout for defensive adjustments. His strategy apparently worked, as the Bulls not only clamped down on defense, but the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton started to get off, pushing the hosts lead back to a comfortable double-digit margin and inciting a crowd that had been relatively quiet since the break.

A villain in his own hometown, Turner did nothing to help his image in Chicago, as he fouled Noah on a dunk attempt, got tangled up with Boozer resulting in technical on Rose, Hamilton and Brand after a mild skirmish and on the next possession, fouled Hamilton and briefly exchanged words before Deng pulled his teammate away. Aside from all of the hard feelings, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 79-66 edge, despite Philadelphia All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala finally making an impact.

The Bench Mob extended the Bulls lead, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver and always-energetic power forward Taj Gibson propelled the squad, holding off a potential Sixers run. Thibodeau would eventually reinsert Deng and Rose who was already flirting with a triple-double and while they both contributed with timely baskets, Korvers shooting, as well as the interior defense of Gibson and tag-team partner Omer Asik was the difference in the hosts advantage ballooning to a 20-point spread midway through the period.

Noah also rejoined the mix and resumed being a dominating force on the glass, while Korver continued to drain jumpers and the Bulls turned the games stretch run into extended garbage time. But with 1:20 on the clock, Rose drove to the basket and his knee buckled, causing him to lay prone on the floor in pain, as the United Center fell to a hush while the Bulls trainers assisted him off the court and he heavily favored his left knee, which would make it his sixth separate injury of difficult campaign, putting a damper on what was previously an afternoon filled with joy.

Zach LaVine's and Lauri Markkanen's best combined games last season

Zach LaVine's and Lauri Markkanen's best combined games last season

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen only played 1,100 minutes together over 41 games last season, but they made them count. Here are their five most impressive games as a duo.

5. Jan. 4, 2019: Pacers 119, Bulls 116 (OT)

LaVine: 31 points (12-21 FG, 5-9 3FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 35 minutes
Markkanen: 27 points (11-20 FG, 4-9 3FG), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 42 minutes

Combined: 58 points (23-41 FG, 9-18 3FG), 14 rebounds, 5 assists

We begin with the only loss on this list. LaVine and Markkanen scored 18 of the Bulls' first 20 points and the former finished with 17 in the opening period. LaVine went scoreless on 0 of 3 shooting in the second and third quarters but turned it back on in the fourth, scoring eight points in the final minute, including a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.

Markkanen scored 14 of his points in those second and third quarters to keep the Bulls close, but he really turned it on in overtime. Markkanen scored back-to-back buckets on assists from Kris Dunn (who had 17 of them in the game) to give the Bulls a 109-107 lead in the extra period. Markkanen then hit a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to tie the game at 116-116. Victor Oladipo's 3-pointer off the glass with 0.3 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner, but only after officials overturned LaVine's 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer that would have sent it to overtime.

4. Dec. 7, 2018: Bulls 114, Thunder 112

LaVine: 25 points (10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG), 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 36 minutes
Markkanen: 24 points (8-12 FG, 4-8 3FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 28 minutes

Combined: 49 points, (18-30 FG, 6-13 3FG), 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals

Lauri Markkanen had looked disappointing in his first two games back from injury to begin the year. He had made just 12 of 38 shots (31.6%) and a date against the league’s top-ranked defense suggested it wouldn’t get better.

Instead, Markkanen put together what wound up being his most efficient game of the season. He shot 8 of 12 (his best field goal percentage of the year) and was a perfect 4 of 4 in the paint. Two of those paint shots were an impressive drive past Paul George for a thunderous dunk, and the other was a spinning drive-and-layup over George and Steven Adams with 8 seconds left to give the Bulls a two-point lead.

LaVine wasn’t bad, either. He was George’s assignment much of the evening but managed to put together a solid line that included nine critical fourth-quarter points to erase a seven-point deficit.

It was the Bulls’ most impressive victory to date and marked the first time both players had topped 24 points in a game. Call this one the first sign of something special brewing between these two young guns.

3. Feb. 8, 2019: Bulls 125, Nets 106

LaVine: 26 points (10-17 FG), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 37 minutes
Markkanen: 31 points (11-18 FG, 3-7 3FG), 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, 38 minutes

Combined: 57 points (21-35 FG, 5-9 3FG), 21 rebounds, 5 assists

LaVine’s numbers don’t jump off the page, and this was during Markkanen’s best stretch of the season, but this one was memorable because of how seamless the duo worked with Otto Porter in his Bulls debut. Porter had been acquired two days earlier, and there were tempered expectations about how quickly he would acclimate to a 12-42 team.

Well, Porter wound up opening plenty for the Bulls offense. The Bulls scored 125 points on 62.4% effective shooting and had an offensive rating of 121.9. LaVine and Markkanen both lived inside, with 14 of their 21 combined field goals coming in the paint.

LaVine had 17 in the first half and Markkanen took over after halftime, scoring 21 of his 31 as the Bulls coasted to their second largest victory of the year. Markkanen also pulled down 18 rebounds, making him one of nine players this past season to log a 30-18 game.

2. Mar. 1, 2019: Bulls 168, Hawks 161 (4OT)

LaVine: 47 points (17-35 FG, 6-14 3FG), 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 56 minutes
Markkanen: 31 points (9-18 FG, 3-6 3FG, 10-12 FT), 17 rebounds, 54 minutes

Combined: 78 points (26-53 FG, 9-20 3FG, 17-23 FT), 26 rebounds, 11 assists

The raw numbers are certainly magnified because the two combined for 110 minutes. But looking past that inflation, LaVine and Markkanen both had monster nights in the most entertaining victory of the year.

Just watch the highlights. It was that freaking good.

1. Feb. 23, 2019: Bulls 126, Celtics 116

LaVine: 42 points (17-29 FG, 5-11 3FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 39 minutes
Markkanen: 35 points (12-20 FG, 3-7 3FG, 8-9 FT), 15 rebounds, 37 minutes

Combined: 77 points (29-49 FG, 8-18 3FG, 11-12 FT), 21 rebounds, 6 assists

This one was easy. All LaVine and Markkanen did in the second game out of the All-Star break was each set career-highs in points, obliterate the No. 4 defense in the NBA that had just limited the Bucks to 98 points, and do so on the second half of a road-home back-to-back (they played in Orlando the previous night).

And the fact that it exacted some demons from 77 days earlier, when the Celtics handed the Bulls their worst home loss in franchise history, made it even more special. It prompted Jim Boylen to say after the game that “maybe it’s starting to sink in” for the young group.

There were two sequences that really stuck out from this memorable night. After the second unit had extended the Bulls’ lead to eight in the second quarter, LaVine and Markkanen went on a run, scoring 34 of the Bulls’ next 41 points spanning into the third quarter. They went 13 of 17 from the field and pushed the lead to 87-62.

After the Celtics cut the lead down to 94-86 early in the fourth quarter, the duo was back at it. They scored 15 straight points for the Bulls and wound up scoring 22 of 24 points that pushed the lead back out to 12 with 2 minutes remaining. LaVine capped off his night with two free throws in garbage time to give him his 41st and 42nd point to set a career-high.

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The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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