Bulls

Despite scoring droughts, Bulls remain positive heading into Cleveland

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Despite scoring droughts, Bulls remain positive heading into Cleveland

Leads in the NBA can disappear in a heartbeat, especially with the increased importance of the 3-point shot, but the Bulls’ scoring droughts prevented them from building upon leads in Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Of course, it was moot when LeBron James hit his game-winner from the left baseline at the buzzer, tying the hotly-contested series at 2-2. But the Bulls went extended periods in the second and fourth quarter where they could’ve applied true pressure to a reeling Cavaliers team, having a 37-29 lead in the second and 68-57 lead in the waning moments of the third.

[MORE - David Blatt's blunder should've cost Cavs in Game 4 vs. Bulls]

What ensued was the Bulls not doing the things that earned the lead — moving the ball to second and third options and putting extra stress on a Cavaliers perimeter defense that has an overworked James and severely hobbled Kyrie Irving.

“I think it's the flow of the game,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said. “There were definitely some shots we wanted back. I mean, big lead, eight points, 10 points. There's no such thing as a big lead. That doesn't mean anything.”

Noah’s initial statement could certainly be attributed to the events in the first half, when both teams have plenty of time to take a feel for the game and rebound before things get out of hand.

And with the Bulls being without Pau Gasol, it put others in increased roles, or in the case of Nikola Mirotic, a role at all. After a productive Game 3, Mirotic couldn’t find much of anything Sunday, going missing eight of his nine shots in 18 minutes, although he registered a game-high +8 on the plus-minus scale.

“Yeah, those were good shots,” Mirotic said. “I just didn’t feel great shooting. Of course my teammates found me, there were some open shots, but I need to refresh my mind. I need to today work on my shots, and tomorrow I need to just take the shots again because I know that I’m going to make it.’’

[COLUMN: LeBron all alone again but it could be enough]

Tom Thibodeau wasn’t too upset with Mirotic’s shot selection, but there wasn’t a lot of room to single much of anyone out aside from Derrick Rose, who shot 11-for-23 while his teammates combined to go just 21-for-66 (31 percent)

“Yeah. I mean, I'll take the shots,” Thibodeau said. “There might have been one or two that could have been a little better but for the most part, his shots were very good.”

But going nearly 10 minutes with just two field goals in the fourth quarter before Rose got going late proved to be damaging, a golden opportunity wasted.

“We gotta make shots,” Thibodeau said. “We missed a lot of open shots and we missed layups. And I thought late, we didn’t run. We gotta make sure that we run late. We got some good looks that we gotta make.”

However, in the same vein the Bulls don’t capitalize on their success, they haven’t let the disappointment of losing out on a chance to take a 3-1 lead dampen their spirits — a curse and blessing in a sense.

“There's not much you can say other than, that game is gone,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully you establish that habit throughout the course of the season. You learn from the game, analyze the things you could have done better, and get ready for the next one.

“There's going to be ups and downs in a series, you're going to be tested in every way imaginable and you have to be able to handle the ups, the downs, get through it, we've got to walk through the fire together.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]

Together, the Bulls walk into an inferno in Cleveland, facing a hobbled team that appears to have new life while they insist the heartbreak is behind them.

“You've just got to move on, can't let it linger,” Noah said. “We have to be strong mentally. I think we've gone through a lot this year as a team and we're excited.”

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Moral victory for the Bears?

David Schuster, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley join Kap on the panel.

0:00- Dave Wannstedt joins the panel to discuss the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots? Was it a moral victory? Is Matt Nagy crazy to say Mitch Trubisky didn’t play that bad?

13:00- Joe Girardi pulls his name out of the Reds managerial search and Jon Heyman reports that industry sources believe he might wait to see if there’s an opening in Chicago. What are the chances that he replaces Joe Maddon?

14:30- Adam Amin joins Kap to preview the Bulls/Mavericks game and discuss the lack of defense in the NBA.