On opening night, the Cleveland Cavaliers gave us all a glimpse of some of the highlights, and just a few of the lowlights, that we can expect to see this season. Friday night, as the Cavaliers host the Chicago Bulls, the question will be about consistency.
Against the Wizards on Tuesday, we what the Cavaliers can be. A persistent team capable of outworking their opponents in the paint with a strong backcourt duo to keep opponents honest. We saw some crisp passing, some good cuts off the ball, and just a fun style of team oriented basketball.
Of course, we also saw some weaknesses be exposed. These are some issues we were concerned about before the season started, primarily in terms of lack of depth. Where is the bench scoring going to come from? After Kyrie Irving, where are the points? Dion Waiters showed us what his game can be all about, but can he be consistent at all? What kind of performance should we expect from the young rookie on a night in and night out basis?
Those questions will be put to the test against the Chicago Bulls. Like the Wizards, the Bulls are also without their franchise leading PG. Derrick Rose, who infamously tore his ACL in the Bulls’ opening round matchup with the 76ers last season, is still out rehabbing his knee and will miss much of the season.
The Bulls went 18-9 without Rose in the regular season last year, and they earned a very solid opening night win over the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls, lead by one of the best defensive coaches in the Association in Tom Thibodeau, certainly believe they can overcome Rose’s injury, play stout defense, and finish as one of the top 4 teams in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Bulls made wholesale changes in the offseason that leave this team as one of the biggest question marks in the league. We think there are a lot of questions surrounding the Cavaliers, but just who are the Chicago Bulls?
The Bulls still feature an extremely solid frontcourt lead by Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Taj Gibson, who just signed a lucrative extension with the Bulls, is another solid young frontcourt player coming off the bench. Luol Deng remains one of the hardest working 3s in the NBA.
The matchup between Noah and Anderson Varejao is going to be the prime matchup in this contest. The two floppy haired centers who love to get under opponents’ skin will test their complimentary skills on one another. In recent years, Varejao and Noah have had some fascinating battles.
Typically, Noah outrebounds Andy while Varejao has the edge over Noah in scoring. In their last 5 regular season matchups, Noah has outrebounded Andy by a 12.0 to 8.4 rebounds per game margin. Only once in those 5 games did Andy pull down more boards than Noah. On the flipside, Varejao holds the scoring edge at 12.0 to 10.4 points per game and Noah has only outscored Varejao once.
Which center has the better game will go a long way in setting the table for his team to win this game. But it’s far from the only matchup to watch. Bulls SG Richard Hamilton is one of the most active off-ball SGs in the game, and rookie Dion Waiters is going to have a much bigger test in staying with Hamilton than he did shadowing Bradley Beal in game one.
Kirk Hinrich, who played his first 7 seasons in Chicago, is back with the Bulls and filling in at starting PG for Rose. His matchup with Kyrie Irving is going to be a tough one. Hinrich has made a career of playing hard nosed defense, and few players have done more in their career with limited skills than Hinrich. But Hinrich is much more effective at the 2 guard spot than he is at the point. Hinrich likes being physical defensively with opposing SGs, but he has had some issues when asked to defend PGs, as quickness off the ball is an issue for him.
The Cavaliers will need Kyrie Irving to make the most of this apparent mismatch and really set the tone offensive for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers were able to beat a wounded and depleted Wizards team at home, but the Bulls won’t be so easy. The Cavaliers must get more production from the 3 in this game. Alonzo Gee will be tasked with slowing down Luol Deng, but Gee needs to find a way to bring more offensively than he did in game one.
The bench battle is going to be another huge matchup in this contest. Last year, the Cavaliers had one of the best benches in the NBA when it was featuring the likes of Ramon Sessions, Tristan Thompson, Daniel Gibson, and Alonzo Gee. By the end of the year, the Cavaliers had one of the most atrocious bench units we’ve ever seen.
The Bulls’ bench was one of their biggest strengths last year. A lot has changed, though. Gone are Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, Omer Asik, and Ronnie Brewer. In addition to Taj Gibson, the Bulls bench this year consists of the likes of Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, and Nazr Mohammed. In game one, the Bulls’ starters all played at least 29 minutes, and the leading scorer off the bench was Nate Robinson with 7 points.
If the Cavaliers can find a way to slow down Deng and Hamilton on offense and if the Cavaliers’ bench can outperform the Chicago bench, the Cavaliers will have a chance to win this game. But they will also need to find some consistent scoring outside Kyrie. If Dion Waiters rides the rookie roller coaster and follows up a good game with a bad one, where will the scoring come from? But if Waiters follows up his debut with another solid game, the Cavaliers have a chance to be in good shape in this game.
The Bulls aren’t what you would consider a team the Cavaliers should beat. But they are a team the Cavaliers can beat, especially at home. It’s just a matter of whether what we saw Tuesday night is closer to reality or one night adrenaline wave. This Bulls matchup should begin to answer some of the Cavaliers’ questions.
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