CLEVELAND – If you were excited to see if they were for real, or were hoping that the team would get back to their losing ways for the sake of the future, something figured to give starting tonight.
Winners of seven-in-a-row, the Bulls would face their toughest challenge so far during their recent stretch of success with a visit to the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. Despite a loss at Milwaukee earlier this week, LeBron James and Co. have won 18 of their last 20 games and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
While the remained competitive on the road against one of the NBA’s best, it wasn’t quite enough to make the streak eight.
The teams traded leads for the better part of 48 minutes on Thursday evening at Quicken Loans Arena but in the end it was the Cavaliers that came out with a 115-112 victory to snap the Bulls’ seven-game win streak. It’s the first loss for the Bulls since December 7th at Indiana and drops their record to 10-21 on the season as they now prepare for a match-up with the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics Saturday night in Boston.
Lauri Markkanen led the way for the Bulls with 25 points with Denzel Valentine adding 18 and Nikola Mirotic 15 off the bench. The Bulls dished out a season-high 34 assists, but it wasn’t quite enough to defeat James who scored 34 to give the Cavaliers their 24th win of the season. Former Bulls guard Dwyane Wade had ten points in 24 minutes.
Playing another strong game with solid chemistry on the offensive end, the Bulls went toe-to-toe with the Cavaliers the entire evening. Even when the Cavaliers went on a run in the fourth quarter to push the lead to nine, the Bulls continued to stay with them and with 14.3 seconds left cut the lead to one on a layup by Denzel Valentine.
James hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to three, giving the Bulls one more shot to tie. But Kris Dunn’s three-point try was blocked, then Valentine’s shot at the buzzer was off the mark, bringing an end to a surprising yet refreshing string of success for the rebuilding team.