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Bulls hold on for opening-night win against rival Cavaliers

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Bulls hold on for opening-night win against rival Cavaliers

It was tailor-made for an instant replay, another chance for LeBron James to quiet a crazed Bulls crowd and break hearts, albeit on a night in October rather than one in May.

But Jimmy Butler refused to give James even a sliver of space as Mo Williams tried to inbound the ball underneath the rim with 3.6 seconds left, tipping it away and chasing it downcourt to secure the Bulls’ opening-night 97-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.

“To tell you the truth I thought it would be the same play he made over me in the playoffs last year,” Butler said. “Stay on his body and threw the ball over the top, I got a piece of it.”

It came after Pau Gasol blocked a James drive mano a mano, his sixth of the night in a surprising defensive showing.

“I made myself very small in my finish,” James said. “Pau was having a great game, and he made a great play.”

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Everybody remembers James’ fadeaway jumper over Butler’s outstretched arms in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, preventing the Bulls from going up 3-1 in that series and possibly to the NBA Finals, starting the chain of events that led to Fred Hoiberg’s debut as head coach.

He knew the play well enough to prepare his players for what could occur and didn’t see any panic from his team late.

“I thought when LeBron lined up in front of the ball, similar to the play (in last year’s playoffs) when he hit the 3, and they had a good counter to it,” Hoiberg said. “But Jimmy stayed right into his body and just jumped up there and got the deflection, defended it very well.”

Hoiberg’s first official game featured as much drama as some of Tom Thibodeau’s final games on this very floor, as Kevin Love scored eight straight in the last minute to pull the Cavaliers within striking distance after the Bulls seemingly pulled away, making President Barack Obama feel secure enough with 1:38 left and the Bulls leading 95-87.

It took awhile for the Bulls’ offense to get in gear, as they only shot 42 percent overall but got better looks down the stretch with their ball movement leading to opportunities for Nikola Mirotic, Derrick Rose and Butler.

James’ runner with 5:31 left gave the Cavaliers a 83-82 lead after they trailed for all of the second half, but Mirotic had a three-point play which was followed by Butler dunk and Rose layup to give the Bulls a little breathing room.

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Mirotic led the Bulls with 19 points, as he helped the Bulls break out of some early lethargy with 11 in the first, including two of his three triples on the night.

Butler’s thievery completed a night where he didn’t do much offensively for the better part of three quarters but he finished with 17 points on six of 17 shooting in 36 minutes, five rebounds and of course, that key steal that sealed the win.

They withstood James’ night of 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes as Butler had to play his shadow, knowing he would give up some spectacular plays from the game’s best player but getting deterred wasn’t an option.

“All I know is try to stop 23 (James) from going off,” Butler said. “End of the day, I think I did a decent job of that at the end of the game.”

Rose, who’s still suffering from double vision in his surgically repaired left eye, played 32 minutes after playing just 10 in one preseason game, scoring 18 points with five assists on six of 22 shooting.

The double vision hits hardest when he’s driving closer to the basket, affecting his depth perception. So the fact he missed so many shots at the rim is more of a good sign than anything else, evidenced by only taking two 3-pointers.

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In the 14 games where Rose took more than 20 shots last season, he took two 3-pointers or fewer just twice and had 10 games of six or more 3-pointers attempted.

“When we catch the ball, we are going downhill,” Rose said. “We’re not catching the ball with teams knowing exactly what we’re doing. It’s a new wrinkle to us. Coach doesn’t call many plays. It’s more a read-type offense.”

It certainly had its choppy moments, but with five players in double figures and playing 10 players, the effort was able to drown out the lack of efficiency.

Pretty it was not, but the Bulls showed they still have the ability to get their hands dirty in this new era.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: White shines in preseason finale vs Hawks

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: White shines in preseason finale vs Hawks

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and Dave Watson react to the Bulls preseason finale, a 111-93 win over the Hawks.

0:25 - Young Hawks vs young Bulls and increased expectations for Bulls

1:35 - On the Bulls bench performance

2:10 - On Coby White’s 29 point effort

4:00 - On White and Dunn together on the 2nd unit

6:25 - On Denzel Valentine not being part of the rotation

7:20 - Viewer comment on Dunn playing the Marcus Smart role

7:45 - Question on if White will eventually start, impact of Satoransky on LaVine

9:22 - What’s White’s best role?

