Bulls

Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

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Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

CLEVELANDThe killer instinct required to be the last team standing at the end of the season was on full display Friday night, as the Bulls (30-8) handily dispatched the Cavaliers (13-21), 112-91, at Quicken Loans Arena.

Though the Central Division rival presented a challenge early in the contest, they wilted under the Bulls defensive pressure and offensive efficiency, as five Chicago players scored in double figures on the evening.

With Cavaliers starting point guard Kyrie Irvingthe No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and Rookie of the Year front-runnerout with a bug he caught during All-Star weekend in Orlando, it appeared the Bulls would win in a rout. Particularly, with a fully-intact starting lineup, as compared to the two teams last matchup near the shores of Lake Erie, which Derrick Rose (19 points, nine assists) missed.

However, Cleveland had other ideas, as fill-in starter Ramon Sessions (16 points, seven assists) more than made up for Irvings absence, while veteran forward Antawn Jamison (22 points) had a flashback to his All-Star past, helping to erase the visitors early lead.

Theres things we can do better and were going to have to do better. I dont think we started the game out the way were capable of. I thought they got going, they got some confidence, so we want start a lot better than we did, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Offensively, of course, I thought we played very unselfishly31 assists, high percentageso Im pleased with that, but our defense, we can do a lot better with that.

Ineffectiveness from the tandem of post duo Carlos Boozer (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Joakim Noahthe latter picked up two quick foulsled Thibodeau to go to reserve big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, but even the defensive-minded pair couldnt slow down the home teams offensive pace.

Chicago was bailed out by first-time All-Star Luol Deng (24 points, 4-for- three-point shooting, six rebounds, four assists), who knocked down three shots from behind the arc, shouldering the scoring load as the guests led, 30-28, after the opening period.

Its how the game went. We moved the ball well, guys made some good plays and my shot was falling, so I stayed aggressive, Deng explained. The last game against San Antonio, I didnt come out aggressive. I made it a point to myself tonight that I was going to come out aggressive and we moved the ball well, and knocked down shots and it kind of opened up the game, and guys were making smart plays. Jo was all over the boards, Boozer was making his shots, Rip was moving real well, keeping the defense occupied and I was open, and Derrick was penetrating. We all connected tonight.

I said it about Derrick, I said it about Rip, having everyone makes everyones job easier. You look at the way we played tonight. Its so much easier. You dont have to overdo it. With me, my game, when I try to overdo it, I struggle. Keeping it simple and being smart out there is my game, the games high scorer continued. I said it from the start of the year: I think weve just got to find a way to win. I really dont care, at the end of the night, what my line looks like. Im just lucky and blessed to be on a team that all we care about is winning. At the end of the night, we won, were happy, we get on the bus, we leave. When we lose, thats when you start thinking, What could I have done better? But as long as youre out there playing hard, we get the win, thats what its about.

Thibodeau, who described his ironman small forward as a good winning veteran added: He was very aggressive right from the start. He spaced the floor great. I thought our guys made very unselfish plays, either kicking the ball out from the double team and the post-up or in the pick-and-rolls, making the extra pass, and that got him going.

Rose chimed in: Shooting with confidence. There were some shots that I got on him about and we need him to shoot it. If he doesnt shoot it, our offense becomes stagnant and thats something that we cant look forward to.

The game remained close knit at the outset of the second quarter, as neither team could muster up consistent scoring, though the Cavs continued to plug away behind Jamison and Sessions.

But the Bulls reserves began to wear away at their hosts, as sharpshooter Kyle Korver drilled a trio of triples, while swingman Ronnie Brewer (13 points) made an impact with his energetic defense, twice stealing inbound passes, as well as making an impact as a scorer.

Whatever my role is on this team, when my name is called, Ive got to do it to the best of abilities. Weve got Rip back. Hes an excellent scorer, one of the best in the history of the game at moving without the basketball and he adds another asset to this team, so with him in the lineup and me back to the Bench Mob, I feel comfortable with those guys, moving and getting the ball, being more aggressive. I just try to do my job, night in and night out, Brewer, who Boozer described as like an octopus, told CSNChicago.com.

It makes my job a lot easier when youve got guys like Taj Gibson and Omer inside holding it down, rebounding, blocking shots. It allows me to be more aggressiveJoakim in there, rebounding, blocking shotsIm able to play the passing lanes, be more aggressive, run the floor because were getting defensive stops. All those guys getting a lot of attention, especially Derrick, it makes my job a lot easier.

Praised Rose: Brew changed the game with stealshuge stealsplaying defense, knocking down his shot. He has a lot of confidence in his shot now and we just need him to keep playing like that.

Thibodeau concurred: Ronnie has really played at a high level all year long, whether its been as a starter, bench guy, in all areashis defense, his offense, running the floor, making hustle plays, like he came up with those stealshes uncanny with just reading things, so hes playing very well right now.

Chicago gradually opened up a double-digit winning margin, as Rose was in cruise-control mode, Boozer started to find his groove and the teams defense stifled the once-efficient Cleveland offense. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 56-44 advantage and had sapped whatever energy was left from the audience.

The ball movement was great. The ball didnt stick. Everyone was conscious of making the extra pass, hitting the open man, said Thibodeau. In the second quarter, Kyle got us going. We had good ball movement, inside-out and he got some good looks at the basket, so that gave us a little bit of a cushion. Our second unit, their defense was really good and that sort of turned things around for us.

Added Rip Hamilton: Its hard to guard. If we continue to do that, well be tough to beat because you really cant lock in on anything and I think thats the biggest part.

The thing about it is we care about each other so much, so when a guys got it rolling, we make a conscious effort to get him the ball and that tells you what type of great team we have, he continued. Nobodys selfish or anything like that. You see a guy rolling and you try to keep it going.

Echoed Brewer to CSNChicago.com: We have a lot of unselfish guys on this team. Youve got a guy flying at you and you see a guy open in the corner, you make the extra pass, so it shows that weve got good guys on this team, willing to make the extra plays to win games.

Rose and Boozer asserted themselves even further after the break, enabling the Bulls to widen the gap even more against the largely inexperienced home team, which had little offensive firepower to speak of.

Another positive to the Bulls ongoing onslaught was Hamiltons (10 points) solid outingthe veteran played the entire first quarter and eight minutes of the thirdas the shooting guard was efficient and scored within the flow of the offense.

After the back-to-back, he was feeling fine, said Thibodeau, who admitted that he didnt intend to play Hamilton for the entire first quarter, but couldnt get a substitute into the game due to a lack of stoppage of play.

He felt great in the shootaround and he moves so well without the ball that it helps to create good opportunities for us and just the poise that he plays withhes hard to guard off the screens, he reads things extremely wellso were encouraged by that.

Said Hamilton himself: I felt a lot better today. Moving around and getting to my spot, I was fine the last two nights. That was the biggest thing to me. Today was to make cuts and things like that. tonight I felt good. My rhythms coming back; it was better tonight. My timing was great, so it was good.

Noah, who wasnt in rhythm due to early foul trouble, also began to contribute, hitting a jumper from the elbowfollowed by his trademark finger guns celebration, then converting a transition layup off a feed from Rose. Rose himself dominated the action as a scorer as the period waned on and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had a 94-71 edge.

I just played aggressive, said Rose. I think, the first half, just getting guys into the game until we got the lead and just picking my spots.

Added Thibodeau: Thats the way he plays. Hes not going to force anything. Hes aggressive. I think he reads situations really well and if playmaking is what he has to do, thats what he does.

The pattern continued in the fourth quarter, as Chicago scored with remarkable ease against the sieve-like Cavaliers defense, then turned around on the other end and smothered the opposing scorers, with the lead ballooning as time ticked away.

The entire period was extended garbage time, allowing rookie wing Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrinewho scored toward the end of the game, drawing cheers from the crowdto see action in the lopsided affair.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”