Thibs: LeBron 'up there with all-time best'

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
Friedell By Nick Friedell
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tom Thibodeau does not believe it's fair to try to compare LeBron James to other players at this point in his career. After all, James is still just 29 years old and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. But that doesn't mean the veteran coach can't heap some heavy praise on James and his prolific, all-around game.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau is just 2-8 against LeBron James as a head coach.
"Obviously, what he's done has been great," Thibodeau said Monday before the Bulls' game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I think it would be unfair to him to judge him now. I think when you're judging greatness, it's having the ability to judge it over a long period of time. Until he's done, we won't know ultimately, but he's right up there with the all-time best. When you look at it, to do it year after year, he doesn't miss many games, he's been very durable. He's a great competitor, and he makes his team win."

Thibodeau would know. Although he had some success against James during his time as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, Thibodeau is just 2-8 in the playoffs against James as a head coach. He knows James has the rare ability to make a play even when the defense can be drawn up perfectly.

"He's a great player," Thibodeau said. "[There's] not many things he hasn't seen. Sometimes you could do it perfectly, and he still can hurt you. The idea is you want to make him work for what he gets, but you can't do it at the expense of leaving everyone else open. The challenge when you're guarding somebody like that is you're helping with him, but you're also getting back to the other guys. It requires multiple efforts and challenging shots and finishing your defense. When you're dealing with a star that passes the ball like that, what it does is it makes everyone else a lot better. He tests you in every different way."

James' test is one Thibodeau knows the Bulls must be prepared for this season. Although he does not like seeing him on the opposite end of the floor, Thibodeau appreciates how good James has become. He knows that in order to be the best, the Bulls are eventually going to have to get through the best player in the league.

"If you're a competitor, I think that's what you want," Thibodeau said. "When you're facing great teams and great coaches, that's what makes it challenging. We know it's not about one guy -- it's about the team. Same for us. When you're facing a great team, it requires you to make sure that you're committed to playing as a team. If we stray off and try to do it individually, we'll be in trouble."

In listening to Thibodeau speak about James, it's also clear the domineering head coach is appreciative of how James goes about his business. Thibodeau likes that James thinks for himself and does what he believes is right. That's why he never seemed shocked James came back to Cleveland for the second time earlier this summer.

"The one thing about LeBron is he stays true to himself," Thibodeau said. "I don't think he gets wrapped up in criticism or praise. He does what he thinks is right. He made a bold decision to leave. He made a bold decision to come back. But ultimately, he did what he felt was best for him and his family. I've got great respect for him as a competitor."

Cavs top new pecking order in East

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20

Eastern Conference | Western Conference

It's that time when we hardworking analysts tie our summer efforts together and declare how each conference has rearranged itself for the coming season. And the Eastern Conference in particular has undergone a major makeover, with the Cavaliers -- now featuring LeBron James and Kevin Love -- transforming from doormat to title contender.

For me, this exercise is actually the punctuation mark for my summer position rankings. That is, I've taken the methodology introduced in that series and pulled it together in a model to estimate team performance.

To extract these projected win baselines from my system, NBAPET, I've used my old methodology based on similarity scores and athletic factors to calculate how many possessions each player will have while he's on the floor and how efficiently he will use them. 

This year, I integrated real plus-minus into the process to estimate how players affect the possessions they don't use. Using play-by-play data from Synergy Sports Technologies, I've replicated this process for both ends of the floor. The last two steps are familiar: Estimate playing time based on durability trends and role, then run the preliminary win estimates through a season simulator 1,000 times.

What we're left with are the numbers below, which represent the average number of projected wins for each team in 2014-15. 

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (projected wins: 61.7)

If the bet is whether the Cavaliers win the 2015 Finals or the field, you take the field. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine how an objective forecast system would assign better title odds to a team other than Cleveland. On paper, the big four of LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters comprise a near-perfect offense, one that should rank in the top five in all of the four factors. The defense projects pretty well, too, though there is plenty of reason to be skeptical of that part of the prediction. We have six months to nitpick about the Cavs; right now they have about a 1-in-3 chance of winning it all.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There were nearly a dozen advance and personnel scouts on hand Monday night at Ohio State, flying to a non-NBA city because they wanted to see what perhaps was the most relevant preseason game that's taken place so far this month.

