Bulls respect hobbled Kyrie Irving but will attack him in Game 5


Bulls respect hobbled Kyrie Irving but will attack him in Game 5

CLEVELAND — There’s no doubt Kyrie Irving is a gamer, playing through considerable pain and injury as he labors up and down the floor with injuries to both legs, robbing many of the tête-à-tête with Derrick Rose that was expected coming into the series.

But with a crucial Game 5 looming, the Bulls recognize that although they have respect for his ailments, it won’t stop them from exploiting it—nor should it. Irving was diagnosed with tendinitis in his left knee to go with his right foot strain he apparently suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series with Boston.

"I think the guy is really tough for going out there and competing while he’s hurt, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him, he’s a very good player,” said Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler. “But this is playoff basketball and any type of edge you can get, utilize it."

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Irving is perhaps the league’s best scoring point guard this side of Stephen Curry, and even that is up for reasonable debate. In this series, however, Irving is shooting 36 percent and dishing out just 2.8 assists. He’s scoring 18.5 points but the majority of that is coming from the foul line, as he has nine more free-throw makes than shots made.

It’s certainly hampered the Cavaliers’ offense, allowing the Bulls to devote more attention to LeBron James, who’s in the midst of one of his worst shooting series in his storied career.

“You gotta attack everybody, not just Kyrie,” Butler said. “But we will attack him, no matter who he’s guarding. We’ll attack whoever we feel like has the matchup to attack. I think coach does a great job of putting us into position where you know where guys are going to be on the floor, where they’re going to get their shot at a certain time.”

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Coming into the series, it was expected Irving would attack Rose, as the Bulls guard is still working off the kinks from knee surgery in late February. Remarkably, Rose is the stronger lead guard, and getting stronger as the series progresses—presumably seeing blood in the water.

“I wouldn’t say make it hurt but you notice it,” Rose said after Game 4. “Whoever he’s guarding, just gotta make sure everybody’s moving. Their defense is good, their helpside is good.”

Rose’s usage (percentage of plays used a player while on the floor) is second to only James in the players participating in the second round, meaning he’s ahead of Curry, James Harden and Blake Griffin.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]

His effect goes beyond the already impressive stat line of 25 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds in nearly 39 minutes a game. Irving playing at half strength or less puts even more pressure on the Bulls guards to dominate the matchup, especially if they have to go without Pau Gasol, who’s a gametime decision with his left hamstring strain.

“I think we’ve been doing a good job with holding our own and playing the way we normally play,” Rose said. “Of course we play inside a little bit more. But when you’re missing Pau and Taj (Gibson) is just getting in a groove---we gotta find ways to get Taj the ball a little more as a team---but as far as guard play, I think we’ve been playing all right.

“We just gotta knock down some more open shots. But I think we’re taking the right shots at the right time.”

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever


NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:

Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:

LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which, commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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