CLEVELAND — Guard Zach LaVine at least wanted to test the rookie, go at him firsthand to see if the burgeoning Evan Mobley hype was for real.
Oh, it’s real.
As LaVine took flight toward the rim in the third quarter, Mobley met him in midair for one of his five blocks, then ripped the ball from LaVine as they were heading down. On top of that, Mobley, 20, threw out an elbow to prevent LaVine from even attempting to swipe at the ball for a steal.
It was that kind of night for LaVine and the Bulls.
USC over UCLA in the Mobley-LaVine matchup, and the Cavaliers over the Bulls in the overall matchup — and not just over the Bulls, but all over them in a 115-92 romp.
Mobley, a versatile 6-11 forward/center who was the third overall pick in the draft, had 16 points, nine rebounds, two steals, a game-high plus-28 rating and a handful of headaches handed out.
“The kid’s good,’’ LaVine said. “He’s really raw, but he’s got great defensive instincts. Obviously extremely long and can make shots around the basket. You could see why he really helps their team.’’
The Bulls (17-9) had DeMar DeRozan, Javonte Green, Matt Thomas and Coby White in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and were forced to play even smaller than usual.
That’s not a great recipe for battling a very long Cavaliers frontcourt that features 7-foot Lauri Markkanen as the small forward.
“Obviously, we’re playing extremely small,’’ LaVine said. “We’re playing guards against [Mobley], so you might see a couple of shots you usually might not see, but you gotta take advantage of those situations, and he did that. Their whole team took advantage of us being small.’’
Cleveland (14-12) finished with eight blocks.
Despite being undermanned for the next few games, the Bulls refuse to use that as an excuse.
“I mean, I don’t walk into the game, like, ‘Woe us,’ ’’ LaVine said. “You understand that it’s going to be harder than it would be with everybody back. I think we can fight through it. I still go into it thinking we’re going to be OK, and we can win. That’s my mentality.’’
And that’s the mentality coach Billy Donovan wants this group to maintain. The Bulls also were undermanned in their victory against the Nuggets on Monday, so they have to carry that same energy to Miami for the game on Saturday.
“I thought they overwhelmed us, to be honest with you, and really dominated us on both ends,’’ Donovan said. “I think we’re better than that, and we need to be better than that. I don’t know who is coming back on what dates. My feeling 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.’’
Nikola Vucevic admitted that he needs to be better. He shot 8-for-23, including 1-for-7 from three-point range, and had 18 points.
“It was frustrating because I really felt like I was getting good looks,’’ Vucevic said. “I felt like if I made — especially in the [3-for-13] first half — some of the shots that I had, we would have been in a better position. That’s the most frustrating part. Making shots is part of my game and something I have to do consistently.’’