Coming into the season, the Chicago Bulls were once again pegged as the team that could upset LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Just a couple months ago, with the Cavs in flux after the firing of David Blatt there was thought that the East was ripe for the Bulls taking. Well tonight the Cleveland Cavaliers have the opportunity to eliminate the Bulls from the playoff picture for the second straight year.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (56-23) at Chicago Bulls (39-40)
When? 8:30 PM
Where? United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Where on my eyeballs? ABC
Enemy blog: Blog a Bull
It's been a surprisingly disappointing season for the Bulls under Fred Hoiberg. The offensive guru has taken last year's team that was ranked 10th in offensive efficiency and brought them down to 26th. While not all of that is on him, as the team has had several injuries to contend with, notably to Joakim Noah, Mike Dunleavy and recently Jimmy Butler, it's still clear that this team does not have the cohesiveness you would expect.
On the plus-side, Derrick Rose has played the most games he has since 2010-2011 and is averaging a respectable 16.5 points and 4.7 assists per game. Butler has transformed into the focal point of the franchise and it's offense and has grown into arguably the best shooting guard in the game, or at the very least the most complete. Pau Gasol, who has given the Cavs fits in the past, has also been very productive offensively this season, although his true net impact has been the subject of debate over the last two seasons.
In any rate, the Cavs are likely going to be facing one of two teams tonight. A desperate, hungry Bulls team that is fighting for their playoff lives against the one team they despise the most in the East; or the checked out, emotionally disconnected roster that we've seen over the last few games.
Things I'd like to see from the Cavs:
- Defensive intensity out of Kyrie Irving. He has been a little better as of late, but Irving can't allow the same easy penetration against Rose that he did against Jeff Teague. Last season showed us that Irving has another gear on defense and can be at the very least average on that side of the floor, so there's no excuse for him to not perform at that level now as the games become more meaningful.
- The pick and pop with Pau Gasol has been very poorly defended by the Cavs dating back to last year's playoffs. I want to see if Lue deploys a different scheme/ who he assigns to guarding Pau, and if it remains a hole that other teams can exploit.
- Whether or not the ball keeps on moving, as the ball movement has been gorgeous lately.
- Confident play out of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love has been bouncing back recently, but these two hitting shots is the difference between playing well and having a punchers chance at an NBA Championship.
- Win the rebound battle. The Cavs at their best are dangerous offensively and getting second chance opportunities whenever they miss. In their last loss to the Bulls, they lost the rebound battle and it had a huge impact on the game. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love need to assert themselves on the boards and be the difference makers.