Bulls

New uniform, new team, same result: LeBron James toys with Bulls in masterful performance

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USA TODAY

New uniform, new team, same result: LeBron James toys with Bulls in masterful performance

LeBron James coasted through 8 first-quarter minutes on Tuesday night. The future Hall of Famer was playing at half speed, scoring just 2 points, committing a turnover and allowing the Bulls, playing without Zach LaVine, to race out to a 20-point lead against a beaten down team traveling from the West Coast to begin a brutal four-game road trip. Given the circus that has become the Lakers’ 2018-19 season, James’ only trip to Chicago this season felt like a potential letdown.

But it was still LeBron James. Playing in Chicago. Against the Bulls. The ending was inevitable, and over the final three quarters the LeBron James that has gashed the Bulls for 16 seasons showed up and put on a dazzling display while leading the Lakers back to a victory.

After that quiet first quarter James reminded Bulls fans that, playoff team or not, he hasn’t slowed down in the slightest. In his final 25 minutes, James scored 34 points on 14 of 20 shooting, including four gravity-defying dunks, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists as the Lakers clawed all the way back and ended up running away with a win, outscoring the Bulls by 34 points after the first quarter.

A different James-led team arrived in Chicago on Monday. The Lakers are out of the playoff race with less than a month left in the regular season, and James will miss the postseason for the first time since 2005, when he brought a Cavs team to the United Center and squared off against the likes of Othella Harrington, Chris Duhon and Antonio Davis.

Even James has been placed on a minutes limit after leading the league in minutes per game each of the last two seasons. And while James’ effort has come into question, particularly on the defensive end, he flashed his greatness on Tuesday night, taking control of the game and never letting up as the Bulls did their best to try and slow him down. This game on the heels of a 30-point triple-double on Saturday against the Celtics, a feat he accomplished in just 28 minutes.

James needed just 33 minutes to rack up his 36 and 10 night on Tuesday. He started the second quarter and led the Lakers back, scoring 16 points and dished out two assists, accounting for 21 of the Lakers’ 35 points that brought them back within four.

He didn’t slow down in the third quarter, attacking a Bulls defense that was out of sorts for six straight points, and his pass to Kyle Kuzma for a streaking layup gave the Lakers their first lead since 2-0.

James was just as good to close things out in the fourth quarter. He terrorized the Bulls on switches, twice beating Robin Lopez for a 3-pointer and a drive to the basket that ended with a trademark James slam that put the Bulls up eight. He scored the first nine points of the quarter for the Lakers, and he capped his night off with a reverse dunk that came off a feed from Josh Hart, who lobbed the ball off the backboard to James for the finish.

It was an all too familiar sight for the Bulls. James was making his 39th career appearance at the United Center, the most all-time for opposing players, and was his usual self. Though the Bulls have gotten the best of James in the regular season, they’ve never been able to slow him down individually.

Tuesday marked James’ 18th career 30-point night in the United Center, 10 more than Allen Iverson’s second place mark of 10 such games. And it should have been expected. James said after the game that he’s always taken pride in playing in Chicago.

“I definitely recognize the greatness that Mike had in this city. Pretty much every time I come here I look up at the rafters and looked at the jerseys retired,” he said. “And then the starting lineups come on, as a kid always watching the bulls run through the city – actual bulls run through the city – and then Jordan’s name and number getting called. So you always have that feeling.”

Both Jim Boylen and Lauri Markkanen scoffed at the notion that James has lost a step in his 16th NBA season, and the numbers back it up. Though the Lakers’ season was derailed when James missed five weeks with a groin injury on Christmas Day, and compounded by losing Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball for long stretches of the season, James has still been his usual dominant self.

He’s averaging 27.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists and is shooting better than 51 percent from the field. Though the defensive criticisms are warranted, and the Anthony Davis fiasco earlier in the year certainly hurt team chemistry, James hasn’t slowed down in the slightest.

I haven’t seen it,” said Jim Boylen when asked about James potentially slowing down. “I’ve been seeing a guy that’s a freight train in transition, a willing passer and a physical defender. So nobody’s perfect, I know that for sure. But he’s as dynamic a guy as there ever has been.”

James showed off all of that on Tuesday. He did to the Bulls what he’s done the last 16 seasons, and ironically enough officially knocked the Bulls out of the playoff contention, like he’s done four other times in the postseason.

The jersey was different, his team’s standing was different but the results remained the same. James came into the United Center and did what he’s always done: Put on a show in the House That MJ Built and beat up on the Bulls in winning fashion.

James sees plenty of value in finishing out his age 34 season strong, and he continued it Tuesday night in Chicago.

“I live being a professional, I live playing every game like it’s my last,” James said. “No matter what’s going on you finish up strong. That’s just who I am.”

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.”