No one sat on a porcupine. No one was forced to run for Congress. No one had to eat the pregame Chicago River oysters. That was the good news around the Bulls Monday. The bad news was in the game as the Cleveland Cavaliers took an 18-point lead early in the second quarter and kept the Bulls double digit lengths the rest of the way in a 113-91 Cavaliers victory.
It was the Bulls ninth consecutive loss as their record dropped to 3-19. The Cavaliers won their 12th straight to move to 17-7.
"They have a lot of talent and we don't have the superstars a lot of teams do have," said Kris Dunn, who led the Bulls with 15 points and five assists. "Right now we are not trying to look at the losses; we are trying to go out and get a win. Once we get a win, I think we can get that monkey off our back.
"Got to be positive," Dunn added. "It's all in the person, be positive, be able to withstand the tough times we are going through; the toughest players get through adversity and that's what we have to do. Keep improving every day in practice, try to get that onto the court."
The Bulls got 14 points each from Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, 13 points from Lauri Markkanen and 10 points and a team high nine rebounds off the bench from Bobby Portis. The Cavaliers were led by Dwayne Wade and Kevin Love with 24 points each and LeBron James with 23. Love had 13 rebounds.
The Bulls did some good things, leading in fast break points and offensive rebounds, tied with the Cavaliers in points in the paint. It showed they didn't give up and didn't give in.
"I know we've lost a lot of games," added Holiday. "We all know that, understand that. We all don't like that. Again, we're all going through this very positive. The next game we're trying to get that one to start it for us. We're going to continue until we do and then we are going to try to get another. Our energy is still positive; we still think we can win games. We're not out here, ‘OK, we're going lose.' That's not the situation."
Just the result.
This one wasn't very fair. In horse racing, they would have put a fat jockey on the other horse. Something to even the playing field. The Cavaliers have been playing perhaps as well as any team in the NBA the last month. The Bulls, well, they have been trying, and just coming off crushing back to back one-point losses.
"You look at this losing streak right now, the eight-game streak that we had going into this. Six of them we had a chance to win," pointed out Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "Six of them were seven points or under, and then you had the two blowouts against Golden State and against Utah, where you saw similar things that happened in this game tonight. The big thing we talk about is going out, competing, playing the right way, and giving ourselves a chance to win. We've done that lately, for the most part. Tonight, we took a step backwards."
It was predictable in some respects with James playing at an extraordinary level. He's not taking games off like many players around the league; he rarely takes plays off. And even though he denied it, it was clear Wade was anxious to make a statement to the Bulls after his buyout and the talk of how much his signing was a mistake.
"None extra (motivation)," insisted Wade. "We just wanted to continue to keep playing well. Of course, you always want to play well here. I always, my whole career, wanted to play well here (being from Chicago). I've failed a lot of times, but I've succeeded some. So, this is a good one to come here for me and play well. So no statements, no storylines. I'm not into it."
He and the Cavs certainly were into the game after the Bulls actually scored the first six points and led 9-3. The Cavaliers with Tristan Thompson out play "small" with Love at center and with a lot of cross matches. The Bulls took advantage to start going to Lopez inside for two of their first four baskets. Lopez then defended Jae Crowder, who isn't a primary scorer. It was working some as the Cavs couldn't get much scoring other than from James.
It was 15-14 Cleveland late in the first quarter after a Lopez three-point play. Crowder then made a three as Lopez got hung up on a screen trying to get out and then the meltdown began with a Jerian Grant turnover that led to another Crowder three, a Denzel Valentine turnover, a three on one fast break in which the Bulls missed two layups. The Bulls stayed close enough trailing 29-22 after one quarter. But then against the Bulls second unit, the Cavs ripped off 11 straight points to start the second quarter and the Bulls never got the deficit under double figures again.
The Bulls were 7-1 over Cleveland in Hoiberg's first two seasons. They are 0-2 against the Cavaliers this season.
"I thought we got off to a good start," noted Hoiberg. "Had a couple of wide open shots that could have pushed that up to double figures. Didn't make it. The big thing that we've talked about pretty much all year is battling through those tough stretches. We had about a five-minute stretch in the first half where we just lost our minds. Gave up two wide open threes, gambled on a (Kyle) Korver three, gave up two layups on missed assignments. It's those stretches we have to find a way to eliminate. These guys, every day they come in they're competing in practices, they're getting after each other, they're talking. When the lights turn on, for whatever reason, when things get tough, we stop doing the things that make us a solid team."
That's probably as good a definition of rebuilding as any.
