Bulls Take a Big Step Forward with Win Over Cavs

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Bulls Take a Big Step Forward with Win Over Cavs

Thursday, November 5th

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Before the season began, Cleveland was the popular pick to be the Beast of the East, after adding Shaquille O'Neal in a trade with Phoenix, and Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon as free agents.

But the Cavs have been so-so at best in the first week, while Boston looks like the class of the league at 6-0. Still, winning at Cleveland is no small feat, especially when you consider the Cavs had the best home record in the NBA last season at 39-2.

Talk about showing poise under pressure, the Bulls made big plays on both ends of the floor down the stretch, with the Cavs making the key mistakes. Okay, maybe LeBron James did get fouled on that drive to the basket in the closing seconds, but so what? The Bulls played great defense on the King, forcing him to take a tough off-balance shot. Luol Deng has quite a history with James, going back to their high school days, and he didn't back down in guarding LeBron with the game on the line. James finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, but thanks to the Bulls' alert defensive rotations, he only got off 17 shots, which is about 8 to 10 less than the Cavs' coaching staff would like to see him take. Both teams shot only 41 percent from the field, and who would have thought the Bulls would be able to win a game in Cleveland with the final score in the 80's. Vinny Del Negro and his staff talked a lot about improving the Bulls' defense during training camp, and apparently all that hard work is paying off. This was a game won on the defensive end.

On the other end of the floor, the Bulls looked better at times against the Cavs, thanks to pushing the ball in transition whenever possible. My pre and post-game show partner, Kendall Gill, says the Bulls are a much more effective team when they run the floor and look for good shots early in the shot clock, instead of holding the ball and letting opposing teams set their defense. Both Rose and Kirk Hinrich did a good job of forcing the tempo against Cleveland, allowing the Bulls to get quality shots against a team with superior size and strength.

LEBRON STILL THE KING IN CLEVELAND

Wouldn't it be something if the Bulls could convince LeBron to leave Cleveland next summer, and team up with Derrick Rose to make the Bulls the team to beat in the Eastern Conference for years to come? Yes, the summer of 2010 has already been dubbed the "Summer of LeBron", because of James' upcoming free agency which could dramatically alter the balance of power in the NBA. The Bulls should have enough room under the salary cap to sign one maximum contract free agent, and even though LeBron has never been mentioned in connection with Chicago, it's fun to dream.

The Bulls had a chance to witness first-hand what an overwhelming talent James has become Thursday night in Cleveland. The reigning M.V.P. ran the court like a gazelle, and threw down fast break dunks with his head above the rim. It's awfully tough to guard a 24 year old monster who's more powerful and faster than just about anyone else on the floor. Add in the fact he's become a dangerous long range shooter and hard-working defender, and you have the best basketball player on the planet right now. Fans in Cleveland are trying to enjoy THIS season with the possibility of LeBron and Shaq bringing the city its first NBA championship, but the thought of losing James to New York or Miami or yes, even Chicago, is never too far from their minds.

DENG IS BACK

One huge positive for the Bulls so far has been the play of Deng, now in his 6th NBA season. Deng's last 2 years were short-circuited by a series of injuries, but he looks like he's back to the form that had NBA personnel people calling him a future all-star after the 2006-2007 season. Watching Luol attack the offensive boards Tuesday night against Milwaukee had to bring a smile to Bulls fans everywhere. He's never been known as a powerful offensive rebounder, but time and again he battled taller Bucks' players to get 2nd chance opportunities in a game the Bulls really needed to win. The 20 rebounds he pulled down were a career high, and the leadership he showed in bringing the Bulls back from an 18 point deficit is also a very positive sign for the season ahead.

