Bulls

Bulls complete season sweep of Cavs with resounding win that pushes TNT streak to 20

Bulls complete season sweep of Cavs with resounding win that pushes TNT streak to 20

Very few things are certain in this topsy-turvy unpredictable Bulls season, but the stage was set for something oh-so-inevitable as soon as the schedule was announced eight months ago.

A Thursday night game in Chicago, in March, on national television.

It didn't matter that it was the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers coming into the United Center, saying all the right things about needing to get themselves right with a handful of games left in the regular season.

Thursday night on Madison.

On TNT.

With Nikola Mirotic.

Check, check, check.

The Bulls completed an improbable season sweep of the Cavaliers with a 99-93 win, pulling themselves to within a game of the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for a playoff spot in their 20th straight regular-season home win on TNT.

Mirotic continued his torrid month, hitting six triples and scoring 28 in 38 minutes, as many of his points were assisted from the capable hands of Rajon Rondo, who had a season-high 15 assists.

"It is great, it's a great feeling," Mirotic said after his second straight 28-point performance. "I feel like my long shot has been great lately, I've also been making shots that are not 3s. Rondo has been finding me, he's been looking for me."

Rondo said the Bulls aren't running plays for Mirotic, but with this being his hot month, Rondo has been looking for him almost every time down, especially on secondary breaks.

"We're trusting each other more," Rondo said. "We're rebounding the ball, taking care of the basketball. (Niko's) a confident player, those shots he missed early in the year, he's making them now. We believe in him."

The team that can't shoot hit 12 triples Thursday after 10 in Milwaukee, firing from all angles and often playing frenetically — which works to their advantage as they don't have traditional secondary scoring options.

"We wanted to get our attempts up," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "With the trade, and we put Rondo back in the lineup, we really felt we needed to space the floor, and that's where Niko came in. He's played with such good rhythm."

Hoiberg couldn't explain the statistical anomaly with his team's streak, probably keeping his hands off the recent voodoo that established itself before he took over as coach.

But he could explain the recent trend of players like Rondo and Mirotic doing just enough work early so Jimmy Butler could have the ball in his hands late and enough energy to put together a decent fourth quarter without being dog tired. Thursday, he scored 10 of his 25 points in the final quarter.

A quick spurt to start the final stanza, where Butler hit a corner 3, intercepted a LeBron James pass and then hit a mid-range jumper, pushed the Bulls' lead to 88-78 at a time when the champions were expected to get serious about things.

"Just made a lot of great plays, Jimmy was really, really good tonight," Hoiberg said, pointing to a stretch while Butler sat late in the third and the Bulls increased their lead with two triples from Denzel Valentine.

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Butler came back from getting popped in the eye in the second quarter, removed from the game and sitting out for awhile, going to the locker room before re-emerging in the third.

It was the only time the Cavaliers looked intent on ending the Bulls' streak, as James scored 19 of his 26 in the first half, ending the second quarter with a buzzer-beating jumper.

The Cavaliers certainly didn't look like a team playing with championship intensity or attention to detail and couldn't muster up the urgency the Bulls have to play with for the next two weeks.

Rondo led the brigade, baiting the Cavaliers into needless fouls, careless mistakes and an overall indifference for long stretches. And the Bulls took advantage in the second half while waiting for the inevitable James explosion that actually never occurred.

"He broke us down. Take the challenge. Rondo's a veteran point guard," James said. "He's been doing this for years. It's no surprise. We just got to have our head on a swivel knowing he likes to get into the paint, not even for himself a lot of the time, it's to get guys open. And he found them."

James added 10 rebounds and eight assists, but missed a critical 3-pointer that could've pulled the Cavs to a workable margin with less than a minute left.

James dominated a stretch to start the second quarter, beginning with a detonating dunk on a helpless Joffrey Lauvergne, following it up with two more dunks and pushing the Cavaliers' lead to 10.

Not to be outdone on the defensive end, he darted out in the passing lane to intercept a needless Denzel Valentine pass and had a chase-down block on Michael Carter-Williams that was reminiscent of so many in his younger days — except it's hard to tell the difference between a younger James and this version.

His 1-for-7 night from 3-point range was the only demerit on an otherwise sterling performance on a night that called for more from his co-stars.

Kevin Love was in foul trouble in the second half, picking up his fifth on the first possession of the fourth and then fouling out within moments of re-entering, fouling Butler on what turned out to be a three-point play opportunity.

Rondo hounded Kyrie Irving to a 7-for-20 night and disrupted the Cavs' offense just enough with deflections and tips, as the champions turned it over 15 times and shot 45 percent from the field.

Rondo was also the catalyst for a third-quarter explosion that turned the game around, as the Bulls outscored the Cavaliers 37-21 in the third, with Rondo dishing out eight assists and the Bulls hitting five triples in the period.

It's only one game, but for a night, Bulls fans could say they expected this win, for once.

After all, it's Thursday night on Madison.

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

C.J. Watson carved out a 10-year NBA career with not just talent but also an ability to overcome odds and tune out doubters.

So whenever the former Bulls guard encountered skepticism for his latest dream, he’d answer every "Why” with a "Why not?”

