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Five Things to Watch: LeBron, Cavs visit Bulls Friday on CSN

Five Things to Watch: LeBron, Cavs visit Bulls Friday on CSN

Get the hometown call as the Bulls and Cavaliers square off Friday night on CSN/CSN+ and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch

1. Neil and Stacey. CSN Chicago is the only place where you can hear Neil Funk and Stacey King give you the hometown call of Friday night's game.

2. Wade vs. LeBron. Once LeBron James changes out of his Cubs uniform and takes the United Center floor, he'll square off against one of his best buddies in Dwyane Wade. Wade admitted Friday's matchup is more than just another game, and it's always a blast watching the two future Hall of Famers battle. After winning two titles in Miami and leaving for Cleveland, James has faced Wade five times. James has a small advantage in statistics, averaging 26.8 points and 5.2 assists to Wade's 23.8 points and 3.0 assists in that span. But Wade holds a 3-2 head-to-head advantage.

3. Best of the best. The Eastern Conference appears to be a one-team race, with Cleveland out in front of everyone else. But the Bulls have played well at home this season, already earning victories over the Celtics, Blazers, Jazz and Lakers. And they've fared well against James in recent memory; since James returned to Cleveland the Bulls are 4-3 against him in Chicago.

4. Defending Kyrie Irving. While LeBron, SI's Sportsperson of the Year, is earning well-deserved praise for his start to the year, Kyrie Irving has been the Cavs' leading scorer. Irving is averaging career-bests in points, field-goal percentage, 3-pointers made and 3-point field-goal percentage. He's been a nightmare for opposing point guards, and Rajon Rondo hasn't exactly wowed anything with his defensive play. A key to the game will be Chicago's ability to limit Irving, while taking advantage of Irving's lackluster defensive play on the other end. 

5. A contrast of styles. Fred Hoiberg's offense was predicated on 3-point shooting when he arrived in Chicago at the start of last year. But his roster isn't built for that, and the Bulls rank second-to-last in 3-pointers attempted. On the other hand, the Cavaliers have relied on the deep ball as much as anyone in the Eastern Conference (and only less than the Rockets in the entire league). The Cavs will live at the 3-point line, and have at least three and as many as five capable 3-point shooters on the floor at a given time. Friday's matchup should be close, but the way the two teams score their points will not be.

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SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:


Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen. 
 

Bulls Talk Podcast: Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the league?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the league?

Mark Schanowski talks all things hoops with Indianapolis Star Pacers beat writer J.Michael. Is Victor Oladipo ready to take the next step as a legitimate MVP candidate? Can the Pacers challenge the top three teams in the East? Is Zach LaVine really one of the most over-hyped players in the NBA? And, will the signing of Dwight Howard mean disaster in the nation’s capital? Plus, the guys make their predictions for the upcoming season.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: