CLEVELANDIt was more difficult than necessary, but if dragging out a seemingly inevitable, 95-85 Bulls (9-8) victory over the Cavaliers (4-15) at Quicken Loans Arena is what Marco Belinelli needed to get going, it might have been worth it. The free-agent acquisition had his best night of the season Wednesday and though the effort wasnt the 48-minute effort the team strives for, it was a nice bounce-back game after a gut-wrenching loss the previous evening at home.Starting in place of sidelined veteran Rip Hamilton for the second straight night, backup shooting guard Belinelli (23 points) was aggressive from the outsetscoring from the outside and even in the post, using his size advantage to knock down a fadeaway jumper over Cavaliers' counterpart Daniel Boobie Gibson, who was starting for injured rookie starter Dion Waitersand helped the visitors jump out to an early lead. In fact, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau apparently thought so highly of Belinellis start that he pulled a shocker: Luol Deng (22 points, seven rebounds), the leagues minutes-per-game leader, not Belinelli, came out of the game when second-year swingman Jimmy Butler checked in late in the opening period.With balanced scoring from the other startersincluding Joakim Noah (13 points, 15 rebounds) and Cleveland doppelganger Anderson Varejao (11 points, 15 rebounds) virtually canceling each other outand reserves Butler and Taj Gibson not missing a beat upon entering the contest, the Bulls, making a gaudy two-thirds of their shots and limiting their hosts to making just a third of their attempts, easily surged to a double-digit advantage. After a quarter of play, the Bulls were ahead, 27-11.While the Bulls cooled down offensively in the second periodthough Belinelli knocked down his first shot of the frame before getting a well-deserved breather after scoring 12 first-half pointsthe visitors continued to give a stout defensive effort, ensuring that the Cavaliers wouldnt get any easy opportunities. Additionally, the guests appeared to make a concerted effort to take better care of the balla bugaboo all season, as well as a slight issue in the first quarterwhich prevented Cleveland from getting out in transition, their best method of scoring without their young backcourt of reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving and the aforementioned Waiters in action.The Bulls continued to cruise, maintaining their comfortable winning margin and while they werent perfect, they generally played the mistake-free brand of basketball that Thibodeau prefers. With forwards Deng and Carlos Boozer (10 points, 12 rebounds)the latter, whose first NBA team in Cleveland, didnt exactly receive a warm receptionmaking positive offensive contributions, starting floor general Kirk Hinrich (11 points, eight assists) capably handling playmaking duties and backup point guard Nate Robinson providing his usual spark off the bench, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 45-35 lead.Cleveland made a push after the break, with Varejaos rebounding and help on the interior from second-year big man Tristan Thompson, leading the way. But the Bulls were prepared for a potential run and with Belinellis hot hand persistingat least until he picked up his fourth foul midway through the period, giving way to Butleras well as Deng starting to get going and Noahs high activity level yielding strong work on the glass against a similarly energetic opponent in Varejao, the visitors clung to their breathing room.The likes of Gibson and reserve guard Donald Sloan joined in the Cavaliers comeback effort and when rookie big man Tyler Zeller made it a two-possession contest, 64-59 in favor of the Bulls, with 1:51 to go in the third quarter, it officially became a ballgame. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were up 72-63, following Hinrich scoring the last six points of the period for the visitors.The fourth quarter started somewhat ominously, with Gibson picking up his fourth foul and Noah subsequently drawing a technical, already his fifth on the young campaign. But no matter how tenuous the Bulls control of the game appeared, they surreptitiously built up their lead, behind contributions from the likes of Deng, Noah, Robinson and of course, Belinelli, who was enjoying his best outing in a Bulls uniform.Cleveland didnt relent, however, cutting the deficit to single digits again after an Alonzo Gee triple midway through the period, but shortly afterwards, the Bulls put their foot down, outclassing their inferior foe and extending their lead to the point where it was all academic from there on out. The hosts waved the white flag, as Cavaliers head coach subbed out key starters when the contest entered its stretch run, ensuring that the Bulls got off to a positive start on their two-game, Central Division road trip.
David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.
0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.
20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.
Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:
Sports Talk Live Podcast
Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.
Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.
Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.
The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.
Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.
The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.
Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.
1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.
2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.
3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.
Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.