Chicago Bulls: MLK Day Victory Kick-starts Winnable Stretch

The Chicago Bulls are finally in the win column in 2019. They steamrolled over the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-88 in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at Quicken Loans Arena.

Chicago jumped out to a 31-18 lead through one quarter. Cleveland attempted to push back, closing the gap to 48-42 at halftime. However, the Bulls re-gained control out of the locker room, inflating their lead to 90-69 early in the fourth. Zach LaVine led all scorers with 25 points on the afternoon.

The win snaps the Bulls’ 10-game losing streak, tied for fifth-worst in franchise history. It’s also their worst stretch of futility since Nov./Dec. 2017. Chicago’s 0-9 start to January is their worst ever, beating out their 0-6 start to calendar year 2002. The Cavs win finally gives Jim Boylen (6-17) one more victory than predecessor Fred Hoiberg had when he was fired in early December.

Cleveland was a much-needed opponent and win for a Bulls team that suffered eight of their last ten L’s to teams that are top eight in their respective conferences. The strength of schedule will lighten up a bit over the coming week.

For one, Chicago’s next three games are all at the United Center. The team is 5-17 at The Madhouse this year, but there is still a comfort for NBA players with playing at home. Their opponents will be the Atlanta Hawks (Jan. 23), Los Angeles Clippers (Jan. 25), and Cavs once again (Jan. 27).

Atlanta will enter Wednesday’s matchup 14-32. They sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games ahead of 13th place Chicago. It will be the first game of a seven-game road trip: the Hawks are fleeing town ahead of Super Bowl LIII and won’t return until after it’s over.

Atlanta is also rebuilding, playing their first season under head coach Lloyd Pierce. They have promising young pieces in Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and Omari Spellman. That is complemented by veteran production from Vince Carter, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Jeremy Lin. However, their production has only been but so effective. The Hawks came out of Monday with the third-worst offense and sixth-worst defense in the NBA.

The Hawks struggle from beyond the arc; their 52.0 percent 2-point shooting (12th) is cancelled out by their 33.6 percent 3-point shooting (29th). They also struggle to play mistake-free basketball, accumulating the most turnovers and second-most fouls per game. The Bulls defeated the Hawks 97-85 on Oct. 27. If they can capitalize on Atlanta’s miscues, they will have little issue going 2-0 in the season series.

The Clippers will surely be their toughest opponent of this stretch. Head coach Doc Rivers has his team playing above expectations, as their 25-21 record puts them seventh in the Western Conference. Forwards Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are leading the way with breakout seasons. However, the high-level bench production from Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams sets this team apart from the rest of the league.

Luckily for the Bulls, this is the last game of LA’s four-game road trip. Gallinari and Williams also find themselves dealing with lingering injuries. Both were forced to miss the Clippers’ 103-95 win over the San Antonio Spurs. If the Bulls enter Friday’s game with their competitive spirit and give a full effort, they could pull off an upset.

Monday’s win puts the Bulls ahead 3-0 in their season series with the Cavaliers. There is little indication that the result will be any different when the teams meet one final time in Chicago this Sunday. Cleveland is now 9-39, tied for their third-worst 48-game start in franchise history. It’s also their worst since 2010-11, another season when the team was reeling from LeBron James’ departure the previous summer.

Even with Chicago’s schematic issues, they have too much talent to lose to a team where only four of the 13 Cavaliers to receive playing time in the 2018 playoffs — and none of the top eight minute-getters — are currently on the active roster.

The Chicago Bulls came out with a respectable showing on Monday afternoon. With 14 fastbreak points and 15-of-30 shooting from 3-point range, they looked more like a team playing to their strengths. The key now will be upholding that momentum as they enter a more welcoming three-game section of their schedule. At the very least, bookending this stretch with wins over Cleveland would be a bright spot in a season filled with trials and errors.


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