The Cleveland Cavaliers deployed their full team and the Chicago Bulls did as well, save for Jimmy Butler, who had to miss the game with a thumb injury he suffered Sunday night.

Their reports back across the country, both the official versions and what they were texting to their peers, no doubt contained two strong bullet points: 1. The Cavs are primed to be a fearsome offensive juggernaut, and 2. Derrick Rose really and finally looks like he's back.

The Cavs weren't even operating that efficiently, and they racked up a 107-98 victory in which most of the front lines played until the end. This was against a Bulls defense that will once again be among the league's best this season. And with Kevin Love, who came in shooting 57 percent in the preseason, having a course-correction game in which he shot just 2-of-10.

They are averaging 107 points a game in the preseason and LeBron James hasn't played more than the 32 minutes he logged in this one, Kyrie Irving has missed three games and coach David Blatt hasn't fully installed his modified Princeton offense.

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Rose enjoys challenge of LeBron, Cavs

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Friedell By Nick Friedell
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Derrick Rose does not like talking about one-on-one matchups. Like his coach Tom Thibodeau, he knows games are won and lost as a team. But that doesn't mean Rose didn't have a little extra motivation to perform well Monday night against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"It's basketball," Rose said. "I've been competing my whole life. I'm used to the stage, I'm used to playing against very good people, very good talent, and that's all they got on that team is talent, so you know, when you play against them, you know you got to come out here and ball."

Rose and Thibodeau got a firsthand look at James' new running mate, Kyrie Irving, this summer, when the trio represented Team USA in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.

"Kyrie, he's a young guy that's gotten better and better," Thibodeau said. "He's a star. He's a superstar.

"He played great for Team USA. He can shoot, he can break you down off the dribble, he can make plays. I thought his defense was excellent throughout [the tournament]. He did a really good job. He's right up there at the top of the league. There's not much he can't do. Obviously, handling the ball [and] pick-and-rolls. He can play off the ball, too. But he's a very good player."

While it was clear from Rose's play that he was more amped than usual for this contest, the former MVP said he's feeling good as he gets set for the regular season. Monday's game marked the second set of back-to-backs he has participated in this preseason.

"After every game, Jen [Swanson] always tells me I should feel like I always do [even] more," Rose said. "That's how I feel right now, even though I played the back-to-back. Both games were hard, [but] I feel like I could always go out there and play again. Just taking my time, listening to everything that they tell me to do and really listening to my body and conditioning my body -- that's key."

Noah enjoys being at Ohio State: Joakim Noah likes being booed. He enjoys playing the role of villain to fan bases throughout the country. He took more pride in that role than usual Monday night at Schottenstein Center, the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes, the team the University of Florida, led by Noah, defeated in the 2007 national championship. Noah admitted to looking up at Ohio State's runner-up banner that hung in the rafters.

"It's because we won the championship," Noah said of the boos. "And then we beat them in football. It's all good, though."

Noah also took pride in the fact that Monday's game marked the first pair of back-to-backs he has participated in this season, as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery.

"I feel good, and I feel like I can do more," he said. "I'm just happy. Compared to how I felt two weeks ago, I feel like it's just progressing, and that's a positive."

The last word: Noah, on Rose's 30-point performance: "It's big, especially with everything that he's gone through. He's the fastest guy on the court, by far. ... I like his mentality. He's aggressive, and I think we're going to be really good."

Brian Windhorst discusses Derrick Rose's 30-point performance in the Bulls' preseason loss to the Cavaliers.

Rose's performance brings joy to locker room

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Friedell By Nick Friedell
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The most noticeable part of Derrick Rose's 30-point explosion was the impact it had on the rest of his teammates. The Chicago Bulls lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, but you wouldn't have guessed it from the smiles that lit up their faces while they talked about Rose performing at the highest level again. They watched as Rose drove to the rim and knocked down jumper after jumper in the first half. They nodded in appreciation as Rose's cuts opened up the floor for everybody else. This was the man they've been waiting to see, waiting to play with since Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee. This is the man who can lead the Bulls to a championship. Most importantly, this is the man who gives them hope.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteDerrick Rose's vintage effort against the Cavs served as a reminder to LeBron and the league that he and the Bulls are going to be a force in the East if they can stay healthy.
"It [brought] up old memories, man," Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said happily. "Just a good positive thing to take from this game. Derrick looked great."

For the first time in almost a year, Rose looked once again like the player he used to be before his initial ACL injury in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. He looked like the type of player who could put a team on his back and carry it to a different place. For the Bulls, watching Rose dominate offensively was like watching an old favorite movie for the first time in a while. His play brought up the confidence level of everybody around him.

"You're talking about an MVP-caliber player," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So it makes the game easy for everybody. He's getting easy baskets in transition, he's attacking in the pick-and-roll, he's in the paint making plays, so it's a positive."

It's also a large negative for the rest of the league if Rose can continue turning back the clock like this. While there is no such thing as a statement game in October, Rose offered up a large reminder to LeBron James and the rest of the league that he and the Bulls are going to be a force in the Eastern Conference if they can stay healthy.

Rose didn't want to come out and say this was his best preseason game to date, but it was obvious after listening to those around him speak: This wasn't just Rose's best game in the preseason, this was Rose's best game in a while. He wanted to send a message to James and Kyrie Irving, the player who started ahead of him on Team USA this summer, that he can still be the dominant force he used to be.

"The team is feeling more comfortable with me being on the floor," Rose said. "Feeling comfortable with me just picking my spots, getting people involved and just trying to pick spots in the game where I can really affect the game."

Rose is such a transcendent talent, and so important to the Bulls' future, that he has the ability to affect more than just the game. On this night, he affected the entire organization's mood. The relief from Bulls personnel throughout the building was palpable. This was the man they hoped they would see again. This is the man who can deliver them to where they want to go.

"It feels great," Bulls center Joakim Noah said of Rose's performance. "Just seeing him move like that is big for our team. He's definitely one of our big guns -- he's our big gun -- so just to see him play like that, I know how hard he's worked to get there. I just feel like if we just keep improving we can do something special."

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- LeBron James was the star attraction but Kyrie Irving stole the show with 28 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 107-98 win against the Chicago Bulls in an exhibition game Monday night at Ohio State.

Irving had 20 points in the second half. James had 18 points in 31 minutes in his first game in Columbus since rejoining the Cavaliers this summer from the Miami Heat.

Derrick Rose led Chicago with 30 points.

Chicago was without guard Jimmy Butler (thumb). His replacement in the starting lineup, Kirk Hinrich, had two points in 16 minutes.

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A LeBron Hater's Evolution

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20


TrueHoop TV revisits with "Whore of Akron" author Scott Raab. In part three, the Esquire writer talks about why "The Decision" had such a drastic effect on him and the city of Cleveland.

Jimmy Butler out with sprained left thumb

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Friedell By Nick Friedell
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler will not play Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers because of a sprained left thumb. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday when the Bulls return to Chicago.

"As of right now it's just day-to-day," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. We'll know more after [Tuesday]."

Butler injured the thumb during Sunday night's win over the Charlotte Hornets after going for a steal in the first quarter. He stayed in the game for a few more minutes after the initial injury but was taken out and never returned. He wore a splint on the thumb while working out on Monday night.

Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich will start in Butler's place.

As for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah's status, Thibodeau was non-committal regarding whether or not they would play in the fourth quarter as they did on Sunday night against the Hornets. For the first time in almost a year, Rose was on the floor on Sunday to close out a game. The Bulls have taken a cautious approach with both Rose and Noah as each recovers from knee surgery.

LeBron James: Bulls 'much better'

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Less than two weeks before their first regular-season meeting, LeBron James believes the Chicago Bulls are better than his Cleveland Cavaliers.

The two teams played Monday night in a preseason game at Ohio State University, with Cleveland winning 107-98. The Cavs had called it their most important preseason game, not just because they were facing a potential Eastern Conference rival but because James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were starting together for the first time against an NBA team.

"[The Bulls] are a team that's much better than us right now just off chemistry," James said before scoring 18 points in 32 minutes. "They've been together for a while; we've got a long way to go."

James has faced the Bulls in the playoffs three times in the past five seasons, once with the Cavs and twice with the Miami Heat. He has a long history not only against Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah but also coach Tom Thibodeau, who designed the defense against James in two playoff series when Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics.

Rose looked like the MVP version, not the player who has missed most of the past two years with injuries, scoring 30 points on Monday.

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Derrick Rose takes next step in Bulls win

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Taj Gibson spoke for the entire Chicago Bulls' organization Sunday night when he described what it was like to have Derrick Rose back on the floor to close out games as he did in a win over the Charlotte Hornets.

"It's a dope feeling," Gibson said. "We know who's going to take the shot. Either Pau [Gasol], Derrick. We got Joakim [Noah] making solid plays. We got guys that's back in the rotation, and even with Derrick, he's stepping in and taking that strong midrange when he needs to take it, and it showed tonight."

Rose's stats were solid against the Hornets, but out of his 27 minutes played, it was the final 7:22 that were most crucial. That's because that marked the first time in almost a year that Rose was on the floor to close out a game. While the former MVP has downplayed the significance of being on the floor late for preseason games, it's clear his teammates and coaches were thrilled to see him back in the pressurized, late-game saddle on Sunday. They know they need him out there late and were happy to see his stabilizing presence on the floor as the final minutes wound down.
[+] EnlargeRose
AP Photo/Paul BeatyDerrick Rose was on the floor in the fourth quarter Sunday -- a welcome sight for fans, teammates and coaches alike.

"I think it's a positive thing," Gasol said. "It's great that we can have him down the stretch. He also gets used to playing those minutes where every decision is important. So, yeah, it's nice to have him on the floor."

Rose still has a lot of rust in his game. It's noticeable on his drives to the rim and in some of his shots, and it will likely take months before he consistently feels like himself again with the ball. But the mental aspect of Rose's return is huge for both him and his teammates, and even if Rose isn't the same player he once was (right now), he's still a talented point guard who can create space -- and shots -- for his teammates. His ability to cut into traffic makes his teammates feel better about their chances.

That's why head coach Tom Thibodeau has to be pleased with what he saw Sunday. It was the best all-around performance his team has had in the preseason, and it ended the way he's hoping many games this season do -- with the ball in Rose's hands as the contest is coming to a close.

"The intensity's different," Thibodeau said of the fourth quarter. "The defense is different. You have to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the team, understand how they're defending you, what you can take advantage of, what the openings are. Who are they rotating to? How far off are they? And then you want to make them pay. Usually for a player like that, any time you put two [defenders] on him, there's somebody open. And he's got to have the ability to read that and make that decision quickly. I think that comes back by being out there."

Rose took another small but important step in his latest comeback Sunday. He closed out a game with the rest of the starters (minus the injured Jimmy Butler) and remembered what it was like to take pressure-packed shots -- and make them. Thibodeau has said many times the past few months that the best thing Rose can do to knock the rust off is play.

Although Rose's confidence is still a work in progress, the confidence his presence breeds in those around him can't be overstated. The Bulls are hoping a lot more nights in the future end like Sunday did -- with Rose on the floor and a victory in hand.

Hinrich scores 26 points, Bulls beat Hornets

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

CHICAGO -- Kirk Hinrich scored 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting and the Chicago Bulls beat the Charlotte Hornets 101-96 in an exhibition game Sunday night.

Pau Gasol added 15 points and 10 rebounds to help the Bulls (4-2) win their fourth straight game.

The Bulls led by 18 and entered the fourth up 83-70, but Charlotte rallied to cut it to one with 1:30 left on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's three-point play. Derrick Rose answered with a jumper and, after the teams traded misses, Charlotte's Gary Neal missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 13 seconds left.

Rose had 17 points in almost 28 minutes and saw his first action in the fourth quarter as he comes back from a right knee injury 10 games into last season.

Lance Stephenson and Kidd-Gilchrist led the Hornets (3-3) with 14 points. Stephenson returned to the Charlotte lineup after missing a game because of a strain right groin.

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Derrick Rose
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5