The Cavaliers now are starting Jose Calderon at point guard after Derrick Rose was injured and took a leave. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Rose has been in communication with the team and returned to Cleveland to continue his rehabilitation on an injured ankle. Both James and Wade said they are anxious to welcome him back to the team. The Cavs also expect Isaiah Thomas to return in a month or so after off season surgery, further bolstering their depth. Wade now is coming off the bench and even embracing the sixth man role to the point the Cavs are promoting him for Sixth Man of the Year.
James has called Wade the No.1 candidate for the award, listing him ahead of the likes of Eric Gordon, Jamal Crawford and Andre Iguodala.
"It's a little easier being in the position I'm in (to accept coming off the bench than doing so for the Bulls)," said Wade. "When I decided to go to Cleveland (buyout from the Bulls), I knew it was a possibility. I was gonna let it play out and see how it went. I never had the conversation here (with the Bulls) about that. I think the young (Chicago) guys are happy to get an opportunity to play. That's one of the reasons I didn't want to be here. I felt that Denzel and all those guys deserve a chance to come out and make mistakes with no expectations. I didn't want to be the old guy in the way of that. I understand the whole concept of mentoring. I've done that. It wasn't in the cards for me to do it this season. I felt I still had more to give to the game. I didn't want to just come off the bench on a team that's rebuilding. I would've been very unhappy in a basketball sense."
The Cavaliers are happy, Wade's back with his buddy James and they seem happy, and even more reinforcements are on the way for an already deep Cavaliers team that has the fans seemingly happy.
The Bulls had some moments, Markkanen driving in for a pair of scores and not just standing outside shooting threes, Dunn with his own driving scores, Holiday with a banked in 35-foot three to end the third quarter and get the Bulls within 86-71.
Of course, the Bulls didn't have it exactly right in one of those Be Like LeBron moments.
The Cavaliers self proclaimed royalty likes to show off on his power dunks, strutting a bit afterward and doing some flexing. He apparently was thinking about that late in the second quarter when he sailed by Lopez and bounced a dunk attempt 20 feet in the air off the rim. The Bulls gathered the ball and hustled the other way with Markkanen coming in from the right wing for a two hand dunk. That he bounced off the rim.
Maybe that's why there no Be Like LeBron campaign. Again, rebuilding.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter, it was the Cavs by 22. Hello, Kay Felder and Quincy Pondexter.
Next up for the Bulls are Indiana and Charlotte on the road. And perhaps the season debut of Nikola Mirotic.
"Get out on the road and give it everything we've got," said Hoiberg. "That's all we can do at this point."
Watch out for those lights at the end of the tunnel.
The Zipper Brothers
You can't blame Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg if he was rooting just a little bit for Cavs players Jeff Green and Channing Frye. And Green did have a strong start with nine first half points in 10 minutes as the Cavs took a big early lead.
"You create a special bond with people who have gone through similar type procedures," Hoiberg said before the Bulls hosted the Cavaliers Monday.
Hoiberg, obviously, was trying to help his Bulls get a victory. But he also was happy for the two Cavaliers players, both whom sat out a season with heart problems, Green after open heart surgery.
Hoiberg has a pacemaker today. In 2005, an exam showed Hoiberg had an aortic aneurysm. He had to retire at 32 years old after the best season of his career and eventually had valve replacement surgery.
Hoiberg has served as a medical mentor, offering encouragement and advice over the years to other NBA players and many ordinary citizens with heart problems, the NBA part an informal society Hoiberg has called the Zipper Brothers.
Green has enjoyed something of a career renaissance with the Cavaliers this season as a prime player coming off the bench.
"I talked to Jeff a little bit this morning," Hoiberg said. "I was kind of the first and then (Ronny) Turiaf had it and then Jeff had it; it's been several; Etan Thomas had it, Tractor Trailer (who died of a heart attack in 2011) went through it as well. You really do develop a friendship and bond with those types of players."
There have been famous tragedies with heart issues, like the Celtics Reggie Lewis, Atlanta's Jason Collier and collegiate player Hang Gathers. But a surprising number of NBA players have been able to return after heart procedures or issues, including Green, Frye, Chuck Hayes, LaMarcus Aldridge, Turiaf and Thomas. Though heart attacks that killed former players like Moses Malone, Dennis Johnson, Darryl Dawkins and Jerome Kersey have led to the retired players association commissioning screening for retired players.
"The biggest thing," said Hoiberg, "is I try to talk to people going through it, kids. People reach out to me all the time to talk, people who are going through those procedures and it's tough; it really is. I don't sugar coat it. It's a really hard recovery.
"It's great to see a guy like Jeff get through it, to be back there continuing to live his dream," said Hoiberg. "I didn't get that opportunity because of different setbacks and complications that I had after my surgery, but it's great to be able to see these guys get back on the floor. Jeff's playing at a really high level. You always root for guys who have been through it because you know how difficult of a recovery it is."