After tonight's game, the Cleveland Cavaliers set out on a massive, 6-game road trip. Tonight, however, they welcome the visiting Chicago Bulls to Quicken Loans Arena to try to start the season with a 2-0 record.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0) vs. Chicago Bulls (1-0)
When? 7:30 PM Eastern
Where? Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Why? Because it's hard to go 82-0 if you only play one game.
I need a song to get me pumped for this song, do it, now.
Whatever you say, bossy, imaginary person without access to Google, apparently.
I Wish -- Stevie Wonder
The Chicago Bulls won their first game of the season when they hosted the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night. As you all know, the Bulls are still without their superstar point guard Derrick Rose for several more weeks as he recovers from ACL surgery. It goes without saying that the Bulls are significantly worse when you take away Derrick Rose. But I'll say it anyway: the Bulls are significantly worse when you take away Derrick Rose. Similarly, the Bulls lost backup center Omer Asik when he signed a backloaded deal with the Houston Rockets.
The absences of Asik and Rose are enormous because Asik was one of the primary backbones of that vaunted Chicago defense. Meanwhile, Rose was obviously the catalyst for virtually everything they did on offense. It's safe to say that the loss of Rose is far more impactful than the loss of Asik, simply because Tom Thibodeau is still the head coach and they have plenty of other plus-defenders. Taj Gibson recently signed an extension and Joakim Noah and Luol Deng are still plenty good. Rose's injury, however, causes Kirk Hinrich to step into the starting lineup and causes Nate Robinson to play backup point guard minutes. Nate Robinson is more or less (hint: more) terrible.
For the Cavaliers, many of their issues from the first game of the season have been discussed at length. The bench needs to be more consistent and simply cannot allow 16-0 runs while the starters get their rest. Single game plus-minus is mostly useless, but the fact that the Cavs were a +23 when Kyrie Irving was on the court and only won by 10, gives you an idea of how useless the bench was. Byron Scott pointed to C.J. Miles as the primary player that needs to step up and contribute some scoring for the second unit.
Anderson Varejao will have a much tougher matchup tonight. He no longer gets to abuse Trevor Booker and Emeka Okafor en route to grabbing a ridiculous 23 rebounds. Tonight, he faces a player that embodies many of the same characteristics that Varejao is known for -- Joakim Noah. They both have ridiculous hair, limited offensive games, endless hustle, and great rebounding and defensive abilities. In a way, it will be as though Varejao is playing against a mirror tonight. Except it will be Joakim Noah and not a two-dimensional reflective object. Noah is also more mobile than a mirror. (Although I guess it depends on the size of the mirror and if it has wheels on it or not...also, who is the person actively trying to move the mirror. But that's not the point.)
Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson will try to build off of strong season debuts. Rip Hamilton will likely be matched up with Waiters, and his length and experience are something that Bradley Beal didn't necessarily possess. Tristan will have to deal with the strong offensive game of Carlos Boozer, but should have relative ease scoring against Boozer. This is most likely because Carlos Boozer will spontaneously combust if he even thinks about or considers playing defense. It's a tragic illness, really.
On the defensive end of the floor, I expect Kyrie Irving to have a more difficult time than he did against Washington. For the most part, his effort was pretty solid -- but then again, the Wizards' guards aren't particularly good. I do believe he has the tools to be a solid defender, it's just a matter of focusing and putting forth the effort. I only had a chance to watch half of the Bulls-Kings game, but it was apparent that Chicago ran multiple sets that involved Hinrich running around numerous screens. When you watch this game tonight, look for that. Hinrich will likely carry the ball across halfcourt and then hand it off to either Noah or Deng. Then, Hinrich runs around the lane and comes off a screen to receive the ball between the elbow and three-point line. In the one half that I was able to watch, they must have run this play at least 5 to 10 times. Keep an eye on how Kyrie manages to chase Hinrich and fight through screens on defense after spending so much energy on offense.
We talked about it before, but Luke Walton did get minutes in the first game instead of Jon Leuer or Samardo Samuels. Byron Scott had noted that this was a relatively spontaneous decision on his part, so it will be interesting to see if he goes with Walton again.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction:
I like Cleveland's chances. Nothing that the Bulls did in their game against the Kings really wowed me and I'm not convinced that their defense is as elite as it was when they had Asik. Without Derrick Rose healthy, the Cavaliers have the best player in tis game and that means something. Cavs win in a tough, physical game, 91-85. The Cavalier bench will also step up and not be the worst thing ever this time.