That dream? To create children's books. Watson, 36, has now published two titles: "CJ’s Big Dream" and "CJ’s Big Project." The first came out last November, the second in March.

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“It was just a random idea I had to challenge myself and try to push myself,” Watson said in a phone conversation. “I want to try to continue to be an inspiration. Playing in the NBA is an inspiration to kids. But I wanted to continue to offer kids knowledge and tell my story through books.

“Kids are the next generation of leaders. They’re the next entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Some kid will grow up to be President. I just wanted to try to share some gems and drops of knowledge. I want to try to propel little boys and girls and let them know it’s OK to shoot for their dreams and to dream big.”

The books were written by author Tamika Newhouse and illustrated by Cameron Wilson based on stories shared by Watson. Watson spent hours on the phone over a six-month period with Newhouse, sharing his stories and his vision for the project, which is scheduled to include at least one more title.

They are based on Watson’s upbringing in Las Vegas, where he first experienced doubts for his NBA dream.

“These are true stories,” Watson said. “I made it to the NBA after growing up in the inner city and not having the same resources or same chances as some. Growing up, seeing graffiti, abandoned houses, drugs, gangs, it can be discouraging. But I had a great support system that kept me focused on my goal.”

The second book focuses on the time Watson received an F on a science project in school. But the teacher offered him a chance to re-do it, which taught him a valuable lesson.

“The second book talks about working hard and the importance of getting good grades to be able to play sports,” he said. “That was the important thing in my household. If we didn’t have good grades, my brother and I couldn’t play sports.”

Watson is the father of two children with one on the way. His parents, Cathy and Charles, stressed education and reading as they raised him and his brother. He majored in psychology at Tennessee, which is in his parents’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

“My parents came from an area more poverty-stricken than I did,” Watson said. “You always want better for your kid, right? We might not have lived in the best area, but they always put my brother and me in the best schools to give us the best chance to succeed.

“They also were big on me and my brother doing community service. We’d go feed the homeless. We’d go visit nursing homes to care for the elderly. When I was younger, I always said if I made it that I wanted to give back.”

Watson and his family established his Quiet Storm Foundation in 2009. That foundation established an active presence in Chicago during his two seasons with the Bulls.

Watson is eight years removed from that stint, where he played an important role for a reserve unit so potent that it achieved its own nickname. “The Bench Mob” proved a significant reason the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It was definitely fun. It goes by fast. Chicago was probably some of the best years I had in the NBA,” Watson said. “We could’ve achieved more. We weren’t picked to do much that first year and surprised everybody. Then that second year, D-Rose got hurt.

“I felt like they should’ve kept the team together maybe a couple more years to try to see what could’ve happened. But it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Watson isn’t surprised Rose, who he backed up, is thriving again after a series of knee injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations.

“Definitely a great teammate, probably one of my favorites,” Watson said. “Injuries take a toll on you. He was held up to the MVP standard and some people judged him unfairly. But he has worked so hard. I’m definitely rooting for him and I’m always watching.”

Watson played for Charles Oakley’s team in the Big3 last summer, a 3-on-3 pro league that was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. He isn’t sure if he’ll play again if the league resumes next summer.

“It was fun. But it’s a different league. It’s pretty brutal. They don’t call any fouls. It’s kind of an old man’s game,” Watson said. “My body may have had enough.”

No matter his decision, Watson’s mind remains sharp.

“These books definitely are not a money maker. It’s a passion project,” Watson said. “Unless you’re a big-time children’s author, you probably won’t make a living at this. But I just did it to inspire kids and challenge myself. It’s kind of like the NBA. I never thought I’d make the NBA.  But lo and behold, I worked hard enough and got there.”

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Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Since going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft, PJ Dozier has had his fair share of stops, from brief stints signed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, to successive one-year pacts with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18) and Boston Celtics (2018-19). He spent most of the latter two tenures in the G League.

Dozier began the 2019-20 season signed to the Denver Nuggets on a two-way deal, but assigned to the Windy City Bulls, the Bulls' G League affiliate, along with 2019 second-round draftee of the Nuggets Bol Bol. 

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On Tuesday, the Nuggets officially announced they are converting Dozier's two-way deal into a multi-year contract with the team.

It's great news for Dozier, who enjoyed a dominating campaign for Windy City. In 18 games with the team, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 43.8-32.6-74.1 shooting splits. A 6-foot-6 playmaking wing, Dozier flashed plus ball-handling, scoring and facilitating ability at a position of supreme value in the modern game.

He parlayed all of the above into a midseason All-NBA G League selection, but was recently left off the end-of-season all-league teams, presumably due to a limited sample size. He was called up to the Nuggets in mid-January and made an immediate impact, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-4 from 3) in his debut, a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He reset his NBA career high one week later with a 15-point outing against the Houston Rockets.

In the run-up to the NBA pausing its season, Dozier appeared in 21 of 26 games for the Nuggets, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He'd appeared in just eight career NBA games before that stretch. 

How much of an imprint will he make on the Nuggets' rotation when the NBA season restarts? It's too soon to say. But it seems the longtime G League standout's breakthrough at the next level could be coming.

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