Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

Cavaliers: LeBron James had never been swept by a division opponent, until this year's Bulls

LeBron James wins a lot. This should come as no surprise, as the three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP has put together a Hall of Fame career by age 32 and doesn't seem to be slowing down.

His dominance over the Eastern Conference also speaks for itself, as James has been to an NBA-record-tying six straight NBA Finals. Widdling his success down even further, James has commanded the Central Division in his 10 seasons with the Cavaliers, and the Southeast Division in his four seasons with the Heat.

Since the NBA created in 2004 the current divisions, James has won division titles in nine of those 13 seasons; James' Cavaliers won the Central five times and his Heat won the Southeast each of the four seasons he played there. James hasn't not won a division title since 2008, a span of nine years

His divisions have featured some pretty awful teams, such as the 2012 Bobcats that went 7-59 in a lockout-shortened season. His divisions also featured the likes of the Pistons' East dominance in the mid-2000s.

In the current division format, James has played 52 regular-season series against the Central and Southeast, respectively.

In 51 of those series James earned at least one victory in the four-game* season series.

Meet the 2016-17 Bulls.

With Thursday night's 99-93 victory over the Cavaliers, LeBron James was swept by a division opponent for the first time in his 14-year Hall of Fame career.

Dec. 2: Bulls 111, Cavaliers 105
Jan. 4: Bulls 106, Cavaliers 94
Feb. 25: Bulls 117, Cavaliers 99
Mar. 30: Bulls 99, Cavaliers 93

In 10 seasons with the Cavaliers and four with the Heat, James' teams hold a 135-70 division record. That includes games against the Central's Bulls, Bucks, Pistons and Pacers, and the the Southeast's Hornets/Bobcats, Wizards, Magic and Hawks.

Of those 51 series (the Cavs still play the Pacers once more this season), here's how James has fared.

4-0: 12 times
3-1: 17 times
2-2: 11 times
1-3: 8 times
0-4: 1 time

3-0: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)
1-2: 1 time (lockout-shortened season)

And against each opponent:

Charlotte: 15-0
Orlando: 12-4
Atlanta: 12-4
Milwaukee: 26-10
Indiana: 24-11
Washington: 10-5
Chicago: 18-18
Detroit: 18-18

In what has been an incredibly odd year for the Bulls, full of unthinkable losses and improbable victories, the fact that they were the ones to sweep James for the first time is perhaps the most remarkable stat of all.

Go figure.

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I give them credit for bouncing back after a tough home loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to understand what makes us successful. When we’re committed to following the game plan and executing…It’s the little things we have to do that add up to give ourselves a chance to win.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 14 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away, and pulled to within a game of the eighth playoff spot in the East.

But the Bulls’ defense, one that held the Bucks to just 39 points in the second half, caught his eye.

“I could actually say we played some legitimate defense,” Butler said. “Got back in transition, we always helped. We came out, stuck to the gameplan of getting back.”

He didn’t have to carry a heavy load offensively, though, leading to his being fresh down the stretch as he started the fourth quarter on the floor as opposed to the bench.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

It helped the Bulls shoot 54 percent overall, bringing their mark to 10-1 when they cross that threshold.

“I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence,” Mirotic said. “I’ve spent a lot of hours before practice and after. I know you guys have been asking about consistency, so I’m working on that and trying to be more consistent.”

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

Antetokounmpo scored 22 with eight rebounds and seven assists, but 12 of those points happened in the first quarter. Middleton scored 14 but shot six of 17.

“When we get slapped in the face and punched in the mouth, adversity hits and we have to handle it and get through it,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t see any head-hanging when it didn’t start off great.”

But Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

“We were ready in case that happened,” Hoiberg said. “We felt we had to do everything possible to give ourselves a chance. We were ready to play our guys big minutes tonight and we’ll have to do that in the next eight games.”

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.

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 Milwaukee Bucks today on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 2 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.

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