The Chicago Bulls were outmatched as they fell to Eastern Conference heavy weights and rivals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-95. With the loss, the Bulls have been a miserable 5-14 since going a season best 10 games over .500 on January 9th. It is no question it is due to the Bulls' missing key players Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, and Joakim Noah.
If the Bulls want to make the playoffs, they will need to pick it up, and fast. The team has not lost hope, and players still believe that things can turn around for the better.
''We've just got to stay together through the good, the bad and the ugly - and it's the ugly right now,'' Derrick Rose said. ''I'm going to keep controlling what I can control. We're trying to fight to be in the playoffs.''
Returning player Mike Dunleavy feels confident the team still has what it takes.
''I know we'll win a lot of games and end up fine, but the margin of error is small for us right now,'' said Dunleavy, who played his fourth game after missing 49 straight with a back injury. ''We believe in the guys in this locker room and the coaching staff. You've got to love the challenge.''
It is going to take Head Coach Fred Hoiberg's leadership as the team needs direction with an undermanned squad. With the trade deadline in the news this week, the Bulls have also managed to avoid distractions. Veteran Kirk Hinrich was traded out in a three team deal.
Pau Gasol has also had to deal with a lot of noise on possible trade speculations. ''I was surprised there was so much noise about it,'' Gasol said. ''The positive is hearing that a lot of teams are interested in my services. The negative is the uncertainty and waiting for your team to pull the trigger. If they didn't trade me, the assumption is they would like to keep me. I assume that's their mindset.''
Even with the distractions, Gasol was one of the bright spots for the team. The big man scored 14 points and brought in 9 rebounds. Rose had a great night with 28 points on 11 of 19 shooting from the field. Rookie Bobby Portis brought great energy off the bench, bringing in 13 points. The rest of the team failed to bring in the production needed to beat the 39-14 Cavaliers.
All Around Performance From The Cavaliers
The Cavaliers came to play with a vengeance on their home floor against their rivals. The Bulls had won the two prior meetings coming into the game but it was a very different story Thursday night.
''In the first two games we didn't match their intensity and got beat,'' Lebron James said. ''Today, I think we answered the call.''
James brought in a top-notch performance as he glided to 25 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds. The story of the night was the Cavaliers all-around performance. Coach Tyronn Lue seems to be fitting in well as his team looked locked in on both sides of the ball. Big man Kevin Love took advantage of the Bulls small lineup, grabbing 15 rebounds and scoring 15 points. Point guard Kyrie Irving was impressive as he continually finessed the pick and roll. The guard scored 19 points even though he went a mediocre six for 18 from the field.
The Cavaliers Stay In Front
As the game got under way, both teams were getting a feel for each other. Both teams traded baskets as the game got off to a slow start. James and Love were playing in tandem as the big men was assisted by the former MVP for a three-pointer to go up 13-7 with six minutes remaining in 1st quarter. The Cavaliers began to assert themselves on the boards, noticing the opportunities they had to get put backs. Big men Love and Iman Shumpert helped James close out the quarter in front 26-19.
The second quarter saw the Cavaliers go on a 13-3 run. The Bulls were unable to remain focused and could not reign in the home teams momentum. Things did remain close as the half came to a close though, as the Bulls kept within reaching distance thanks to Rose, Gasol, and Dunleavy. The half ended with the Cavaliers up 48-42.
Bulls Are Outclassed
The second half was an interesting one for the home team but quite a hard pill to swallow for the banged up Bulls. The Bulls found themselves down after James scored seven points during a 15-4 run capped by his dunk off a lob from J.R. Smith.
The Bulls could not find a way back even as Rose desperately tried helping his team inch in closer. The game remained a double digit deficit and slowly became a routine route as the Cavaliers made shot after shot. A turnaround jumper with 4:18 left in the game by James put away the game as they went up 98-83. From there, both teams began to play their bench players as the game came to a close. The Cavaliers finished with a big 106-95 win that still shows they are the top team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have a lot to learn and if they can take away any positives from the loss, it is that they need to keep fighting for every game.
Bulls: Host Toronto on Friday.
Cavaliers: Visit Oklahoma City on Sunday.