Beating Cavs proves to be too tall a task for shorthanded Bulls

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine (8) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Lauri Markkanen (24) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Cleveland.

    Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine (8) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Lauri Markkanen (24) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Cleveland. Associated Press

  • Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan gives instructions to players in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 115-92.

    Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan gives instructions to players in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 115-92. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/8/2021 10:08 PM

Chicago and Cleveland are polar opposites as cities, just ask Joakim Noah.

The Bulls and Cavaliers also couldn't be any more different on the court, either. The Bulls play one of the league's smallest lineups, while the Cavs essentially use three 7-footers across the front line with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen.

 

Round 1 of this season series went to the taller Cavaliers. The Bulls' defense couldn't keep Cleveland out of the paint, then the offense couldn't navigate the trees when they got into the lane, and lost handily 115-92.

Sure, the Bulls were short-handed. They now have four players in health and safety protocols, including top scorer DeMar DeRozan, while NBA steals leader Alex Caruso missed his second game with a sore hamstring.

At the same time, the rebuilding years are over. The Bulls have gotten past the point when losses don't matter. Brooklyn also lost Wednesday, so the Bulls finished the night a half-game behind the first-place Nets in the East standings.

"I thought they overwhelmed us, to be honest with you, and really dominated us on both ends of the floor," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "I think we're better than that and we need to be better than that. I don't know when or who is coming back on what dates. My feeling right now is we're going into Miami with this same group and if we don't compete at a higher level, we're going to get the same result we got here tonight."

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The Bulls (17-9) got off to a decent start Wednesday, but a couple things didn't bode well. They had some sloppy turnovers and didn't take advantage of some fast-break opportunities. Then rookie Ayo Dosunmu, such a big part of Monday's win over Denver, got two early fouls and that messed up an already altered playing rotation.

"We have to be better, and I think the group is capable of being better, and would hope they want from me as a coach to try to hold them to that standard, because I see that in them," Donovan said. "I think we can do a better job than we did tonight."

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 23 points, but didn't really kick it into gear offensively the way he would have liked. Lonzo Ball finished with 19 points and 7 assists. Center Nikola Vucevic added 18 points and 12 rebounds, but he went 8-for-23 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3-point range. Pulling the Cleveland bigs away from the basket might have made a difference in this one.

"My shot feels normal, it feels the way it always has," Vucevic said. "For whatever reason, I haven't been able to be consistent offensively. It's frustrating because I feel like I'm really getting good looks. I felt like if I made, especially in the first half, some of the shots I had, we'd be in a better position."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls chose to have Vucevic guard Allen, leaving Mobley with a size mismatch, The rookie from USC took advantage with 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. Darius Garland led the Cavs with 24 points.

"I think they probably had 8 blocks for the game, but that doesn't speak to how many different shots they altered or changed or had us second-guess going in there," Donovan said. "We need to do a better job of attacking their defense in the half court than we did."

Injuries and illnesses will hit every NBA team. Miami beat the Bucks on Wednesday without Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo, which could be the lineup the Bulls see on Saturday in Florida.

"I don't walk into a game like, 'Woe us,' but you understand it's going to be harder than it would be with everybody back," LaVine said. "It's going to be tough, but I think we can fight through it. I still go into it thinking we're going to be OK and can win."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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