Bulls

Bulls smacked around by LeBron, Cavs in Game 2

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Bulls smacked around by LeBron, Cavs in Game 2

The Bulls claimed not to be satisfied with just stealing a series opening win, pledging to take seriously an opportunity to put the Cleveland Cavaliers in a big hole before heading to Chicago for the weekend.

But they couldn't manufacture the desperation that came with knowing their season would likely be over with a loss, as was the likelihood of another Cavaliers loss. So LeBron James atoned for his self-described “bad game” and turned in a vintage performance on the way to a series-tying 106-91 win at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday.

Just as one could tell the Bulls had bad intentions stepping into the ring Monday night, the Cavaliers had the same thoughts, illustrated by their leader powering them to a 13-2 lead in the first few minutes.

“I knew we were in trouble, as soon as they jumped out, I just had a bad feeling,” said Bulls reserve Taj Gibson. “I just hoped we wouldn’t lose too much of a lead. Every quarter we kept chopping it down, chopping it down but wearing out our energy.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler to be named NBA's Most Improved Player]

If one wasn’t sure about James’ energy, his devastating drive and dunk over Jimmy Butler in the second quarter put everyone on notice, finishing with 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists, although it took 29 shots to get there, if there’s a silver lining for Bulls fans.

“You win one game, it doesn’t mean you win the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You feel too good about yourselves, you’re gonna get knocked on your butt. And that’s what happened.”

Just as the Bulls led wire-to-wire in Game 1, they trailed all game Wednesday, shooting 33 percent in the first quarter while allowing the Cavs to shoot 65 percent.

“The story of the game was the first quarter,” Thibodeau said. “They smashed us. And we gotta respond a lot better.”

The Bulls’ slight glimmer of hope came in the third, a 14-0 run, with Derrick Rose scoring or assisting on every Bulls basket when Iman Shumpert left for the locker room with a left groin injury and the Cavs comfortably ahead by 25.

Shumpert has come to emerge as a vital cog in the Cavs’ machine, hitting four triples for the second straight game and scoring 15 in 29 minutes. As for Rose, the Bulls point guard couldn’t get to the free-throw line for the third straight game, the first time in his career such an occurrence has happened.

Thibodeau was clearly less than pleased about Rose not getting to the line while his counterpart Kyrie Irving has gone 21 times in two games, but doesn’t want to hear from the league office about a fine for criticizing the officials, so his long wry stare was followed by a sarcastic statement when it was brought to his attention afterwards.

“I guess he’s gotta go harder, I don’t know,” Thibodeau said. “It looks like there’s a lot of contact to me, I don’t know. Obviously others don’t see it that way.”

And even though Irving dropped in a quiet 21, James set the tone early, forcing the Bulls’ defense to put so much attention on him it freed up his teammates for 12 triples, including 9-15 in the first half after the Bulls held them to 27 percent shooting from that range in Game 1.

James had to check himself out of the game in the first five minutes because he expended so much energy trying to get his teammates going. Had that trend continued, the Bulls could’ve been in a good spot, going down the stretch against a tired Cavs leader.

“We gotta come out with a lot more energy,” Gibson said. “We came out a little lax. It’s hard to get the same looks when you have guys into you. They were just running at us every time. We just gotta make adjustments.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Bulls fans!]

But unfortunately for the Bulls, James’ teammates followed his lead. Tristan Thompson, who started at power forward in place of Mike Miller, was a nightmare of activity on the offensive glass.

Thompson ran around, threw down and jumped over Pau Gasol, for six offensive rebounds, negating the Bulls’ relative effectiveness with their initial defense after a blistering Cavaliers start.

James Jones and Matthew Dellavedova combined for six three-pointers, while Kendrick Perkins added agitation and irritation to Gasol, who had a miserable night.

The Bulls’ bigs activity left a lot to be desired, as Gasol, Joakim Noah and even Gibson (5-5 shooting) couldn’t do much on the glass.

More than anything, the Bulls appeared a step slow and plenty satisfied, with no counter for the Cavs’ desperation. Rose and Butler battled frustration and ineffectiveness all game, without getting much help from the other weapons. Butler scored 18 while Rose added 14 but took 20 shots with 10 assists and seven rebounds.

If Game 1 was a clear shot across the bow to the Cavaliers, they returned it in kind in a game they needed to win—and likely, giving the Bulls a whipping that will instill a little doubt before the scene shifts.

Round 2 to Cleveland.

