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.”

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

Why the Bulls should take Charles Bassey with the No. 38 pick

This is the first entry in our "8 for 38" series, where will be looking at eight different under-the-radar NBA prospects that the Bulls could snag with their No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Charles Bassey/ 6’11’’/ 275 lbs./ Freshman/ Western Kentucky  

Bassey is a a well-regarded five-star recruit from Nigeria, who played his college ball at Western Kentucky University. He is a physical force on the court but definitely is a raw prospect at this stage of his development.

Bassey came into the season as an assumed first round talent, however, his stock has dropped after his impressive freshman season still revealed holes in his game that will definitely be exploited at the NBA level. All that being said, he was quite the prospect at WKU.

Strengths:

In his lone season at WKU, Bassey averaged 14.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on 62.7 percent shooting from the field. His impressive double double average was built on his insane dominance inside the paint.

He shot an astounding 77.4 percent on shots at the rim and that number is even higher on non-post up shots around the basket. Bassey has a rudimentary hook shot that he can hit over his left shoulder but his postgame isn’t the hub of his offense. He generates most of his points by finishing on pick-and-rolls and using his faceup game.

Bassey’s physicality leads to him setting hard screens, and when he doesn’t set a hard screen, he slips to the basket quickly where he takes advantage with his soft touch when looking to score. It is tough for help defenders to knock Bassey off his path when he is rolling to the rim, as his immense lower body strength allows him to displace smaller players.

When Bassey faces up from 15-feet and in, he uses the aforementioned soft touch to convert on 40.8 percent of his 2-PT jump shots per Hoop-Math.com. On top of that, he generally has the speed to blow by most big men.

Bassey’s biggest strength from day one in the NBA will be his motor. He clearly gets fired up for big matchups, as he showcased when he dominated Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, who ended up winning the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given by the Basketball Hall of Fame to the country’s best center. In their late December matchup, Bassey helped hold Happ to a very inefficient 20 points on 23 shots.

In that same game Bassey finished with 19 points (7/8 FG, 5/5 FT), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks. He has arguably had better games, but the all-around versatility showcased in the stat line above is outstanding.

Bassey has flashed the ability to make nice passes before:

Since Bassey’s NBA offense will be centered around pick-and-roll plays, further developing his decision making on the short-roll will be a boon to whatever team drafts him.

On defense, Bassey already shows the ability to be an asset in the right system. When he is allowed to play in a traditional defensive system that has the center dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, he swallows up shots with his 7-foot-3 wingspan.

Weaknesses:

The gigantic weakness Bassey showcased this season was an inability to function as a switch defender. He was great when it comes to protecting the rim--he averaged 2.4 blocks per game-- but he was consistently beat off the dribble by guards.

Of course it is rare to find any center--let alone a young one--that has the legitimate ability to function at a high-level when it comes to switching on to smaller, faster players. But that is precisely what makes Bassey the exact type of center you can find easily.

This is why a player of his talent level can slip into the second round.

Another big issue for Bassey is hands, or more specifically, the inability to hold on to passes when diving to the rim. As mentioned above, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop basketball is how Bassey will carve out a niche in the league. But he occasionally struggled to hold on to the ball on throws that many would not even consider to be “tough passes”.

In the above strengths section it is mentioned how Bassey has some untapped potential as a passer, but he will never cash in on that potential if simply possessing the ball is a difficulty for him. He isn’t as explosive as usual if there are multiple defenders crowding him and raking at the ball, which happens often.

Over 1,067 minutes Basey amassed 24 assists as compared to a whopping 97 turnovers.

Long term outlook:

I believe Bassey will have a long NBA career due to his finishing in the paint and ability to block shots.

Bassey ran roughshod over his mostly Conference USA opposition on the season.

His 62.7 percent shooting from the field and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes were a few of the many things that showed that Bassey is at least ready for the physicality of the NBA.

But to become much more than a solid journeyman center, Bassey will have to hone his perimeter jump shot to the point that he can become a solid 3-point threat. He shot 45 percent on a very limited 20 attempts from 3-point range and converted on 76.9 percent of his free throws, an enticing set of numbers that show the type of player he could be in the future.

Whether or not Robin Lopez stays, the Bulls will be short on center depth next season.  After Wendell Carter Jr. went down for the remainder of the 2018-19 season, we saw the Bulls play ultra-small lineups that got beat up on the glass often as Jim Boylen was still reluctant to play Felicio more than 15 minutes per game.

Adding a high-upside prospect like Bassey helps Boylen and co. avoid over-using lineups with Lauri Markkanen at center, which helps keep Markkanen fresh and theoretically improves the overall team defense. 

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

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NBC Sports Chicago

From one GOAT to another: "Greatest comeback I've ever seen"

 

Michael Jordan is no stranger to amazing comebacks.

The man widely agreed upon to be the greatest player of all time, won six NBA Championships, with three of them coming after a full season sabbatical in which he played minor league baseball with the White Sox affiliate. And of course, MJ had his even later comeback with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, in which the year 40-year old Jordan averaged 21.2 PPG over two seasons to close out his career.

That is why Jordan’s effusive praise of Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory should not be taken lightly in the greater context of sports history.

In an article written by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Jordan talks about how he holds Woods’ 2019 Masters win in extremely high regard, calling it “the greatest comeback I've ever seen."

Jordan, a famously avid golfer himself and a friend of Woods, stated, “I’ve been a fan for I don’t know how long.....I never thought he’d get back physically.....He didn’t think he’d get back physically.”

Major success had escaped Woods--who only had one victory in 2018--due to a litany of back injuries and subsequent surgeries.

With Woods having a major victory under his belt for the 2019 season, he certainly has momentum rolling in his favor. That momentum could carry Woods to another major run of PGA Tour success, and MJ agreed that Woods’ belief in himself was perhaps the biggest factor in his 2019 Masters win.

“No one expected him to be back the way he is now. He's probably the only person who believed he could get back.”