Bulls

Once again, LeBron James is all alone but it could be enough

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Once again, LeBron James is all alone but it could be enough

Fitting that David Blatt is exposing himself as a less-than-stellar option for an NBA coach, leaving assistants to prevent him from calling timeouts he didn’t have or drawing up plays that has the best player as an inbounds pass.

It’s fitting LeBron James is having to trudge through the Eastern Conference playoffs with one co-star severely hobbled and another out for the entire run with a bad shoulder.

“It’s huge. We didn’t have any timeouts and we didn’t want to get a T,” James said. “That’s why we’re a unit, that’s why we’re a team. Players make mistakes and coaches make mistakes. And we have to cover for one another. (Assistant coach Tyronn) Lue did that by covering for Blatt and I just tried to cover for my guys on the floor.”

Because for all his work to orchestrate which teammates would join him in his return to Cleveland and which guys would be jettisoned out, James again finds himself in a similar position — staring down the barrel of a team with multiple weapons, a re-emerging star of its own and a player determined to make every step for him as grimy and difficult as possible — alone.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

That feeling where the life leaves your body — where muscles turn to mush, where fans’ screams of joy turn to open-mouthed gasps of anguish? James transferred those emotions to the Bulls players and their fans with the stroke of one fadeaway jumper, a game-winner that probably was more debilitating to the Bulls than Friday’s Derrick Rose shot energized the city and franchise.

“I wanted to get a good look. I faked like I wanted to go for the lob and bounced back to the left corner and took a shot I was comfortable taking,” James said. “It’s a huge win for our group, it means more than just a win for our young group. For us to come into a hostile environment was huge.”

If not for the officials review and extra time to draw a play James made sure to scrap from the jump, the player-coach was blunt and truthful about what would’ve happened anyways.

“We would’ve been prepared. I would’ve made sure our guys were in the right position to get a good look,” James said. “In that situation I can get loose and get a good look no matter who’s on me.”

“To be honest the play that was drawn up, I scratched and told coach just give me the ball. And we’re either gonna go into overtime or I’m gonna win it for us.  It’s that simple.”

[MORE: LeBron's own buzzer beater sends series to 2-2 tie]

In the words of in-game performer and Chicago native Kanye West, “no one man should have all that power.”

Of course, James’ talent is unmatched, but the task of trying to get through the East to the Finals for a fifth straight time is starting to wear on him. Larry Bird’s body broke down. Magic Johnson couldn’t do it. Michael Jordan retired (twice) before his body and spirit had a chance to betray him.

James, looking at the supporting cast in Miami compared to what he could put together as de-facto general manager back in Cleveland, made the calculated decision to head back north, seeing a budding all-star in Kyrie Irving, a No. 1 pick in Andrew Wiggins who could be used as leverage, and plenty other pieces that could be used on the floor or as trade bait as opposed to an aging core in Miami led by his buddy Dwyane Wade.

With Irving’s effectiveness a serious question mark and James being unaware if Irving could muster Wade-like performances while playing through pain, he’s right back to where he started—only this time he’s being forced to depend on the likes of the combustible J.R. Smith, who actually helped save James in the fourth quarter with 11 points.

While James is finding out the toughness his teammates possess, an inexperienced team is learning and growing on the job, quite rapidly.

[RELATED: Cavaliers stand behind ailing Kyrie Irving]

“The kid is a warrior,” said James of Irving. “What he’s gone through right now nobody can relate. He’s played 48 minutes on a sore foot the last two games. Just his presence on the floor, no matter if he’s playing on one foot, you have to account for him because he can make shots. It goes a long way, it’s not just about basketball what this kid is doing for our team right now. He’s giving us everything he’s got and that’s all we can ask for.”

The James explosion hasn’t happened, which should give Bulls that same sinking feeling that was in the pit of their stomachs leaving Game 4.  With Jimmy Butler hounding him, he’s shooting just 37.7 percent from the field, which would qualify as his lowest since the 2007 NBA Finals, a four-game sweep from the San Antonio Spurs and the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals, a seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics, a team whose defense was engineered by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

“If I get one game where we shoot 50 percent, we might be able to do some things,” James said. “For seven straight years I’e raised it and I take that seriously. I also know that some challenges present different ways of winning. I know my point guard is hobbled and other all-star is out for the season. Shot attempts, efficiency, I want to be efficient but it’s not happening in this series now. I want to do the other things.”

He’s going to the glass, with 11.2 rebounds, and dishing it out to the tune nine assists per game.  So much of the Cavaliers’ fortunes rely in his capable hands and despite his turnovers, offensive fouls and moments where he looks more human than bionic—he’s still the most impactful player in this series.

And if you didn’t, you probably had your mouth wide open, gasping at that fadeaway, because even all alone, you’d still better fear him.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:


Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.