The day may have belonged to Saint Patrick, but Denzel Valentine had himself a night! Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Robin Lopez were all sidelined in yesterdays game against Lebron James and the hated Cleveland Cavaliers, so the Bulls needed someone to step up and lead the team. Valentine was that man.
34 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, and 1 block, Valentine was all over the floor for the Bulls. He had the hot hand from beyond the arc, hitting 8 of 11 three pointers. He also looked very comfortable running the offense, directing his teammates and passing to them for good shots. It was by far his best night in the NBA.
Bobby Portis sparked the Bulls off of the bench. With 15 points and 15 rebounds, Portis chalked up his 11th double-double of the season. He also tried his best to contain Lebron James, after Paul Zipser got into foul trouble, a task that proved impossible. James finished with a triple-double (33 points, 12 assists, 13 rebounds), and Cleveland got the 114-109 victory.
Another Bull who looked very comfortable last night was Cameron Payne. He started in place of the injured Kris Dunn (bruised toe), showing great court vision (10 assists), constantly pushing the pace on offense. He routinely initiated fast breaks either with long outlet passes, or by dribble sprinting down the court, catching the Cleveland defense off-balance and struggling to get back. Payne had some nifty no-look showtime assists driving to the basket as well. Healthy Cam Payne is proving his critics (myself included) wrong; He does belong in the NBA, and he might even be good.
Cristiano Felicio and Paul Zipser both played a lot of minutes covering for Lauri Markkanen (sore back) and Zach LaVine (resting his knee). Neither played very well on defense, but Felicio had a modest double-double (10 points, 10 assists), and Zipser shot 3 of 4 from behind the arc, both showing shades of their previous success.
It’s always difficult to lose to Cleveland, but Bulls fans can take solace in last nights unlikely New York Knicks victory over the Charlotte Hornets. With the Knicks win, and the loss to Cleveland, the Bulls are back to possessing the 8th worst record in the league. They had lost their Tank position to the Knicks earlier in the week after an ill advised 1 point victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday. The Knicks were on a nine game losing streak, until last night, and will be the Bulls next opponent. The two teams will face each other Monday night in a progressively meaningful Tank battle for the 8th worst record in the league.
LeBron swatting the Bulls back into 8th place in the Lottery standings pic.twitter.com/WO2dn6USXb
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) March 18, 2018
After New York, the opponents will be a little tougher, and the Tank a little easier. For fans who are not interested in the Tank, the growth and development of young players like Cameron Payne, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine should be very heartening. To see what Payne is capable of when healthy, to witness the consistent production from both Portis and Valentine over the entire season, this is what a rebuilding year is for.
And finally, for my fellow Ramblers out there, something completely different…
Denzel Valentine: Introduced last in starting lineup, career-high points and 3-pointers.
Drew Valentine: assistant coach for Sweet 16-bound Loyola Ramblers.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 18, 2018
Oh hell yeah Loyola pic.twitter.com/EbM2kBkBOY
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) March 18, 2018
The Worst Records in the NBA:
1. Phoenix Suns 19-52 .268
2. Memphis Grizzlies 19-50 .275
3. Atlanta Hawks 20-50 .286
4. Orlando Magic 21-49 .300
5. Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks 22-48 .314
7. Sacramento Kings 23-48 .324
8. Chicago Bulls 24-45 .348
9. New York Knicks 25-45 .357