Cavs' chances against Bulls could hinge on Irving's foot


Cavs' chances against Bulls could hinge on Irving's foot

The Cavaliers understood their margin for error was minimal. Playing without Kevin Love against a playoff-tested Bulls team would require, among other factors, near-perfect execution from LeBron James and, in his playoff debut, Kyrie Irving. Though a pair of trades in January that sent them three key role players had kick-started the Eastern Conference's hottest team, a third leading scorer on the bench meant more productivity needed from their top two players.

The latter didn’t occur Friday night in Game 3, with Irving struggling through an aggravated foot injury that now puts his health status for the rest of the series in question as the Cavaliers face a must-win on Sunday, trailing the Bulls 2-1.

Irving appeared to roll his ankle in the first quarter, noticeably limping during that opening 12 minutes in which he attempted just one shot and failed to show off his lightning-quick aggressiveness that had dissected the Bulls’ defense through the first two games of the series.

And while that limp faded away over the course of the game, Irving’s passive play did not. The point guard who had tallied 51 points on 32 shots in Games 1 and 2 rarely had the ball in his hands in the second half, at one point in the third quarter stood in the right corner on back-to-back possessions without getting a touch.

[RELATED: Cavs can live with Rose's game-winning shot]

After the game Cavaliers head coach David Blatt revealed that Irving had aggravated the foot injury and seemed pleasantly surprised that his All-Star point guard was able to push through the injury, logging 38 minutes despite shooting 3-for-13 and not handing out a single assist in the loss.

Irving then delved further, saying he had suffered the injury in Game 2 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, meaning the foot has been bothering him for more than two weeks. Though Irving did push through in the second half, logging 22 of a possible 24 minutes, he admitted that he “(used) myself as a decoy at times” and couldn’t get the burst he wanted going toward the basket or lift on his shot after aggravating the foot in the first quarter. He also wasn't effective defensively, with Blatt opting against using him on Rose, who scored 24 second-half points.

Irving said he doesn’t plan to miss any time with the lingering injury, though if a similar occurrence happens one has to wonder how effective he can be against a Bulls backcourt that hit its stride in the second half and will take plenty of momentum into Sunday’s monumental Game 4.

But Irving also understands the situation in front of him. Without Love, and without a bench to match the Bulls’ second unit in both minutes and productivity, Irving is no longer just an asset for the Cavaliers. He’s a necessity.

Matthew Dellavedova logged 16 crucial minutes, scoring 10 points. The Cavs also got back the services of J.R. Smith, who scored 14 points – including a game-tying 3-pointer with 11 seconds left – in his return from a two-game suspension.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Neither are Irving. And neither would be able to maintain the level of scoring and overall success that a healthy Irving brings to the table, despite the Cavaliers being one miracle shot from Rose away from sending Game 3 to overtime.

“I don’t make any excuses for myself. For me to go out there, obviously I was just trying to play it through it as best I can and I’m still going to continue to do that,” Irving said after the game. “I’m not going to hang my head on having a bad foot or anything like that. I’ve got to have that attitude and mind set to go out there and compete for my brothers.”

Added Blatt: "Kyrie has been playing hurt. He has been giving us all he has and will continue to do that."

LeBron James, who took on the tall task of trying to beat the Bulls on the road without his partner-in-crime at full health, struggled with the added responsibility. His jump shot continued to fail him, as he went just 8-for-25 from the field, and he committed seven of the Cavaliers' 11 turnovers, which the Bulls turned into 14 points. His effect on the game didn't feel like 27 points and 14 assists, largely because Irving wasn't there to complement him.

[WATCH: Rose drains buzzer beater to send Bulls home victorious in Game 3]

But James, unlike Irving, has been here before. Friday was James' 165th career playoff game, and he knows the Cavaliers and Irving won't get any free passes because of the latter's injury. The Bulls smell blood in the water, and with less than 48 hours to prepare for a must-win game the four-time MVP is confident Irving will do what he has to do to get the series back on track.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us. No one feels sorry for Kyrie because he’s hurt. And we’re not going to make any excuses," James said. "If he’s on the court he has to make plays. And I have to help him, he has to help me, and we have to help our team.

"The injuries, obviously I know from a competitive standpoint it’s killing him inside because I know what type of competitor he is and I know what type of teammate he is, and he wants to do everything great for his teammates. But the situation is what it is. He’s a great competitor. He gave us 40 minutes on one foot. As frustrating as it is for him, he’ll do it again.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition


2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.