10:00 - The Outsiders on talking hoops with Jim Boylen

11:05 - Small concerns over Markkanen’s preseason

12:33 - More viewer comments including where Hutchison fits when healthy

15:25 - is Matt on the Big Red Bus? (tm See Red Fred)

16:40 - Viewer question about Coby leading the team in scoring; why LaVine is the star

19:35 - The LaVine midrange ‘controversy’

21:35 - Viewer question on best case scenario for Bulls win total

23:30 - See Red Fred repeats his mantra

26:20 - Excitement for the season opener

27:00 - On Luol Deng retiring as a Bull

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

The next time the Bulls take the floor – Wednesday night in Charlotte – they’ll be playing for keeps, looking to make good on their verbalized goal of making the postseason for the first time in three seasons. They’re lofty goals for a team that won just 22 games a season ago, but they put the finishing touches on a promising preseason in their 111-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that has them feeling confident in what’s ahead.

True, it came against a Hawks team playing a rare back-to-back (with both games on the road) and one that was resting John Collins, but the Bulls once again shared the ball, played with urgency and continued their 2019 style in a game they led the final 38 minutes.

Coach Jim Boylen treated the game as a dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Hornets in six days, solidifying his 10-man rotation and getting significant contributions from both units. With star power in Zach LaVine and (hopefully) Lauri Markkanen, a supporting cast that’s buying in and a few promising youngsters, the next stage of the Bulls rebuild is shaping up nicely.

“I thought each guy had moments,” Boylen said after the game. “I thought we did a good job of getting the ball to the open people or the hot man…That’s what good teams do. They find the guy that’s got it rolling. They keep it rolling as long as they can. And then we pick each other up when maybe a group or section of the game where we’re struggling. I’m happy for that.”

It once again began with Zach LaVine, who finished a terrific preseason with 23 points on 11 shots in just 25 minutes. He was a model of efficiency – he didn’t attempt a midrange shot – and finished his four-game preseason stretch with 93 points in 96 minutes, shooting 32 of 54 (59.2%) and making 14 of 25 3-point attempts (56.0%). Every completed rebuild needs a player like how LaVine is playing right now. It should be an All-Star season for the 25-year-old.

Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter were quiet in the preseason but there’s not much to read in to about their performances. Wendell Carter Jr. shook off a couple injury scares and put together his best performance of his limited preseason, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds and drawing some praise from Boylen for his off-ball intangibles. He should be full-go in five days when the Bulls begin playing for keeps.

Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky did exactly what they’ve done their entire careers: They were quiet but effective, with the latter forming a solid tandem with any frontcourt player he appeared with, and the latter grabbing the starting point-guard reins.

The second unit remains a question mark, but it will enter the regular season with some serious momentum. Despite being officially demoted to the second unit just days earlier, Kris Dunn again drew praise from Boylen for his effort and energy that sparked the Bulls in the second quarter.

“I thought Kris Dunn’s energy off the bench changed the game,” Boylen said. “He got us going. His effort, his energy, his focus was great. Some nights we’re gonna be in mud, we’re gonna be a little sluggish. And he’s been practicing really hard and I was really proud of what he did in that moment to kind of get us going. I’m happy for him.”

Dunn may be able to stay on the floor thanks to the scoring prowess that rookie Coby White is showing. The seventh overall pick scored a game-high 29 points and made 6 of 8 3-pointers. That 3-for-30 effort in the Las Vegas Summer League feels like forever ago, and for a bench that lacks much scoring, White’s ability to do just that becomes even more significant. His last three preseason games: 23.6 points in 25.3 minutes. He had just one assist, but the Bulls will take that scoring and shooting right now.

Boylen called his stretch of triples in the third quarter “as good as we’ve seen in this building in a while.”

Luke Kornet has won the backup job over Daniel Gafford, while Ryan Arcidiacono (and presumably Chandler Hutchison when he returns from a hamstring injury) is ahead of Denzel Valentine, who Boylen said needs to “stay ready” despite not being in the 10-man rotation. The bench is the Bulls’ weakest spot, but even Boylen admitted they’re starting to get a little rhythm together.

The caveat, of course, is that it was just preseason. Everything changes when the games start counting. On the one hand, the Bulls’ first five opponents include one projected playoff team (Toronto), On the other hand, four of those first five games are on the road. What worked in preseason isn’t guaranteed to work in the regular season. But for what the Bulls could have proved in the preseason – that they’re forming a team with specific roles and players buying into them – they did to a T, and it should make for a promising Year 3 of a rebuild.

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