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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.

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

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USA TODAY

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

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USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."