End of Season for Chicago
- By Austin Simpson, Day 190, 2025
End of the season for the J-Birds
Chicago finished 48-34 in the regular season to secure the 5th overall seed in the East, just one win shy of the 4th seed which went to the Drones. Chicago had matched up well against the Drones in the regular season and would have gotten the tie-breaker due to their record of 3-0 vs. Charlotte.
Game 1 @ Charlotte (Win; 112-99 | Series 1-0)
The Drones were without swingman Lucas Rush who was not quite ready to come back from an injury and the J-Birds jumped ahead in the first quarter (35 -20) then added on more (29 – 14) in the 2nd which gave them a nice cushion in this win. Jason Cheaney poured in 29 points and Dameon Clarke + Michell van Bree each scored 14 off the bench. Khalen Anthony got rolling in this game scoring 26 points on 20 shots, but the Drones fell short losing 112-99.
Game 2 @ Charlotte (Loss; 103-113 | Series 1-1)
Rush came back and scored 17 points with 7 rebounds and Khalen Anthony played well again with 26 points and 14 rebounds. RWII who wasn’t effective game 1 was able to lead the team with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assist. It was the Drones this time with a huge 1st quarter amassing 38 points vs. Chicago’s measly 21. The Drones never looked back and lead the whole way, exact opposite of game 1. Chicago had some nice performances from Cheaney 26 pts, 10 assists and Rasheed Stone 27 pts, 9 rebounds. Mitchell van Bree scored 16 off the bench and Clarke dropped 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Game 3 @ Chicago (Win; 105-95 | Series 2-1)
Chicago felt comfortable at home leading the majority of the game, but it was much closer in this one. Rush played very well for Charlotte adding in 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 steals but the rest of the team couldn’t g et their footing. Jason Cheaney scored an inefficient 26 points on 39.1% shooting and Antoine Willis had his first solid stat line of the series with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Clarke was deadly and efficient off the bench scoring 21 points with 9 rebounds and 5 assists in only 25 minutes.
Game 4 @ Chicago (Win; 107-95 | Series 3-1)
Chicago led basically the whole game and outscored the Drones in each quarter. Lucas Rush, Khalen Antohny, and RWII each scored 18-20 points. Jason Cheaney shot an even more inefficient game scoring 26 points and 11 assists on 30.3% shooting. Dameon Clarke was once again extremely useful off the bench with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks. At this point Chicago has to only win 1 game to move on to the next round.
Game 5 @ Charlotte (Loss; 108-111 | Series 3-2)
A close game that had 15 ties and 9 lead changes throughout. The Drones had kept the lead the majority of the game but Chicago was able to force an OT and ultimately lost by 3 points. Charlotte had 3 players score over 20 points, RWII and Carroll with 22 each and Khalen Anthony with 26. Cheaney had his best showing of the series scoring 48, but was still shooting poorly this time from 3 going 3-11 (27.3%). Stone scored 17 points and 15 rebounds and the rest of the team could’t get going. Only DJ Gordon was in double figures outside of Cheaney and Stone.
Game 6 @ Chicago (Loss; 116-119 | Series 3-3)
The game Chicago needed to capitalize on the most, they dropped. The Drones outscored the J-Birds 40-27 which gave them enough of a lead going into the 2nd half to hold onto the victory. Cheaney shot very well in this game, hitting 16 of 25 shots (64%) of which he was 7-11 (63.6%) from 3, scoring 44 points. Willis and Stone both played well scoring 18 and 21 respectively. Clarke couldn’t get it going with only 12 off the bench on 14 shots. Again the Drones had 3 players over 20 points, Rush (21), Carroll (29), and RWII (24).
Game 7 @ Charlotte (Loss; 102-108 | Series 3-4)
A heartbreaking loss and one that Chicago never got going. The Drones started off hot in the 1st scoring 35 points and never looked back. All of Charlotte’s starters were in double figures in a very well rounded effort. Rasheed Stone lead the Jailbirds with 24 points and Jason Cheaney was able to help with 20 points on 40% shooting, and Willis 18 points. Clarke chipped in 14 off the bench, but the rest of the team just didn’t do enough.
After 2 consecutive losses in game 7’s of the Conference Finals, the Jailbirds couldn’t even get out of the 1st round. Mr. J-Bird, Jason Cheaney, averaged 31.3 points on 45% from the field but was not enough to get the team past Charlotte. Many expected Cheaney to be a contender for MVP and to go “nuclear” and he couldn’t shoulder the load. In last year’s playoff run Cheaney was able to put up 38.8 ppg on 49.6% shooting with more rebounds, more steals and less turnovers. It just shows what having a true #2 on the team does for your stars. Rasheed Stone has continually improved in Chicago and had his best playoff performance yet averaging 19.3 ppg, 8.7 rpb. He averaged less rebounds and blocks than usual, which is a concern of the team. The hype around Antoine Willis was pretty significant towards the end of the season, some talking of Most Improved Player but needing to see what he would do in the playoffs. He’s better than last year but he did not meet some expectations. 16.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg, and 4.6 apg is a good stat line, but Chicago needed more out of Willis. The weak link this year was certainly rookie starter Dennis Howard who had obviously had no playoff experience. He was able to contribute slightly, but very inefficiently. He scored 5.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg on 28.3% shooting. Howard has struggled to shoot the ball all year; however Chicago’s organization likes what they have in the young wing. They believe his offense will come and are very excited to see what kind of player he can turn into. He is already the team’s best perimeter defender rates better than Stone in some defensive analytics. Chicago’s plans from the get go has been to get experience and reps for young guys like Howard and Gordon, while getting improvements out of Stone + Willis. Chicago brass knew they weren’t going to be the perennial contender they have been in years past, yet are still disappointed with the first round exit. Chicago’s GM Austin had this to say at the post-game presser:
“The series was in our hands and we let it slip away. We were up 3-1 and we have to give The Drones all the credit in the world. They went and took it from us. Our players played well and some are frustrated with the loss. We understand that and although we tried something different this year, we think it will pay off next year and in the long term.”
When asked about the frustrated player and if that was Jason Cheaney, Austin responded
“You all know Jason is a fierce competitor. He expects everyone to put everything they have on the court, and holds even greater expectations on himself. We talked to him about his performance, which we think was stellar. We acknowledged even though he’s the best player in the world, we need to get him more help. If we had to do it all over again, would we trade Jason’s best friend and long-time team mate Keydren Carter? Probably not. We thought we were getting a better pick than what it ended up to be, but sometimes you make a gamble. We believe it will pay off in the long run. We have promised to Jason that we are going to put our team, and him, in the best position to win a championship next year, and for the remainder of his career in Chicago.”
Chicago owns the #12 pick in the upcoming draft and should address their backup PG or SF positions. DJ Gordon had played well this year and could come back as the starting PG, but nothing is given just yet. Dennis Howard is better suited at Shooting Guard but may work in both wing spots. The Jailbirds also seem open to exploring roster improvements via trade. The only untouchable on their roster is Jason Cheaney, although they do have preferences in some players over others. They likely draft best player available with #12, bring back Antoine Willis and Dameon Clarke, and take it from there.