April 21, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers Look to Move to 2-0 on the Season

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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Image Credit:  David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

  • Lyon25

    Just please no more Walton.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Yes, I conveniently left out any mention of he who shall not be mentioned.

  • Harv 21

    If I’m making the Bulls game plan, I tell Hamilton to run Waiters into the ground trying to keep up with him and take his legs away on offense and then collapse on Kyrie. Because the Cavs have very limited offense.

    I hope Scott puts Zeller in against Noah at some point. Noah has that full arsenal of big man tricks and a taste of that would be good experience for the rook. Obviously, Andy is schooling him in practice but games are different.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I read a quote from Byron Scott that he’s planning on using Luke Walton again at PF because he likes how the 2nd unit offense flows with Luke in there. Which is an absolutely absurd statement after the stagnant offense that group showed in the Wizards game. Taj Gibson is going to murder Walton and dump his corpse into Lake Erie.

  • mgbode

    hey, the good news is that Walton’s corpse will likely wash up to shore with the pieces of the old Muni.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    That does me no good unless it happens 3 years from now… not enough time to get nostalgic about the lesser Walton and his Grateful Dead skeleton tattoo unless given some time to marinate. Ya know?

  • BenRM

    Nazr Mohammed is a great example of how someone without much of a skill set can have a long NBA career by virtue of being big.

  • mgbode

    we can always just switch Kyrie and Waiters guarding him though. It’s not like guarding Hinrich takes much effort at this stage of his career.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yes sir. Or if you prefer (and I don’t) Ryan Hollins.

  • mgbode

    I prefer him to Harangody and Walton.

  • mgbode

    Hurricane Sandy already swept through the area. I don’t think another is scheduled for awhile unless the Mayan thing is going to happen.

  • Yup

    Man, I thought Walton played well in the first half. Second half, not so much but we have ZERO creators/passers on the second team and Samardo sure the hell ain’t gonna supply that. Walton is our best option cuz Boobie and Miles are shooters/scores and can’t set-up a Christmas tree much less a teammate. Stop acting like it makes no sense for Scott to play Walton. It’s the best of an awful situation. And yes, I didn’t mention Sloan on purpose…

  • mgbode

    Samuel will at least provide defense on the other end. Walton wasn’t helping anything on either end.