Bulls

Can the Bulls catch the Cavs and enter the 14 percent club for Zion Williamson?

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USA TODAY

Can the Bulls catch the Cavs and enter the 14 percent club for Zion Williamson?

When the Bulls went on their hottest stretch of the season, one that began Feb. 13 in a win over the Grizzlies and ended with that ridiculous quadruple-overtime victory in Atlanta, it assumed that their chances at top Lottery odds had vanished.

At that time, March 1, the Bulls were 18-45. Here’s how the bottom of the NBA standings looked:

Phoenix Suns: 12-51
New York Knicks: 13-49 (1.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 15-47 (3.5 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 18-45 (6 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 21-42 (9 GB)

There was actually more concern that the Bulls may stay hot and catch the Atlanta Hawks, thus pushing the Bulls farther down the Lottery standings. But since March 2, two things have happened that have once again potentially changed the Bulls’ fortunes: The Bulls have stopped winning and the Cavaliers have continued playing really well.

First, the Bulls have lost five of their last six games. Perhaps that marathon in Atlanta really took the life out of them, but then again the Hawks are 3-3 since that game so it clearly hasn’t affected them much. The Bulls offense has regressed some – playing twice without Zach LaVine – ranking 19th in the NBA in this recent two-week stretch. The defense has been its usual self, which is to say they rank 28th in efficiency since the four-overtime game.

The Cavs, meanwhile, look rejuvenated. A combination of Kevin Love returning from injury and rookie Collin Sexton turning a corner in Year 1 has given Cleveland new life. They’re also getting nice contributions from Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson. The result has been an improved roster and more competitive play. While the Bulls were getting hot the Cavaliers were, too. In fact, since Feb. 11 they’ve actually played .500 basketball (6-6), and their six wins in that stretch were as many as they had from Dec. 8 to Feb. 9.

So here’s how the Lottery standings look now:

New York Knicks: 13-55
Phoenix Suns: 16-53 (2.5 GB)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 17-51 (4 GB)
Chicago Bulls: 19-50 (5.5 GB)
Atlanta Hawks: 24-45 (11.5 GB)

It’s clear the Bulls will finish at worst with the fourth best Lottery odds (12.5 percent chance at the top pick). And for those holding out hope that the Bulls might join the Knicks and Suns at 14 percent, well, there’s actually a chance.

Per our friends at Tankathon, the Cavaliers have the sixth most difficult schedule remaining in the NBA. That includes two games against Milwaukee, one against Boston, and one against Golden State as part of a brutal five-game West road trip. They also play two games against the Spurs, who will be fighting for playoff positioning until the final week of the season.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the Cavs have been competitive against good teams. In the past two weeks they’ve gone down to the wire in Brooklyn and Philadelphia and they spanked the Raptors by 25 at home. That’s not to say they’ll continue this stretch, but it gives hope that they can string together a few wins against tough teams and then beat up on their easier foes that include Dallas, Phoenix and a Charlotte team at the end of the season that could be resting their key players in Game 82.

The Bulls don’t have it as difficult, which could mean more wins. Per Tankathon, they have the 16th most difficult schedule remaining. Their toughest games are against Toronto (twice), Philadelphia (twice), Portland and Utah. Perhaps the biggest threat to the 14-percent chances are the two games remaining the Bulls have against the tanking Knicks. Their game in Phoenix comes at the end of a three-game trip, and the Suns have played well of late.

For what it’s worth, Basketball Reference projects the Bulls to finish 4-9 for a 23-59 record, and the Cavaliers to finish 3-11 for a 20-62 record. That seems about right, given that the Cavaliers could “rest” players down the stretch while Jim Boylen and the Bulls seem to want to go full-speed ahead to finish the regular season strong.

Our best guess is the Bulls finish behind Cleveland in the Lottery standings, but the combination of the Bulls’ lackluster play and Cleveland performing well of late has certainly made it a conversation.

Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K

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USA TODAY

Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K

LeBron James is arguably the second-greatest basketball player of all time, with a claim to being the true GOAT depending on who you talk to. But one thing we can all agree on, with James entering his 17th season in the NBA, is that we don't know how much longer we will get to see him grace the NBA hardwood. With the final stages of James' illustrious NBA career in sight, fans have started to buy up all of the LBJ merchandise they can find and as of Sunday night, one of the rarest pieces of James memorabilia is off of the market. 

The St. Vincent-St. Mary's Irish jersey that James wore on his first-ever Sports Illustrated cover went for a whopping $187,500 in a Goldin Auctions event. The SI cover that James wore the jersey on in 2002 featured the title "The Chosen One", detailing how NBA franchises were already lining up for their shot at drafting James despite him just being a high school junior at the time. 

The $187,500 paid for the jersey is (somewhat shockingly) more than the amount paid for Michael Jordan's final Bulls regular season jersey, which sold for $173,240 back in 2015, then the highest price paid for a Jordan collectible ever at any auction

Only time will tell if another piece of James (or Jordan) memorabilia will eclipse the $200k mark but with a decent chunk of James' career still left, one would think that is a strong possibility.

Though Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin was off a bit, projecting that the jersey would sell for somewhere in the ballpark of $300k or more, the now-legendary jersey still ended up breaking the record for the highest price paid for a LeBron James jersey. 

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Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”