Once again, a point guard matchup will be the focus of all eyes.
Kyrie Irving, #1 pick, Rookie of the Year candidate, and hope of a rebuilding franchise squares off with Derrick Rose, former #1 pick, former Rookie of the Year, and former hope of a rebuilding franchise.
The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-20, 10th in the East) return home to the Q where they will host the Chicago Bulls (29-8, 2nd in the East). The last time these teams played, the Bulls (without Rose) dismantled the Cavaliers. It might take a miracle to avoid that fate once more.
The Cavaliers are slipping. The loss of Anderson Varejao really seems to be catching up to them now, teams seem to be adjusting to Kyrie Irving, the momentum Antawn Jamison seemed to be developing before the All-Star break has gone, and there simply aren’t enough players stepping up right now.
But despite all the issues with the way the Cavaliers are playing right now, the first ever matchup between Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose is something I’m looking forward to. Rose has so much more help than Irving does, but I want to see how Kyrie comes out and competes against Rose. It’s unfair to expect Irving to outplay Rose. That’s almost certainly not going to happen. But I want to see Irving hold his own and step up his game a bit from his past few Cavalier games.
In my opinion, Irving’s game has plateaued a bit over the last week or two. He’s not playing poorly, but after showing incremental growth over the first month and a half of the season, that growth has stagnated a bit. He’s not playing poorly. In fact, he’s absolutely the best player on the Cavaliers right now. He’s been so good this season I hate criticizing at all. But there’s just been “something” missing from his game lately (not counting the Rising Stars game, where little defense was played).
Part of it is definitely that opponents are figuring out his tendencies and focusing more solely on Irving. That’s part of growing in this league as a star. Teams are going to adapt to what you’re trying to do. Now it’s Kyrie’s turn to take that next step and add a new wrinkle or change something up a bit to throw off the opposing teams. Playing against a great player like Rose is a perfect opportunity for Kyrie to try some things and step up without fear of failure because, hey, nobody expects you to outplay Rose anyway.
As for the rest of the players on these teams, Chicago has the advantage at every single position and it’s not even that close. The Bulls also have a great bench and you know Coach Tom Thibodeau is going to draw up a defensive plan to shut down Irving. The Bulls are 4th in offensive efficiency and 2nd in defensive efficiency. They don’t turn the ball over and they are the only team in the NBA with a better ORB% than the Cavaliers. This is a brutal matchup for Cleveland.
For the Cavaliers to win, I think a couple things will have to happen. First, the Cavaliers must hit their outside shots and hope the Bulls miss some of theirs. Second, the Cavaliers need to control the offensive glass. And beyond just grabbing the offensive board, they need to do something productive with the 2nd chance opportunity. Either go up strong and put it back in the hoop or else kick it out and reset the possession. So many times the Cavaliers get an offensive rebound only to subsequently turn it over or get fouled and miss the free throws. Those 2nd chance opportunities need to be converted into points.
Finally, someone on the Cavaliers needs to have a monster game. It would be great of it were Kyrie, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. A big 28 point game from Jamison or Daniel Gibson hitting four or five 3-pointers. Something like that. The Cavaliers need to make something break their way somehow. Because if this game is left to matchups alone, you can expect a very ugly game.
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