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Bulls beat Cavs to end 10-game losing streak but lose in Zion sweepstakes

CLEVELAND — It felt like the Bulls’ season went off the tracks when highly touted forward Lauri Markkanen suffered a sprained right elbow in a practice during training camp.

The injury cost Markkanen nearly 10 weeks and started a series of events that led to the ugliness of Monday.

Because that’s exactly what the Bulls-Cavaliers game was in a matinee at Quicken Loans Arena. It was a game between two struggling organizations hoping the draft lottery in June can change their fortunes.

Unless you happen to be a Bulls player, that is.

‘‘We ain’t trying to lose for no pick,’’ backup big man Bobby Portis insisted.

To prove Portis’ point, the Bulls snapped a painful 10-game losing streak by defeating the hapless Cavaliers 104-88.

Did the victory mess with the Bulls’ chances of landing coveted Duke freshman Zion Williamson? Slightly, considering the new draft rules will give the bottom three teams in the league the same chance (14 percent) of landing the No. 1 pick.

The NBA-worst Cavaliers (9-39) maintained their stranglehold on one of those spots, and the Bulls (11-36) are right there with the Knicks (10-35) and Suns (11-37) for the other two.

Just don’t tell Portis that.

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‘‘I get it,’’ Portis said. ‘‘Growing up as a kid and then playing in college, you hear the word ‘tanking’ in the NBA, getting a high draft pick. With the new draft rules this year, it all comes down to the lottery and how that works out. But as a player, we’re trying to go out and compete, help our team, help our family. It’s about best foot forward.’’

That’s a concept coach Jim Boylen has continued preaching, even during the losing of the last few weeks.

‘‘It’s part of this business and where we’re at,’’ Boylen said when he was asked about his own fan base hoping for losses to help the Bulls’ lottery standing. ‘‘We have to be real with that. What I’m hoping is we can play better basketball, that we can improve. That’s what I’m coaching and teaching and striving for.’’

Things are easier when the Cavaliers are the opponent and the Bulls shoot well from long range. The Bulls led 31-18 after the first quarter and made 15 of their 30 three-pointers.

‘‘Kind of what the defense was giving us,’’ guard Kris Dunn said of the hot shooting.

Dunn made only one of the Bulls’ three-pointers, but his performance ended a streak of five bad games in a row. He finished with 13 points and nine assists and got back to looking like a confident point guard on both ends.

‘‘I just kept grinding through the slump,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘Kept coming in, being positive, staying consistent through my work. It’s part of the NBA. I got the same looks I’ve been getting in previous games and knocked them down.

‘‘Get the monkey off our backs. It sucks to lose 10 in a row; it’s frustrating. Now we can breathe a little bit and build on it.’’

And Dunn had a message for all the Bulls fans who want to see more losing and hear more talk about Williamson.

‘‘I just come to hoop,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘I don’t play to lose.’’