Bulls Take a Big Step Forward with Win Over Cavs

62308.jpg

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.

Chicago man steals the show at Oscars, gets gifts from hometown sports teams

Chicago man steals the show at Oscars, gets gifts from hometown sports teams

Leave it to a Chicago man to steal the show at the biggest awards ceremony on the planet.

Gary, an unsuspecting tourist who arrived on the Academy Awards stage as part of an elaborate Jimmy Kimmel gag, got the opportunity of a lifetime. Along with his fiance, he chatted up some of the most famous celebrities in Hollywood and even got Denzel Washington to preside over his wedding. 

Now, the internet sensation is getting some love from his hometown basketball squad. The Chicago Bulls tweeted an invitation for when he returns to the Windy City. 

Gary, who was rocking a purple iPhone case, will also be receiving a gift from the Bears.

Not bad for a vacation to California. Keep living the dream, Gary, but please don't let us find out that you're actually from the suburbs.

 

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

Dwyane Wade's near-miss of a triple-double caused by friendly Felicio fire

In a season where the triple-double has become commonplace to the point of stat chasing in the effort to chase history, Dwyane Wade didn't mind snatching his own piece of turf.

In a game where teammate Jimmy Butler reached the feat for the first time this season, it would've been doubly satisfactory for Wade to achieve the fifth triple-double of his career.

One rebound away in the final seconds of the Bulls' 117-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the memo didn't reach Cristiano Felicio, who reached over Wade to grab a rebound, causing it to harmlessly fall out of bounds and ending Wade's chance at history.

After Wade finished with 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 34 minutes, he was asked if he "hated" Felicio for interrupting his moment.

"No hate. Just a strong dislike, though," said Wade with a wry smile. "You know how long it's been since I had a triple double? It's been a long time."

It's been six years, as his last triple-double came in the 2010-11 season with the Miami Heat, achieving the feat with a 22-point, 12-rebound and 10-assist performance against the then-Charlotte Bobcats on Feb. 4, 2011.

Even more than the statistical feat was Wade's variety, as he grabbed seven rebounds in the decisive third-quarter run that broke the game open, hitting Butler and Bobby Portis for long touchdown passes that would've had Jay Cutler or whichever quarterback the Cleveland Browns are banking on next fall, blushing.

Perhaps even more impressive was the fact it was on the second night of a back-to-back with the Bulls winning in overtime against the Phoenix Suns—a game where Wade turned it up late then threw it down over Alex Len in overtime.

"I think we just found our groove," Wade said. "We've had some injuries that have gone on but we're playing good basketball."

More pointedly, so is Wade, aided by him often finding Felicio for easy dunks on the pick and roll as they play second and fourth quarters together. 

Felicio was clearly bothered by his gaffe, which was made worse by the take-no-prisoners approach from Wade and Butler. When a member of foreign media approached him about an interview, Felicio said "you're not asking me about that last rebound, are you?"

Later in the evening, Felicio went to Twitter, posting "I did not know!!" in reference to Wade's night.

"I told him I didn't not even gonna act like I ain't mad at him. I'm very mad at him," said Wade with a laugh. "But he's all good. He said he didn't see me down there. So he took a shot at my height. It's cool. Jimmy had one. It would've been nice to have two triple doubles."

"I'm sure a stat would've came out that would've said, ‘Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are the first duo to get a triple-double on a back-to-back since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen', since they got every record around here."

He was close, although Jordan and Pippen didn't achieve their feat on a back-to-back but a random night in the 1988-89 season. Jordan scored 41 with 11 assists and 10 rebounds and Pippen had 15 with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in a 126-121 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We laugh about that often, but it's all good," Wade said. "I gotta work harder till I get another one one day."