Bulls: Thibs must make most of versatile bench against Cavs


Bulls: Thibs must make most of versatile bench against Cavs

It doesn’t take an expert to tell you the Cleveland Cavaliers will miss Kevin Love in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bulls. Sure, Love struggled at times in playing the third wheel to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s still one of the NBA’s elite power forwards, capable of putting up 20-point, 10-rebound games with regularity, while providing the floor spacing that’s so important to the Cavaliers offense.

But the loss of Love (and J.R. Smith for the first two games because of a league suspension), has an even greater impact when the two teams go to their benches. It’s expected Cleveland coach David Blatt will start 6-foot-9 Tristan Thompson in Love’s spot, and Thompson had great success against the Bulls during the regular season, averaging 5.5 offensive rebounds per game. The combination of Thompson and Timofey Mozgov inside will definitely pose some problems for Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah inside, and keeping the Cleveland bigs from dominating the offensive boards will be one of the keys to the series.

But what does Blatt do when Thompson and Mozgov need to rest? Enforcer Kendrick Perkins will get some playing time in the middle, looking to punish Derrick Rose and any other Bulls who drive to the basket. But the power forward spot provides some interesting options for Blatt. Does he go with seldom-used veteran Shawn Marion, or simply slide LeBron James to that spot and go with either James Jones or Mike Miller at small forward? Miller might be an option at shooting guard as well in the first two games when Smith serves his suspension for punching Jae Crowder in the final game of their first-round series against Boston.

[MORE: Bulls will be at full strength facing LeBron, Cavs]

No matter which option Blatt chooses, Thibodeau should have a deeper and more talented reserve group throughout the series. Taj Gibson is one of the league’s top sixth men, and has the size and quickness to guard James if he moves to the power forward spot. Gibson’s post-up skills could also cause problems for Cleveland if they try to defend him with Marion. Look for Gibson to log extended minutes throughout the series.

Nikola Mirotic is the ultimate X factor for the Bulls, giving Thibodeau a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can hurt the Cavs with his outside shooting or his ability to drive to the basket. Mirotic wasn’t very effective after suffering a leg injury in Game 2 against Milwaukee, but the additional time off should have him close to full strength for this round. Thibodeau will have to pick his spots in using the European rookie to protect him against bad defensive matchups, but he could give the Bulls the offensive boost they need in close games.

It’s a similar story in the backcourt, where Bulls’ reserves Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell all bring something a little different to the table against Cleveland’s duo of Iman Shumpert and Australian Matthew Dellavedova. Shumpert figures to start the first two games of the series while Smith is out, but he’s not nearly the same type of threat on the offensive end. When Smith returns for Game 3, look for Shumpert to come off the bench as a wing defender to match up with Jimmy Butler when James slides to the power forward spot.

Thibodeau should be able to mix and match his reserve guards depending on the lineup Cleveland has on the floor. Given the size of Cleveland’s shooting guards and Irving’s quick strike scoring ability, Brooks will again be a negative on the defensive end. Thibodeau will try to use Brooks at point guard when Dellavedova is on the court and hope he can provide the scoring punch that made him such a valuable reserve during the regular season.

[MORE: Bulls get what they want in matchup with LeBron, Cavaliers]

Look for Hinrich to get limited minutes in a defensive role against Irving, but the real wild card in this series could be Snell. Remember how good he was in the Bulls’ lone win over Cleveland during the regular season, scoring 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting in a starting role and playing solid defense against James? Snell has the quickness and length at 6-foot-7 to give Butler some help in guarding James and Smith on the perimeter. And, if Snell is knocking down that 3-point shot, he gives Thibodeau another floor spacer to make the Cavs pay for sending double teams at Rose or Butler.

This series figures to be extremely close, with bench scoring capable of swinging one or more games in the Bulls’ favor. Let’s see how creative Thibodeau can be in using his five primary reserves and find out if the Bulls can really take it to the Cavs when the 30-somethings such as Marion, Perkins, Miller and Jones are on the floor.

All of our 2018 NBA Draft content in one convenient place


All of our 2018 NBA Draft content in one convenient place

The NBA Draft is upon us. And we've got all of our NBA Draft content in one place for you. How convenient.

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Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer says Nate Robinson was one of his favorite teammate because 'he would bring snacks to every flight'

Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson only played one season together with the Bulls. But oh, what a memorable campaign it was.

And it produced a friendship that still lasts to this day. Cupcakes and snacks will do just that.

Boozer retold a story to NBC Sports Chicago on Tuesday of Robinson and his daughter, Navyi, baking cupcakes for Bulls players on road trips.

"We had so much fun. Me and Nate hit it off right away," Boozer said. "We're both very animated, we're both very loud, we talk a lot, we're great teammates. We love playing passionately, we compete.

"Nate is one of the best teammates I ever had. I played my whole life, I've been playing a long time and he's the only teammate that would bring snacks to every flight. And we'd travel on the road, he would bake us cupcakes for every road game. I never had that before.

"Him and his daughter, Navyi, would bake the cupcakes before every road game. So every road game we'd get to the plane and Nate would hook us up with cupcakes.

"Just a great teammate. He'd go through a brick wall for you, never complained, practice every day, play every day, ready to come and give it his best."

Boozer and Robinson will face off against each other during the Big3 Tournament, which begins this weekend in Houston. The league will travel to Chicago and the United Center on June 29.

"I'm looking forward to being in Chicago," Boozer said. "We've got a lot of great fans out there. I miss the (United Center), miss that Chicagotime summer weather and looking forward to getting back out there in a couple weeks."

Boozer's Ghost Ballers and Robinson's Tri-State team won't square off against one another until Week 5 in Miami. But it's sure to be a fun matchup for the two friends and snack buddies.

"He's one of my brothers, one of my closest friends," Boozer said. "Nate has been training like an animal and he's gonna use this platform to show everybody how much skills he has, also to get back into the NBA. Nate's a great talent and I'm looking forward to seeing him get down."

Boozer's team includes co-captains Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis, which gives them a pretty solid trio heading into the event. But no teammate, NBA or Big3, can match Nate Rob and his cupcakes.

Check out more on the Big3 right here.