NBC Sports Chicago to provide extensive, multi-platform coverage of 2018 NBA Draft

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to provide extensive, multi-platform coverage of 2018 NBA Draft

Chicago, IL (June 19, 2018) – With the Chicago Bulls holding TWO first round picks (#7 & #22 overall), NBC Sports Chicago is ready to deliver extensive multi-platform coverage of this Thursday night’s massively-anticipated 2018 NBA Draft highlighted by a special remote edition of “SportsTalk Live” from the Bulls/NBA Draft headquarters at Advocate Center, live draft pick reaction cut-ins during the network’s White Sox & Cubs telecasts, a post-draft recap edition of “In the Loop,” full-blown digital & social media coverage, and much more!  Please note NBC Sports Chicago’s multi-platform 2018 NBA Draft coverage details:

THURSDAY, JUNE 21

  • 5:30 PM -- Special NBA Draft preview edition of “SportsTalk Live presented by The Chevy Silverado” with host David Kaplan (@thekapman), and featuring NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls/NBA experts Mark Schanowski (@MarkSchanowski), Kendall Gill (@KendallG13), Will Perdue (@Will_Perdue32), and Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill), along with additional Bulls/NBA Draft experts LIVE from the Bulls/NBA Draft headquarters at the Advocate Center. (NOTE: Live stream available to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app) 
  • Between 7:15-8:00 PM (time approx.) -- Live #7 pick reaction cut-ins during NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs (airing on NBC Sports Chicago) & White Sox (airing on NBC Sports Chicago+) telecasts featuring draft pick reaction/commentary via Schanowski, Gill, Perdue, and Goodwill. (NOTE: Live stream available at NBCSportsChicago.com)
  • 10:30 PM (time approx.) -- “In the Loop presented by GMC” - Featuring Schanowski, Gill, Perdue, and Goodwill, In the Loop will dive into detailed discussion surrounding the Bulls two first round picks, along with showcasing podium moment highlights/interviews featuring the new Bulls rookies from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, an overview of every trade made throughout the evening, plus, post-draft press conference coverage featuring Bulls Executive VP/Basketball Operations John Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman. (NOTE: Live stream available to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app)
  • NBCSportsChicago.com – NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls “Insider” Vincent Goodwill and digital reporter/producer Mark Strotman (@markstrot) will also provide fans with thorough digital coverage of the Draft from the Advocate Center on Thursday night, which will include a Draft Night overview from Goodwill, along with his write-ups on if the Bulls top pick represents the team’s patience or haste in regards to the rebuilding process, plus a preview piece on “boom or bust” candidates who will likely be available at the #7 slot.  Strotman will be delivering real-time coverage/commentary throughout the night via NBC Sports Chicago’s always-entertaining Bulls Twitter handle @NBCSBulls.  For full NBA Draft content and videos, fans are urged to visit the network’s dedicated Bulls section at NBCSportsChicago.com/Bulls.  

Additional coverage highlights leading up to and throughout Draft Night…

  • SOCIAL MEDIA:
  • Leading up to the Draft, NBC Sports Chicago has created an “On The Clock” feature on both NBCSportsChicago.com and @NBCSBulls on Twitter. “On The Clock” is a breakdown of all the top first-round prospects and features player profile analysis via Schanowski, Goodwill, and NBC Sports college basketball expert Rob Dauster
  • On Thursday night, fans are also urged to check out a special Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago) segment (starting the moment the 4th pick is on the clock) featuring reaction/commentary from Schanowski, Gill, and Perdue all the way through the Bulls #7 pick in the Draft (to also stream live on NBCSportsChicago.com)…which will be followed by a fan-interactive segment as the trio respond to fan quetions.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will carry a live Twitter (@NBCSChicago) Periscope look-in to the John Paxson press conference later in the evening.
  • NBA Draft/Advocate Center “Sights & Sounds” moments on Thursday night will be provided via Snapchat (‘NBCSChicago’), along with additional photos/quick video offerings from ‘NBCSChicago’ through Instagram and Instagram Stories
  • PODCASTS: Fans also can look forward to a pair of NBA Draft-specific editions of NBC Sports Chicago’s popular “BullsTalk PODCAST” this week featuring Schanowski, Gill, Strotman, and additional special guests. Fans can download all of NBC Sports Chicago’s podcasts at NBCSportsChicago.com/podcasts and simply subscribe to them via Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.  The podcasts can be played on any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer.
     

NOTE: NBC Sports Chicago will announce its multi-platform Chicago Blackhawks/NHL Draft coverage details tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, June 20).

Why the Bulls should consider drafting the Young Bull, Alabama's Collin Sexton

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AP

Why the Bulls should consider drafting the Young Bull, Alabama's Collin Sexton

Take the best talent available.

It's a tired cliche used far too often in any major sport's draft. But it's also true, and especially true in a sport where only five players are on the court at one time. Position-less basketball (look, another cliche!) is at its peak, and NBA teams are trying to get their best talent together.

And when the Bulls go on the clock at No. 7 in two days' time, there's going to be a special talent waiting for them.

Collin Sexton became a national darling in March, like so many collegiate stars do on the biggest stage. First he hit a buzzer beater floater against Texas A&M that essentially put his Alabama Crimson Tide into the NCAA Tournament. Then he knocked off SEC regular season champ Auburn and went toe-to-toe with Kentucky in an SEC Tournament loss. He disposed of a Virginia Tech team in the NCAA Tournament with a 25-point effort before running into the buzz saw that was Villanova in Round 2, though his 17 points were a valiant effort.

All told Sexton averaged 24.2 points on 53 percent shooting in six postseason games. He made 48 percent of his 3-pointers, averaged 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists, and played better than 33 minutes per game.

The lightning-quick point guard was tough, physical, competitive and a bully as he fought to bring the Crimson Tide not only to the NCAA Tournament, but within a game of the second weekend.

Sexton's best attribute, without question, is his pick-and-roll action. Thanks to head coach Avery Johnson, who spent years in the NBA, Alabama deployed an offense more similar to the NBA game than most other programs. Consider that Sexton used 28.8 percent of his scoring possessions in pick-and-roll settings. He scored 180 points on 180 possessions, either blowing by a taller defender or shooting over teams that went under screens. His 0.957 PPP ranked in the 87th percentile, and the 180 possessions were more than Derrick Rose (42), Russell Westbrook (37) and John Wall (66) all had in their respective freshman seasons combined; only Rose's 0.929 PPP came close to Sexton's, but again that was on less than a quarter of the possessions Sexton had.

Sexton also got to the free throw line in bunches. His 252 attempts ranked seventh in the country, just below Trae Young's 274 attempts. Then again, Young's usage rate (38.4%, tops in the country) was higher than Sexton's 32.5% usage. Of the 54 players with a usage rate at or above 30%, Sexton's 57.5% free throw rate was fifth highest, and first among Power 6 schools. His elite quickness and speed allowed him paths to the basket where he drew contact more ofen than not, which will only make him an even better pick-and-roll player at the next level.

But he may have seeked out contact too often. For the attempts he did have, Sexton still was a below-average finisher at the rim. His 0.976 PPP on those attempts ranked in the 27th percentile. He's undersized at 6-foot-1.5 and 183 pounds, though his toughness can't be denied. Whether or not he can withstand an 82-game schedule is another story, and he'll need to be more in control at the rim. He won't get the same foul calls in the NBA that he got in Tuscaloosa.

Sexton shot 36.8 percent from deep in his first 16 games. Then he went through a serious lull, making just 23.5 percent of his 3-point attempts to finish out conference play. The postseason run allowed him to find his stroke again, as he made 48 percent of his 23 attempts. On the year he made 33.6 percent of his attempts, but he's a better shooter than those numbers suggest. His 0.942 PPP on jumpers ranked in just the 54th percentile, but he projects as someone who will have to be respected from deep, even if it isn't his best attribute (think Kemba Walker, a career 36% 3-point shooter).

Sexton's defensive numbers are essentially average across the board. His toughness and intensity can't be taught and will help him at the next level. So, too, will his 6-foot-7.5 wingspan (buzzword alert!). It does say a lot that Alabama's defense was ranked 20th in the country, per Ken Pom. Sexton certainly had a hand in that, and he should benefit from coaching at the next level on how to properly use his quick footwork and frame.

Yes, the Bulls have Kris Dunn. Yes, Dunn showed signs of life last season after getting away from rookie killer Tom Thibodeau. But the Bulls are at a time in their franchise's rebuild where they can't pass up talent to fill a need. Talent is their need. And Sexton, a five-star recruit who has already been under the tutelage of a former NBA coach for a year, has that talent. He'll inject some nastiness into the lineup - his nickname is Young Bull for the way he bullies opponents - he immediately improves the Bulls' lackluster transition game and he solidifies the Bulls' backcourt.

Dunn and Sexton can play off one another, even if it relegates the former to a Marcus Smart-type role: important, useful, just not in the spotlight. Sexton running pick-and-roll/pop with Markkanen only makes both players better, and it allows the Bulls freedom to look at a wing or a big with the 22nd pick. If the Bulls feel Sexton will be there at 10, 11 or 12, perhaps they trade with a team looking to move up for a Michael Porter Jr. or Trae Young. But Sexton's talent supersedes any positional needs for the Bulls. They can fill holes later on needs. When a talent is waiting for them to draft, they've got to take it and run.