Bulls put on a show, cruise by Cavs in preseason opener

The new-look Bulls led by as many as 48 points in a dominating victory over Cleveland on Tuesday night.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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The Chicago Bulls put on a show in their preseason opener at the United Center, easily defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 131-95 on Tuesday night. Zach LaVine had 25 points and three steals, Alex Caruso had a 10-point, 10-assist double-double as seven Bulls scored in double-figures during the exhibition.

It was a 36-point victory, 131-95, for the Bulls Tuesday night to open the preseason in a game that wasn't that close against the Cleveland Cavaliers. There were for the Bulls 36 assists against nine turnovers, though 26 versus four when the primary starters left, 13 steals and nine blocks with 24 points from turnovers through three quarters, agile defense, transition play, magical passing and highlights galore with dunks off look away and half court passes.

"We're going to try to put a show on every time," said Lonzo Ball.

Are we looking at a 74-win team?

Perhaps 90-10 by June?

OK, OK, breathe, breathe. Aum, aum, aum... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6... water gently washing down a stream, flute or harp music. Relax, relax, relax.

It was not easy watching the debut of the new look Bulls who for a change were everything they said they would be, Lonzo Ball a maestro with so quick a release as to make Tom Brady jealous, Alex Caruso off the bench leading with 10 assists and enough time playing in Los Angeles to learn how Magic Johnson did it, Nikola Vucevic trailing on the break for dunks, Zach LaVine with a game high 25 points and four of six threes getting out on the receiving end to shoot and slam.

"We are a bunch of athletes," said LaVine. "We're going to watch each other's backs. We're going to try to get out in transition. We want to play with that type of style of play. So defensively we were really good. Trying to fly around. We're playing free basketball right now, getting up and down the floor."

Zach LaVine hits a reverse layup vs. Cleveland

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 25 points on an efficient 9-of-14 shooting.

It was impressive and more than perhaps even they could have hoped.

Sure, it was the Cavaliers, who are going to be terrible. Former Bull Lauri Markkanen led them with 13 points playing off the bench—the Cavs start an untenable front line of Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley—but Markkanen got dunked on by a 6-4 guy and scored most of his points in the third quarter after the Bulls had 69 points and led by 21 at halftime.

It was a rout from the start led by many of the guys not even expected to play.

Patrick Williams and Coby White are out with injuries and reserves Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley, both targeted for the playing rotation along with Williams and White, also were out along with rookie Marko Simonovic. The latter three had minor injury issues.

So Javonte Green started at power forward/guard and had two blocks in the first quarter, an offensive rebound for a score and seven points. Troy Brown was high scorer in the first with nine, all on threes. The Bulls played small as they probably will do much of the season. But they were relentless (big hearts, as I'm sure we'll dip into often for go to cliches), helping from the weak side on defense, forcing the Cavaliers much bigger inside players to force shots while denying them post position.

Highlights from Chicago's dominant win against the the Cleveland Cavaliers in their preseason opener.

Five first quarter blocks and three steals led to the transition points the Bulls have promised in an emerging, if untraditional, defense. This group of players generally is being doubted for defense coming from a lack of size and physical nature. But they showed at least in this game defense can come in many different shapes and sizes. The Bulls even outrebounded the Cleveland Brobdingnags and doubled up on second chance points.

The crescendo was a late second quarter pairing of the four regular starters with Caruso that led to an All-Star weekend's worth of highlight plays, a block leading to a Caruso no look pass for a DeRozan slam dunk, DeRozan dunking on a three-on-one fast break, LaVine getting a half court pass from Caruso for a baseline dunk, Ball pushing the ball for a driving LaVine dunk. Strap in for this thrill ride.

"We have a lot of smart players on this team, a lot of unselfish guys and people that are going to run. And when you have all that it doesn't make my job too hard," said Ball. "I think we know we have a lot of talent and there's just one basketball out there and we understand that and it's all about getting the best shot and I think everyone understands that one through 15; we showed that tonight. Whenever we can get out in transition like we did tonight we are going to put ourselves in a good position to win."

Javonte Green throws down a dunk over former Bull Lauri Markkanen.

Javonte Green throws down a dunk over former Bull Lauri Markkanen.

Doubters about LaVine long have insisted he merely was a scorer who preferred to monopolize the ball. Though his defenders insisted that's what he had to do to give his (uniformly poor) teams a chance to win given the lack of talent. Already Tuesday with playmakers all around him, LaVine immediately dashed downcourt. It helped space out the Cavaliers defense, giving the Bulls guards room and LaVine still was able to get his points with so much less effort.

"To come out here and play with pace, have him (Ball) get the ball off the rim and run, it's good. It fits our game pretty well," said LaVine. "He gets the ball out of his hands so fast. He's such a high IQ guy. I think we're all on the right mindset of going out here and playing hard, setting the tone from the beginning. "But for me to play off the ball, get cuts, get easy shots, get easy spot-ups, it's something I haven't had for awhile," LaVine acknowledged. "Coming out in the third quarter, DeMar played on the ball and I was able to get some spot-up shots and just get in a rhythm real easy. I'm excited for that. We've been playing this way in practice. It looks like this. It was good to go against another team. Just guys cutting, helping on defense, coming over from baseline and doubling down and gang rebounding. AC (Caruso) going to the lane, pump-faking and throwing it to the corner. We have a bunch of guys who know how to play and make open passes. It's good to play with guys like that."

As coaches will be, Billy Donovan said sometimes they passed too much and didn't get to the free throw line often enough. He's still working on the first shutout in NBA history.

Listen to Billy Donovan's postgame presser following Chicago's preseason win over Cleveland

But the four regulars who started were at least plus-38 in the plus/minus with seven Bulls scoring in double figures. Caruso had a double/double with his 10 assists, the 6-4 Green had four blocks, rookie Ayo Dosunmu coming in after halftime got a big welcome and had eight points in 13 minutes, Stanley Johnson, who can't shoot, made a couple of threes, and Matt Thomas, who can, also made a pair. Heck there even was franchise history. With Caruso, Dosunmu and Alize Johnson (game high 11 rebounds) playing together, it was believed to be the first time in franchise history with the majority of the lineup wearing headbands.

Heady stuff all around.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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