Bulls

What to watch for: Bulls look to level season series with Cleveland Cavaliers

What to watch for: Bulls look to level season series with Cleveland Cavaliers

For the second time this season, the Bulls are set to square off with the Cavaliers, this time in Chicago. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Cavaliers’ last five games (2-3)

  • Jan. 17 — L at Grizzlies: 113-109

  • Jan. 14 — L at Clippers: 128-103

  • Jan. 13 — L at Lakers: 128-99

  • Jan. 11 — W at Nuggets: 111-103

  • Jan. 9 — W at Pistons: 115-112 (OT)

Storyline(s) to watch

This is as peak a ‘dog days of January’ NBA game as they come. For the Cavaliers (12-30), it’s the last of an absolutely grueling six-game road trip dating back to Jan. 9. For the Bulls (15-28), it’s the sixth game in nine nights. Both teams are on the back-end of back-to-backs and, of course, both were snowed out of Chicago until this morning after out-of-state games yesterday.

So, yeah. Legs will be tired. The Cavaliers are bottom-six in the league in offensive rating (25th), defensive rating (29th) and net rating (30th). The Bulls are 2-8 in their last ten and remain without a host of crucial characters in Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford. It’s a great opportunity for the Bulls to pick up a much-needed victory, but in general, this has the feel of a ‘Murphy’s Law’ type of evening for all parties involved. It's honestly kind of exciting.

Player(s) to watch: The Youngins

The Cavaliers started the season with what was expected to be one of the clankiest backcourts in the NBA — forgivable because the duo of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are in their sophomore and rookie seasons, respectively. 

In reality, it’s been a mixed bag. Sexton, specifically, has shown major scoring promise and grabbed the reins of the offense with gumption — by a decent margin, he leads the Cavs in shots per game (16.2) and usage rate (26.2%). His field goal percentage is up from year one and he’s shown the ability to get to the rim consistently, but his 3-point efficiency has plummeted after a sharper-shooting second half to last season and his assist-to-usage ratio is in the second percentile of point guards, per Cleaning the Glass. As a team, the Cavaliers have the highest turnover rate in the league. Still, the sparks (and certainly the assertiveness) are there.

Bulls fans have their own lovable, inefficient youngin to spur on. Coby White is coming off a solid outing in Philadelphia, and the team will need his energy in this one. Something in my gut tells me this could be a big Coby game.

Matchup to watch: Frontcourts

There’s layers to this one. In an immediate sense, the matchup between the Cavaliers’ starting frontcourt of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson against Lauri Markkanen, Luke Kornet, Thad Young and Cristiano Felicio will be key to the game. When these teams met on Oct. 30 (the Cavs won 117-111), Love (20) and Thompson (10) combined to snag 30 boards and the Cavaliers, as a team, outrebounded the Bulls 57-41. Energy on the glass has been a fulcrum point in more than a handful of Bulls’ losses this season.

And in an existential sense, the Bulls need more from Markkanen. Love and Thompson are hounds on the glass, but neither are defensive stoppers. It’s going to take more than one bounceback performance to assuage growing concern about Markkanen’s regression, but filling the stat sheet against a bottom-of-the-barrel defense running on dead legs would be a good start. As always, watch closely the frontcourt minutes distribution. Against the Sixers, Markkanen played only one minute more than Kornet (and took one fewer shot) and three less than Young.

Side note: This isn’t the worst game to be on the lookout for another ‘ticked off Kevin Love’ moment of three. For all the reasons enumerated in the first section, anything and everything is possible tonight.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Coby White, Chris Paul share bond that's bigger than basketball

cobychris.jpg
USA Today

Coby White, Chris Paul share bond that's bigger than basketball

Coby White has scored a season-high 33 points in back-to-back games, but he's staying level-headed as hype and hysteria swirls around him.

“You’re going to have highs and lows over the season. I try to be the same throughout. That’s kind of how I live my life,” White said Tuesday. “It’s great and all but I just try to stay positive. A lot of people are saying congrats and whatnot. But I just have to keep getting better.”

This same approach served White well the last time he faced his mentor, Chris Paul. The Bulls blew leads of 26 points in the first half and 10 points in the fourth quarter to lose 109-106 at Oklahoma City in December.

Afterward, a posed picture of White and Paul smiling on the court after the gut-wrenching defeat landed on social media. Some critics pounced, saying that was neither the time nor place for fraternization.

Never mind that White played for Paul’s AAU team and received mental and emotional support from the All-Star guard as White’s father lost his battle with cancer.

“He means a lot to me and my family, especially me. He’s been there for me for a long time now,” White said. “I played for his AAU organization. He’s like a big brother, a mentor for me, someone I always looked up to and he’s always been by my side no matter what.

“Whenever I needed something, I knew I could call on him, and he had my back through anything. He’s always supported me through everything. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me.”

There are basketball benefits, as well. White studies Paul’s game, noting that he outscored the Bulls by himself 19-16 in that fateful fourth quarter in Oklahoma City.

“I love that he’s super smart. He’s a technician with the basketball. He can do it all — finish, get to the lane, shoot the 3. He’s such a leader, vocally and by example. He’s willing to go that extra mile for anything,” White said. “His leadership is what stood out to me. Even in AAU, him being the coach, you still see that Alpha Dog mentality with him on the sideline.”

White said the two talk occasionally during the season and certainly will Tuesday, no matter the outcome.

“Coming into the league, I wanted to be good really quickly. I know it doesn’t work like that,” White said. “So he just told me to be patient, keep grinding and everything will take care of itself.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Wendell Carter Jr. ruled out for Bulls-Thunder after being listed as questionable

wendellcarter.jpg
USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. ruled out for Bulls-Thunder after being listed as questionable

Wendell Carter Jr. had been officially listed as questionable on the Bulls' injury report in advance of a Tuesday night matchup with the Thunder, but Jim Boylen said after morning shootaround he'll remain inactive. The Bulls are 7-14 with the 21st rated defense in the NBA in 21 games since Carter went down.

"We have no additions to our lineup tonight, we will go with the same nine players," Boylen said. "[Carter]'s still moving in the right direction, but he's out tonight."

No additions to the lineup means the Bulls will roll with the same nine-man rotation they've deployed for the team's past two games: Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thad Young, Daniel Gafford, Coby White, Cristiano Felicio, Shaq Harrison and Adam Mokoka. Everyone else is out. In those two games, the Bulls are 1-1 against the Suns (loss) and Wizards (win), respectively. The team has lost eight of their last nine, overall.

Boylen said all the Bulls' injured players — presumably, Chandler Hutchison (shoulder), Otto Porter Jr. (foot), Luke Kornet (ankle), Denzel Valentine (hamstring) and Carter — had light shootarounds with the hope they can continue practicing throughout the week.

"We'll practice tomorrow, we'll evaluate it again on Thursday, we'll practice on Thursday and we'll travel Friday and we'll figure it out," Boylen said. "Our injured players will have a lighter day today so we can hopefully have more bodies for practice tomorrow and Thursday. We'll see how that shakes out. Sometimes it's day-to-day."

The Bulls travel to New York for a matchup with the Knicks on Saturday before jetting back home for the Mavericks to close the month of February. The timelines of all those sidelined are unclear.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.