This figured to be a night when the Chicago Bulls might be able to catch the Cleveland Cavaliers in an unmotivated state.
The Cavaliers arrived in town with 11 straight wins and, of course, were facing the NBA’s worst team.
After an early flourish, when the Bulls took a 9-3 lead, the competitiveness was squeezed out of this game quickly. Cleveland extended its winning streak and handed the Bulls their ninth straight loss 113-91 on Monday night at the United Center.
Dwyane Wade, who accepted a contract buyout from the Bulls before training camp began, scored 24 points, 1 off his season-high. After the game, he swore there was no extra motivation on his part, no lingering annoyance about the Bulls signing him to a two-year deal then deciding to rebuild after one year.
“None. Not nothing extra,” Wade said, who grew up in southwest suburban Robbins. “We just want to continue to keep playing well. Always my whole career I want to play well here. I spent a lot of time here. This was a good one to come here and play well with our team more so than anything. No statements, no storylines.”
The only real highlight for the Bulls was Justin Holiday banking in a 40-footer at the buzzer to end the third quarter. When Cristiano Felicio opened the fourth with a lay-in, the Bulls were within 86-73, then missed a chance to cut the lead to 11.
So the Bulls played well enough to make sure Wade and LeBron James couldn’t sit out the entire fourth quarter, but not well enough to make it a competitive contest.
James finished with 23 points, while Kevin Love had 24 point and 13 rebounds. The Cavaliers (17-7) are one short of matching their franchise-record winning streak.
Wade credited the strength of his supporting cast, including 3-point specialists Kyle Korver and Channing Frye, for his scoring success.
“I’m getting a lot of space to do stuff,” Wade said. “I think I had it at the top of the key and I dribbled between my legs about six times, there was no help. They’re not coming off LeBron, they’re not coming off Kyle, they’re not coming off Channing. So to get myself an opportunity to be able to attack without seeing so many double-teams.”
The highlights that figure to get the most airplay from this game were back-to-back missed dunks by James and Lauri Markkanen in the first half. Markkanen made a nice drive to the basket but clanged a two-hand dunk off the back rim.
Kris Dunn led the Bulls with 15 points, while Robin Lopez and Holiday added 14 each.
“They just play hard, man,” Wade said of the Bulls. “They’re trying to build something here. Offensively, they’re moving bodies, moving the ball. You saw LeBron come out early. They get you tried, the way they move.
“They’re building a culture over there, and I love to see it. It stinks to lose, but they continue to keep playing that way, they’ll take steps in the right direction.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t as positive about his team’s performance.
“We had about a five-minute stretch in the first half where we just lost our minds,” Hoiberg said. “We gave up two wide-open 3s; gave up two layups, just on missed assignments. … Tonight, we took a step backward.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.