Schanowski: All Hail The King (James)!

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Schanowski: All Hail The King (James)!

Monday, March 22, 2010
5:12 PM

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

If you didn't get the chance to watch last Friday's game between the Bulls and Cavs at the United Center, you missed a serious LeBron James love-fest. Hundreds of fans came to the arena wearing their best LeBron 23 gear, and they gave the King a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game. James pretty much coasted for the first three quarters, then took over in the final eight minutes to help the Cavs take control of the game.

But the real story came after the game when LeBron took questions from a large group of Chicago reporters, and spoke in glowing terms about the Bulls, Chicago, and our city's sports fans. Now granted, talk is cheap, and James probably says similar things in any city that will have cap room to bid on the premiere free agents this summer. But James' knowledge about Chicago's sports history, the Bulls' current personnel and the injury situation that has de-railed the Bulls' season was really impressive, and MIGHT indicate he'll be willing to consider a move to Chicago when the free agent signing period opens on July 1st. If you'd like to judge for yourself how interested LeBron might be in the Bulls, watch the video above.

Bottom line, James has to realize the Bulls' future with him on the roster would be a whole lot brighter than the group he has right now in Cleveland. The Cavs have an excellent chance at winning an NBA title this season, but after that, it gets a little murky. Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are nearing the end of their careers, and Antawn Jamison is already 34, with his best seasons behind him. The rest of Cleveland's roster is filled with a bunch of average players, (yes, I know Mo Williams made the All-Star team in 2009), and outside of young forward J.J. Hickson, very few players with a lot of room to grow. James talked up the Bulls' young nucleus of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and he made a point of giving Gibson a post-game hug after he scored 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds against the Cavs. Putting James on the Bulls' would make them an instant championship contender, with a core of young talent in place for a 10 year run at league dominance. I know it's a huge longshot, but James has obviously done his homework, and will take an informed look at the NBA landscape once the season is over, whether Cleveland wins the championship or not.

PLAYOFF HOPES AREN'T DEAD YET

Speaking of long shots, don't count out the Bulls making a late run at the final playoff spot in the East. They currently trail Toronto by 2 and a half games, but the Raptors have been in free-fall mode lately, with their star forward Chris Bosh taking shots at his teammates' lack of urgency and desire. With just about everyone around the NBA assuming Bosh will leave the team for free agency at the end of the season, it's hard to say whether his critical comments will inspire the team or cause a lot of dissension in the locker room.

That means the Bulls could find a way to pass Toronto in the final three and a half weeks of the season. After a brutal month of March, the schedule is finally softening up a bit, and it sounds like Joakim Noah is finally getting past the plantar fasciitis condition in his left foot that basically cost him two months of the season. Noah will be brought back slowly to avoid a major setback, but if you watched the game against Philadelphia on Saturday, you saw the spark Noah can provide, even in limited minutes. Derrick Rose also made a strong return from a sprained left wrist, hitting four three pointers after previously making just 6 for the entire season! If Rose adds a three point threat to his already versatile offensive game, the rest of the league can forget about trying to guard him. And, if Rose and Noah can stay healthy, there's no reason why the Bulls can't win 8 or 9 of their final 13 games and find a way to squeak into the playoffs. Of course, that would mean a first round series against LeBron and the Cavs, but who knows, maybe they can give the King an extended sampling of why his future years might be better spent in Chicago!

E-MAIL TIME

I wanted to take a few minutes to answer some of the e-mails you've been sending in. Thanks for your involvement, and please keep them coming!

Question: After seeing LeBron James in person on Friday, I have been dreaming of what he could do for the Bulls. Putting him and D-Rose together would be a lethal combination...multiple championships! (Sammy, Chicago)

Sammy, you're exactly right. James and Rose together could mean another 6 championships, and they might have to make room for 2 more statues outside of the United Center! I will concede the most likely scenario has James re-signing in Cleveland, but why not dream big? The Bulls have the cap room to make James a competitive offer, and if he's willing to leave his home state of Ohio, the Bulls offer the best opportunity for him to dominate the league for years to come.

Question: With Noah and Rose back healthy, what are the chances that the Bulls make a playoff run? (Ryan, Westmont)

As I wrote about, the Bulls probably need to win 8 or 9 out of their final 13 games to beat out Toronto for that final spot, and it would probably be a good idea to win the head to head match-up with the Raptors in Toronto on April 11th. I would say the Bulls' chances are less than 50-50, but there's certainly a chance, and that's not bad coming off a 10 game losing streak!
Question: Is it time to give up on Luol Deng? He seems to always be hurt, trade him and get a piece that we can use? (William, Lincolnshire)

I know a lot of fans are frustrated by Deng's recent run of injuries, but remember, he played in every game this season before hurting his knee and then straining his right calf when he tried to rush back into the line-up. Luol has quietly had a very solid season, and he figures to be part of the Bulls' core going forward. He also has a good relationship with LeBron James going back to their days competing in high school all-star games, so maybe he can help recruit LeBron this summer. All that being said, if a team like Toronto or Atlanta wanted to do a sign-and-trade for their free agent all-stars this summer, I'm sure the Bulls would be willing to include Deng in the package. The Bulls' dream goal is to sign one top free agent, and then acquire a 2nd one through a sign and trade. I'm sure Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and 1st round draft picks would be the bait in any sign-and-trade scenarios they discuss this summer.

Question: What team do you think is the perfect fit for D-Wade? (Bob, IL)

I'd love to say the Bulls, because I really respect Wade's game, but the reality is he's probably best off staying in Miami, and hoping the Heat uses its cap room to sign either Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer this summer. Wade likes to dominate the ball, and he initiates most of Miami's offensive sets. There's no question a good coach could find a way to maximize the talents of Wade and D-Rose playing together, but Wade is used to running the show by himself and he's said all season he prefers to stay in Miami. Wade might have grown up in the Chicago area, but he says he hates cold weather, loves the South Beach lifestyle and the fact there aren't any state taxes in Florida. I would say it is VERY unlikely he will leave the Heat, unless there's some kind of falling out with team president Pat Riley, who's promised to build a contending team around Wade this summer.

Thanks again for all the great e-mails. Enjoy the hoops this week. If the Bulls can find a way to win all three home games on the schedule, they'll be right in the thick of the playoff race heading down the stretch. I'll see you Thursday from the United Center during SportsNite at 6:30 as we get ready for the Bulls-Heat game on Comcast SportsNet.

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.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."