Iman Shumpert will play as J.R. Smith returns for Cavs


Iman Shumpert will play as J.R. Smith returns for Cavs

The Cavaliers finally received some good news on the injury front prior to Game 3, as guard Iman Shumpert will play Friday after suffering a groin injury on Wednesday. David Blatt's group also will get back J.R. Smith, who finished serving his two-game suspension for hitting Jae Crowder in the face in the first round of the playoffs.

Blatt said he'll monitor Shumpert's minutes over the course of the game, but he will get the start at shooting guard alongside Kyrie Irving.

Smith hasn't played in live game action in 12 days, but Blatt expects the sharpshooter to be ready based off the work he's done leading up to Game 3.

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"J.R.’s an experienced player, he’s a guy that’s a very big part of our system and of what we do and he’s worked hard these last 12 days to stay ready, and I know he’s going to go out there and give us everything he has," Blatt said. "I hope that time off without games doesn’t affect him negatively. In terms of his approach and in terms of his mental readiness, I’m not concerned. Just hope he finds the rhythm of the game and I hope he’s able to do the things he normally does for us."

Shumpert took on an extended role with the Cavaliers in the first two games of the series, starting in place of the suspended Smith. And the fourth year guard responded, averaging 18.5 points while connecting on 8 of 17 3-pointers. Still, Cleveland's offense will function at a higher clip with Smith back in the lineup; after being dealt to the Cavs in mid-January, Smith averaged 2.8 3-pointers per game on 39 percent shooting. Smith hasn't come off the bench for the Cavs since his debut with the team on Jan. 7. In that game he missed all five of his shots and went scoreless in 18 minutes.

Blatt also added that Smith has been committed to staying sharp during his layover.

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A second team bus containing Blatt and many members of the Cavaliers didn't arrive at the United Center until about 70 minutes before tip-off of Game 3 due to weather and traffic.

But the Cavs head coach doesn't believe the unique circumstance will hinder the Cavs.

"I was looking at our guys and it didn’t seem to bother them, you know what I mean? I’ve seen situations where guys get really nervous under those circumstances. I didn’t see that," Blatt said. "No police escort and these guys have probably been through this before, so they should be fine. We did practice this morning, they got work in, so they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable."

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night


Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

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