Chicago Bulls

Bulls hope to lock up top seed vs. struggling Cavs

369722.jpg

Bulls hope to lock up top seed vs. struggling Cavs

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 10:35 a.m.
Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls took a huge step towards securing the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a dominating performance their last time out.

A matchup against the conference's worst club could help them clinch.

Seeking a fifth consecutive win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls begin a three-game trip Friday night looking to lock up the top seed in the East.

Chicago (58-20) defeated Boston 97-81 on Thursday night to increase its lead over the Celtics and Miami for first place in the conference to four games with four remaining.

The Bulls, winners of five straight and 17 of 19, can earn home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs with a win or a Celtics loss. Boston hosts Washington on Friday.

"I always said that we could compete with some of the best teams in the NBA," said MVP candidate Derrick Rose, who scored 30 points. "At training camp and in the beginning of the year, I thought my team's ready to fight. I just saw what we were going through in training camp. Guys were keyed in and focused, making sure that they came in very, very hungry, wanting to win."

Rose, the only NBA player who ranks in the top 10 in both points (25.1) and assists (7.9), is averaging 27.0 and 9.0, respectively, in three wins over Cleveland in 2010-11.

Chicago, which hasn't finished atop the East since winning the most recent of its six NBA championships in 1997-98, has won eight of nine on the road - including four straight by an average of 15.7 points while shooting 51.6 percent.

Carlos Boozer is averaging 14.7 points - 3.0 less than his season mark - on 39.6 percent shooting over his last three games. The forward, who spent the first two years of his career with the Cavaliers, has averaged 20.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in the last two contests against his former team.

The Bulls are allowing an average of 93.6 points over their current win streak. They have won 13 in a row and are 48-2 when holding opponents under 95 points.

While Chicago has held the Cavaliers to 84.3 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting this season, forward Luol Deng knows his team can't overlook them.

"We never look at their record. Cleveland is playing some good basketball," said Deng, who scored 23 points against the Celtics.

"...(Thursday) was a big game, we know that, but our mentality gotta be the next game. We walk out of this locker room, get on a plane, our mindset gotta be right, we can't take any team light."

Following a 99-89 win over Charlotte on Tuesday, Cleveland (17-61) defeated Toronto 104-96 on the road Wednesday night, recording back-to-back victories for the first time since a three-game run Nov. 5-9.

"We are starting to see the benefits of hard work," guard Daniel Gibson said. "After all of the tough things that have happened, we are starting to understand what it's all about to play basketball the right way and win games."

Big man J.J. Hickson continued his impressive play with 28 points and 10 rebounds against the Raptors.

Hickson, averaging 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds over his last 11 games, had 13 points on 26.3 percent shooting and a career-best 20 boards Jan. 22 in a 92-79 loss at Chicago

The Cavaliers have won three of four at home while limiting opponents to 92.3 points per game.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

wadehassan.png
USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

michaelporter.jpg
USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.