Bulls

Bulls stun Cavaliers, spoil Tyronn Lue's NBA coaching debut

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Bulls stun Cavaliers, spoil Tyronn Lue's NBA coaching debut

CLEVELAND — The circumstances were all in place for the Bulls to succumb in an environment that was set for a blowout loss—and with the way they’d been playing, they didn’t need perfect circumstances for such an outcome.

They came in losing six of eight, it was the third game in four nights and the opponent on the other side was allegedly charged up for their new head coach’s debut.

But the other side of the bi-polar Bulls emerged to play spoiler for Tyronn Lue’s first game, flipping the switch to reverse the trend for a 96-83 victory at Quicken Loans Arena Saturday night.

The Cavs certainly looked out of sorts and just as fragile as the Bulls have been for the past several weeks, but the Bulls displayed a bit more fervor than they had recently, not allowing the Cavaliers to jump out early and keeping the crowd subdued.

“With a team like that and a leader like that in LeBron, you’re on alert, I’ll say that,” Derrick Rose said. “Coming into the game, you know the stadium is gonna be rocking and they’re gonna be real hype for the game.”

Pau Gasol re-emerged to score 25 and 10 rebounds, as the Bulls reversed a couple damning trends over the last couple weeks, such as turning the ball over too much and not controlling their defensive glass.

They outrebounded the Cavaliers 53-48, holding their playoff tormentors to 37 percent shooting and committing just eight turnovers, a contrast to their embarrassing showing in Boston.

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“They responded. We talked a lot about that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talked about coming out and playing with a lot of energy early and we had to match it. I thought we did that.”

It doesn’t show up in the box score, but Taj Gibson was single-handedly battling the Cavs bigs inside, keeping Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov off the glass. His 3-point play opportunity with 1:49 left gave the Bulls an 11-point lead, effectively ending whatever threat the Cavs intended to pull off.

He scored 15 and eight rebounds, outperforming Love’s 14 and five rebound performance. After getting poked in the eye late in Boston, he had to play with goggles and Rose joked he might have to continue playing with the goggles if he keeps producing like this.

“I couldn’t see out of my eye, it was completely black,” Gibson said. “I didn’t know if I was gonna play today. It was scary. It was still a little blurry.”

The Bulls were thought to need heroic performances from Jimmy Butler and Rose, but they had relatively off-nights despite being effective, with 20 and 12, respectively.

But then again, some things were out of their control. The Cavs uncharacteristically started out 1 for 10 from the free-throw line. When they hit their second free throw late in the third quarter, the Quicken Loans Arena crowd cheered wildly—out of sarcasm, and finished nine of 22 from the stripe.

By that point, they were nearing panic mode as the Bulls led by 10 despite not shooting the ball well, but received necessary contributions from Nikola Mirotic, who at that point in the evening outscored LeBron James 14-10.

It’s funny how we always get up to play the big teams,” Gibson said. “It’s just funny how we muster up and play great. We have to learn from it. Niko played great. These are games that help guys overcome hurdles from the past.”

[MORE: First place Cleveland Cavaliers fire head coach David Blatt]

Mirotic hit a triple to start the fourth quarter, giving the Bulls their biggest lead of night at 77-60.

Gasol, just as he did in Game 1 of their playoff series last May, kept the bigs at bay with his mid-range shooting, hitting 11 of 15 shots and even finished on a fast break feed from Gibson, the Bulls’ only basket in that category.

Neither will take this game film and frame it, but entering the arena there was a different feel, and the Bulls will caution against any long-term views by going up 2-0 in the season series.

“We’ve been 2-0 many times against the past,” Gibson said. “It’s about when it’s time to knuckle up and it’s playoff time. I’d rather be up 2-0 against the Cavs in the playoffs.”

Butler and James were the only two on the floor two and a half hours before the charged up contest, as Butler was in full lather going through his array of shots with assistant coach Jim Boylen.

Butler scored 13 in the first half, while James couldn’t get much of anything going outside the perimeter. It was to the point Butler was giving James the outside shot and James couldn’t hit it, going 0 for 5 beyond the three-point line. James neared a triple-double with 23, 13 rebounds and nine assists but took 27 shots and hit only 11.

As drama-filled as the Cavaliers’ present is, as well as their future, it’s only matched by the Bulls’ unpredictability—and the playoffs are still four months away.

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: