LeBron puts on a good show, spoils Valentine's career night
Plenty of obscure players took the floor Saturday at the United Center, as both the Bulls and Cavaliers dealt with injuries.
But the biggest star in the league, LeBron James, put on a nice show for the paying customers. James produced a triple-double, had a couple of awe-inducing blocked shots and, always a fan favorite, expressed complete disbelief at the most obvious of foul calls.
James finished with 33 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists as Cleveland hung on to edge the Bulls 114-109. A 4-point play by Jordan Clarkson with 1:27 left broke open a tie game.
"I like playing in every building, to be honest," James said. "I just love to hoop. I'm a gym rat."
The Bulls had an unexpected star turn of their own as Denzel Valentine poured in a career-high 34 points while hitting 8 of 11 shots from 3-point range.
"It was a lot of fun," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Denzel, we were running stuff for him every time down the floor. Teammates did a really good job of screening for him and point guards did a good job of calling the actions to get him involved in pretty much every play."
The list of players sitting out was extensive. The Bulls were without Kris Dunn (toe), Zach LaVine (sore knee) and Lauri Markkanen (back). They kept Robin Lopez inactive and didn't play Noah Vonleh, who is dealing with a toe issue.
Cleveland played without Kyle Korver (personal reasons), Kevin Love (hand), Tristan Thompson (ankle), Rodney Hood (back), Larry Nance Jr. (hamstring) and Cedi Osman (hip). Even Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went to the locker room for the second half because of an illness.
The Bulls (24-45) fell way behind when Cleveland opened the second quarter with a 16-0 run, but finally tied the score on a Cameron Payne 3-pointer with 1:41 left.
Payne collected a career-high 10 assists to go with 13 points in his first start of the season. Bobby Portis added 15 points and 15 rebounds off the bench.
But it was Valentine who took the biggest leap. The second-year swingman scored 16 points in the third quarter alone and easily surpassed his previous career-high of 20 points.
"It just shows what I'm capable of," Valentine said. "I believe in myself, even when I'm out there playing bad or whatever. I put the work in no matter what happens. Over the course of this year, I've gotten smarter with learning how to take care of my body, resting, knowing when to push myself on practice days, when to back off a little bit. I'm just getting smarter."
Valentine was also promoted to the starting lineup Saturday, for the first time since Feb. 10.
"I believe I'm a starter in this league," said Valentine, who has 33 starts this season. "I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. Whatever my role on the team is, I'll do. Personally, I believe I'm a starter and can contribute in major ways. It is what it is. I just have to keep working and getting better."