Chicago Bulls

Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown

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Bulls host Heat in Eastern Conference showdown

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011
9:49 a.m.

Associated Press

(AP) -- When the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls squared off last month, each team played without significant contributors.

That won't be the case this time around.

Miami visits Chicago on Thursday night in an Eastern Conference showdown with both teams at full strength.

LeBron James and Joakim Noah missed the Bulls' 99-96 victory Jan. 15 at the United Center, and Miami's Chris Bosh departed early with a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss the next four games.

That left Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose virtually alone in the spotlight for their respective teams.

Chicago star Rose had 34 points to lead all scorers, while Wade scored 33 to nearly lead the Heat back from a 14-point deficit.

"We're looking forward to it," Bosh said of Thursday's matchup. "For one, they're one of the best teams in the East, really the league for that matter, and they're playing well. We feel that we dropped a game when we played them in Chicago. We weren't at 100 percent. They weren't at 100 percent. Now it's a different circumstance."

Noah returned to the Bulls' starting lineup Wednesday, scoring seven points and grabbing 16 rebounds in Chicago's 118-113 loss at Toronto. He missed the previous 30 games because of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, but the Bulls (38-17) went 22-8 without him.

"It's definitely not the result I wanted but we've just got to keep fighting," Noah said of the loss. "We've got to come with a better edge."

The 118 points allowed were the second-most this season by Chicago, which is limiting opponents to 92.4 per game.

"Defensively we just weren't there," Rose said. "When we needed a stop toward the end."

Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and Carlos Boozer added 24 - his most since he had 24 on Jan. 29 in a 110-89 victory over Indiana.

Rose, who scored a career-high 42 points last Thursday against NBA-leading San Antonio before starting alongside Wade and James for the East in Sunday's All-Star game, is averaging 30.0 points over his last six contests.

The Bulls likely will need him to step up against Miami again.

The streaking Heat (42-15) have won 11 of 12 including Tuesday's 117-97 rout of lowly Sacramento, with their only loss in that stretch coming Feb. 13 at East-leading Boston.

Miami's superstar trio showed no signs of fatigue after All-Star weekend. James scored 31 points, Wade added 23 and Bosh finished with 22 points and nine rebounds against the Kings.

"Me and D-Wade talked before the game ... and said 'Let's go out and dominate this game,'" James said.

The Heat have done anything but dominate the NBA's elite. Miami is 1-6 against Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Dallas and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Thursday's rematch with the Bulls begins a 13-game stretch in which the Heat face 12 legitimate playoff contenders.

Miami has beaten Chicago in seven of the last 10 meetings, but the Bulls have won three of the last four matchups at the United Center.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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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.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft