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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts


Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

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.