The Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to close out the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a win tonight and potentially get some rest before taking on the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards series. With Kyrie Irving still dealing with knee and foot injuries - not to mention that Iman Shmumpet has a pulled groin and LeBron James rolled his ankle badly earlier in the series - winning tonight and avoiding a Game 7 would be the ideal outcome for the Cavs.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls
What: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals; Cavs lead 3-2
Where: United Center - Chicago, Illinois
When: 8 p.m.
Music? Music: Juice by Chance The Rapper. What can I say, Chicago has a lot of musicians I really like.
Pau Gasol will play and the Cavs should attack him. Gasol is back after missing two games with a hamstring injury, and if he's on the floor for any extend time, the Cavs should waste to time at going after Gasol. What makes Gasol special is his offense - his brilliance is in his shooting, his passing and his craftiness around the basket. What Gasol is not is a rim protector, despite being 7'0". If he's operating with one blown tire, he's even more vulnerable than normal on defense.
Unless the Bulls pair Gasol with Taj Gibson, any front court with Gasol is going to be a liability. Joakim Noah's form, or lack thereof, has been well chronicled and Nikola Mirotic is a rookie. As good as Mirotic is offensively, he has often looked lost on defense in this series. LeBron and Kyrie - who we'll talk about in a second - should look to get to the rim every time Gasol is on the floor. It's an efficient way to either get points or get to the line.
A lot depends on how well Kyrie is able to play
We should get used to seeing Irving moving slow and laboring to get up and down the floor. He was more like himself in Game 5 - he was 9-16 from the floor after going 5-23 combined in Games 3 and 4 - but by the end, he was back to dragging himself up and down the floor. Having Irving healthy was huge for the Cavs in Game 5, even if it was 70 percent or so of peak Kyrie. When he can't move, he's just asking for the Bulls to attack him in the pick and roll - which they oddly didn't do much in Game 4.
If Irving can't move, and the Bulls runs PNRs with Rose and whomever to take advantage of Irving's injury issues, the Cavs either have to live with it and and hope that Irving can be better on offense or take him out and leave LeBron in as the only player on the floor that the Cavs can use to initiate the offense late in the game.
The Cavs need Kyrie to play about as well as he did in Game 5 in Game 6. They need him to hit shots, handle the ball and not be a total liability on defense. To quote LeBron, the Cavs need Kyrie to get his limping ass over here.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
It's hard to say exactly how this game will play out. The Bulls and Cavs are both dealing with injuries and every one of these games has been close. The Bulls get Gasol back and if he is healthy, he'll help them a lot on offense. And the way this series has gone, it feels like this a game the Bulls should win even if it's really close. Barring Kyrie looking healed and spry, I'll take the Bulls 99-97 in a game that's decided in the fourth.
And yes, I think the Cavs will win in seven.