Deng said throughout the pre-season that he felt fine physically, and there were no after-effects from the right leg stress fracture that caused him to miss the end of last season and the playoffs. But until Luol could go out in the regular season and show he could compete without fear of getting hurt again, it was only natural for fans and maybe even his teammates to be a little apprehensive. We all know the Bulls have a number of issues they're dealing with right now, starting with Rose's nagging ankle injury, so having a healthy Deng is crucial for the team to keep its head above water during a very difficult stretch of the schedule. Deng might not average 20 points a game, but his ability to hit the mid-range jumper and attack the basket gives the Bulls an offensive weapon they didn't really have down the stretch last season. And, his offensive rebounding prowess allows Vinny to go with a smaller line-up at times that will have Rose and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt and John Salmons and Deng at the forwards.

It's easy to criticize the Bulls' offense right now, with so many of their top shooters struggling to make open jumpers. Rest assured that will improve in time. Salmons, Hinrich and Rose are just too good to shoot below 40 percent from the field. Once the outside shooting gets better, the Bulls will be able to attack opposing defenses in a variety of ways. November is probably the toughest month on the schedule, so the goal is to just stay close to .500. If they can accomplish that, they're set up to make a strong push the rest of the way.

What do you think about the state of the Bulls right now? Where do they fit in the Eastern Conference power rankings? Please leave a comment in the section below, or drop me an e-mail.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre and post game studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

After a couple weeks of woozy moments, confusing car rides and 11 games of inactivity due to suffering a concussion Bulls forward Doug McDermott will return to action tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.

McDermott took a hard fall Nov. 12 against the Washington Wizards while going up for a dunk, hitting his head on the unforgiving floor of the United Center and had to go through the concussion protocol before finally being cleared. It was his second concussion this season, with the first coming on Halloween.

“Good, great, it’s been a long couple weeks, but finally feel good to be able to go out there and compete, so I’m excited,” McDermott said after morning shootaround at the Advocate Center.

The last couple of days after being cleared for contact, he practiced with the Bulls’ D-League team in the attempt to get some rhythm and most importantly, some conditioning after being out for so long.

He was in great spirits Thursday, a sharp contrast to the initial days after the concussion where the simplest tasks became herculean.

“The first week-and-a-half was tough sleeping-wise, just weird symptoms you don’t even realize,” McDermott said. “Just being in cars, going to my appointments was tough at times, some headaches throughout the week. But with a concussion you just have to be true to yourself and true to the doctors. You don’t want to lie about things because it can only make things worse. I’m finally to the point where I’m feeling better.”

McDermott said going to physical therapy or riding on the freeway would trigger vertigo in the first week, but luckily for him, it didn’t last much longer after that. The first concussion of his career took him to different place mentally, and he leaned on Celtics big man Al Horford during that time of confusion and frustration.

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Horford missed a number of games with a concussion he suffered early in the season.

“Talked to him for about 30 minutes,” McDermott said. “He was in the middle of his and I had my second one. We talked about our symptoms and he really took his time and you see his game has been really good since he came back.”

“We're really the only two guys who've had it this year. People don't really understand, it's a tough deal. Basketball can be physical. You see it a lot in football. You gotta be true to yourself, true to your doctors because you don't wanna mess around.”

With the second concussion taking place 13 days after the first, McDermott and the Bulls had to be a lot more careful the next time around. Having one is scary enough but the fall he took in the United Center probably ignited a fear in him that he didn’t know existed.

“Yeah, you have to just listen to your symptoms, but I think with the second one in such a short period of time they wanted to be cautious too, and I did too,” McDermott said. “It’s not like an ankle sprain or a knee deal where you can play through things like that. It’s your brain, so you want to be as sharp as possible.”

The Bulls need any type of reinforcement they can get, especially for the struggling bench. McDermott feels like he can add some confidence or at least put other guys in a more natural order, although that remains to be seen as Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan have really struggled in his absence — all season, it seems.

“I think we'll get our swagger back too. We've had some injuries,” McDermott said. “Once we get myself and Michael (Carter-Williams) back, we've been rotating guys that aren't used to playing with each other. Once we get some continuity there with that group, things will get better. Adding a shooter like me, it'll take pressure off Niko, take pressure off Isaiah to hit shots. Just having 3 floor spacers out there will really help all of us.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

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