Bulls

Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

jr-smith-cavs-bulls-0510.png

Smith answers the Cavaliers' call in Game 4 '9-1-1 situation'

Trailing by seven on the road and 12 minutes away from facing a likely insurmountable 3-1 series deficit to the Bulls, the Cavaliers were looking for any kind of spark.

And already playing without Kevin Love, the options looked bleak for David Blatt's group. LeBron James had two more field goal (7) than he did turnovers (5). Kyrie Irving had been a non-factor dealing with a right foot strain. Iman Shumpert had gone 1-for-6 from the field, and big men Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, though efficient, weren't primary options against a Pau Gasol-less Bulls frontcourt.

So with their backs against the wall and little momentum on their side in front of a sold out United Center, the Cavaliers dialed up their streakiest shooter.

"We got J.R. Smith for the 9-1-1 situations," Iman Shumpert said with a laugh. "Thank God for J.R. Smith."

Smith responded with his best performance of the series, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final quarter to help Cleveland overcome that deficit before James connected on a buzzer-beater to even the series with an 86-84 victory.

[RELATED: LeBron's buzzer beater evens series with Bulls]

The reserve guard, who was suspended for Games 1 and 2, had only played 24 minutes through three quarters as Blatt searched for defensive matchups to hide the ailing Irving. With Irving unable to guard Derrick Rose, that shifted the responsibility of defending the Game 3 hero to Shumpert, with James defending Jimmy Butler and Irving matched up on Mike Dunleavy or Kirk Hinrich.

But after the Cavaliers shot just 5-for-20 in the third quarter, including four misses from Smith, Blatt opted for a smaller lineup that included Smith. He connected on his first attempt, a step back jumper over the outstretched arm of Nikola Mirotic to cut the deficit to five. After a pair of Mozgov free throws Smith drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 and cap off an 11-0 Cavs run.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Shortly after he connected on back-to-back triples that pushed the Cavs' lead to three as part of a 23-5 run that had Cleveland out in front by seven with 4 minutes to play. And though the Bulls came charging back to tie the game with 9 second left before James' heroics, Smith's perfect 4-for-4 shooting in the quarter gave the Cavaliers that second scorer that Irving, in his limited state, weren't able to provide. Smith's timely shooting came on an afternoon when the Cavaliers went 5-for-25 from beyond the 3-point line, including just 2 of 19 in the first three quarters. Smith was 0-for-3 from deep at that point, but it didn't sway him against continuing to find his shot.

"I just keep shooting, regardless. I could’ve gone 0-for-15 in the first half, came out in the second half and still going to shoot," Smith said after the game. "That’s just who I am. Getting good looks, teammates finding me and I’ve just got to make shots. This is a series where (the Bulls) like to pack it in, so in those situations you’ve got to come up big."

[BULLS PGL: What went wrong in Game 4 loss to Cavs?]

Smith will play a large role in the series' final two or three games. With Irving hobbled the Cavaliers will look to Smith and his streaky shooting to act as a second option offensively. It's a position he's comfortable with, and he showed off his ability to hit in clutch moments after his 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Game 3 tied things up. That supporting cast will look to complement James as best they can, in hopes of not having the four-time MVP shoot 30 times a game like he did Sunday afternoon.

"I think that’s our job," Smith admitted. "Myself, (Shumpert), everybody else, we’ve got to chip in some way and somehow, whether it’s shots, steals, rebounds, loose balls, whatever. So much pressure is put on those guys’ shoulders, we’ve got to do whatever we can to lift it off a little bit."

Sunday Smith provided that lift, and it may have saved the series.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

nba_power_rankings.jpg
USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.