Can Bulls Find Winning Formula vs. Cavaliers?

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Can Bulls Find Winning Formula vs. Cavaliers?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
8:34 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Kind of an empty feeling after watching Game 2 in Cleveland. The Bulls played about as well as they possibly can, tying an NBA Playoff record with only 4 turnovers, and they still wound up losing by 10 points. So, with the series heading back to Chicago for the next 2 games, are you encouraged or discouraged? Can the Bulls win a game in this series, or like Jordan, will LeBron find a way to steal every game in the 4th quarter? Feel free to post your opinions and predictions in the comments section below.

If you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, it's pretty unlikely the Cavs will match their shooting from Game 2 during the upcoming games at the United Center. Cleveland shot 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3 point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. They had a journeyman role player named Jamario Moon hit 4 of 5 three point attempts, 3 of them in the 4th quarter when the home team took control. They also got big contributions from bench players Delonte West and Anderson Varejao. Generally, role players perform a lot better at home than they do on the road. So, you wouldn't expect Moon, West and Varejao to be big factors in the next 2 games. But Cleveland General Manager Danny Ferry has done a nice job of assembling talent around James, and now Cleveland has one of the deepest rosters in the league. 2nd year forward J.J. Hickson was a starter for much of the season, but now he's not even in the rotation. With the addition of Antawn Jamison, and the return of the guy they traded to get him, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland now has a deep and talented frontcourt that allows Mike Brown the option of rotating Shaq, Big Z and Varejao in any way he see fit. The Bulls just can't match Cleveland's size up front, even when they play Joakim Noah and Brad Miller together.

So far in the series, the Cavs have been able to get just about anything they want in their halfcourt offense, And when all else fails, they can always give the ball to LeBron to create his own shot. That's the beauty of having a superstar in your line-up. The Bulls had it for so many years with Jordan, and maybe one day Derrick Rose will start to get the favorable calls from the officials reserved for the game's biggest stars. But for now, James gives the Cavs a big advantage in any close game they're in. He can shoot over any defender, and get to the rim anytime he wants. If you try to get physical with him, he'll either drive past you or initiate contact to get to the free throw line. And, just ask Bulls' rookie James Johnson about getting off-balance trying to guard LeBron. You could wind up on a poster that will be a hot seller in the city of Cleveland.

The Bulls really don't have a lot of options in trying to defend James. Luol Deng isn't physical enough to body LeBron, and he's lost some of his lateral quickness because of nagging knee and calf injuries. Kirk Hinrich is too short, so LeBron can just shoot right over the top of him. Johnson doesn't have enough experience and tends to overreact to any fake. Vinny Del Negro seems to have lost faith in Hakim Warrick, but he's really not strong enough to keep James from backing into the paint for easy shots. So, about all the Bulls' coaches can do right now is send double teams from different spots on the court to try to disrupt James' rhythm. LeBron is a willing passer, and double teaming him will undoubtedly lead to open shots from guys like Jamison and Anthony Parker. But at this point, James has made it obvious he's capable of winning games by himself in the 4th quarter, so the only chance for the Bulls is to try to take the ball out of LeBron's hands, and hope the other Cavs aren't hitting a high percentage of their shots.

Offensively, the Bulls did a much better job of attacking the basket in Game 2. Deng scored 20 points and showed a willingness to drive to the hoop. The big question about Luol is how strong will he be physically after bumping knees with James late in the game? Noah piled up 25 points and 13 rebounds, Taj Gibson had 11 points and 7 rebounds and Flip Murray chipped in 14 points off the bench. The Bulls aren't intimidated by Cleveland's defense, and they should be able to get some easy baskets inside with Rose penetrating and dishing to open big men. The key in Game 3 will be getting off to a fast start, and putting some doubt in the minds of the Cleveland players. The Cavs fully expect to sweep the Bulls in round 1, and they will have supreme confidence if the game stays close since 23 is on their side. The Bulls need to take advantage of the energy they should get from the home crowd and run out to an early lead. Maybe then some of Cleveland's role players will start forcing bad shots, and LeBron won't be able to save the Cavs in the end.

Defense will be the key for the Bulls. They can't allow Cleveland to shoot a high percentage from the field like they did in Game 2. The rotations have to be crisp and the Bulls' perimeter guys have to get out to the three point line to prevent Mo Williams, Parker and Moon from hitting big shots. And if Shaq becomes a factor inside, Vinny needs to mix in a little zone defense to make it harder for the big man to operate. You hate to say the Bulls will have to play a perfect game to win, but that's the situation they find themselves in right now. Cleveland is more talented, deeper, and they have the best finisher in the game. It's hard to say if any lead is big enough to keep James from working his late game magic.

LeBron is in his 7th NBA season right now, the same point that Jordan was when he won his first NBA title. No doubt Cleveland will face some tough series down the line with possible match-ups looming against Orlando and the Lakers, but James has the look of a champion right now, and I'll be surprised if he isn't clutching that gold trophy in mid-June. And once LeBron gets that championship feeling, it's hard to picture him leaving Cleveland to go to another team in free agency and start over. This summer's long-awaited free agent derby could turn out to be a big disappointment if James and Dwyane Wade wind up staying with their current teams, but that's the way it looks right now. The Bulls will pursue All-Star caliber players like Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire, but the only real franchise-changers are James and Wade. Just like we saw during the Jordan era, it's amazing what impact a dominant player like James can have, making every other player on the team a little more confident. Only time will tell if LeBron comes close to the run of success Michael enjoyed with the Bulls.

Don't forget you can watch Game 3 on Comcast SportsNet Thursday night at 6 o'clock. Bulls Pre-Game live sets the table at 5:30, and we'll have expanded post-game coverage on Bulls Postgame Live and CSNChicago.com. I'll be talking to you from the United Center on Thursday! You can also watch the game live on CSNChicago.com!

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

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

On the latest BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Vincent Goodwill delve into the blockbuster news of Chris Paul being traded to the Rockets. Will any other teams try to go all-in?

With Phil Jackson parting ways with the Knicks, Goodwill shares the behind-the-scenes story of how James Dolan hired Jackson to run his franchise. 

Then, Schanowski sits down with the newest Bull Zach LaVine to discuss recovering from his ACL tear, his love of Space Jam and moving to Chicago.

Plus, the guys break down their first impressions of LaVine and his potential in a Bulls uniform, and how the new CBA is actually leading to teams getting rid of their stars rather than keeping them.

Finally, what will the Bulls do with Dwyane Wade, and where will Derrick Rose end up?

Check out the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: