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.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

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.

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

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USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:


Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.