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.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 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. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you're ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Bulls fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Bulls Pulse

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

The NBA announced Saturday that it has suspended former Bulls and current Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games without pay for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

He tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement called selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, which is prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement but would not have been under the new CBA starting next year, according to ESPN's Marc Spears.

It was announced in February that Noah would miss the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. His suspension will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign with only 10 games left this year.

Noah averaged 5.0 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 46 games in his first of a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks.