Bulls roll over Cavs in finale

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Bulls roll over Cavs in finale

With a chance to secure home-court advantage throughout the postseason in the final regular season game, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau wanted nothing but the usual from his guys, even without the services of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

The Bulls (50-16) took care of business, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-75 and with the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference finalizing, will play the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the postseason starting Saturday.

Also with the win, even if San Antonio wins their season finale, Chicago, owners of the tie-breaker between the Spurs, will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

In a balanced scoring effort, John Lucas led the team with 25 points. Joakim Noah finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds and six Bulls finished with 8 or more points.

Despite a solid showing by the starters in the first period, the intensity picked up in the second period as a backcourt of Lucas, Mike James (10 points), along with Jimmy Butler (12 points), Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Noah helped to out-score the visitors 32-20 for a 58-45 lead going into halftime.

With the starters back on the floor to start the second half, the Bulls blew the game open, going up as much as 22 before settling with an 80-62 lead going into the fourth period.

The fourth quarter was simply a formality as the sizable margin led a sellout crowd to wonder when fan-favorite Brian Scalabrine would check into the game and whether they would receive their complimentary Big Macs.

They got both.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN to broadcast Notre Dame-Syracuse, NC State kickoff still TBD

ESPN selected Notre Dame's road game at North Carolina State for a six-day option, meaning we won't know what time that contest will kick off until after Oct. 1's games. 

The other two ACC games selected as part of the six-day option are Virginia Tech at North Carolina and Florida State at Miami. Both FSU (No. 12) and Miami (No. 14) are ranked in the latest AP top 25, while Virginia Tech and North Carolina both received votes in the poll. Notre Dame and NC State did not receive any votes in this week's AP poll. 

Notre Dame's game against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium this Saturday will be broadcast by ESPN, the ACC also announced, and will kick off at noon E.T.