Game Preview # 5: Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers

[UPDATE by your friendly BullsBlogger, 11/05/09 2:19 PM CST: Tyrus Thomas is flying commercial and going to meet the Bulls in Cleveland tonight. May or may not play. I give up.

Thanks to wjb1492 for today's game preview. My initial thoughts on this game is that the Murder Train A Comin'. Then I figured that the Bulls do have a chance to out-hustle and out-run an especially immobile Cavs team. Then I figured that without Tyrus Thomas they don't really have this especially athletic roster conducive to running. Hinrich, Salmons, Taj, Miller, gimpy Rose.... even though Deng is effective in transition he's not a superior athlete. It's basically just Noah at this point. -ed.]

So I really don't want to relive Tuesday's Milwaukee game, from which the Bulls managed to scrape a W in spite of collectively playing like garbage much of the night.  The exception was Luol Deng, who has managed to silence most of his critics with his play so far this regular season.  Suffice it to say that, after getting our hopes up with a nice win over a San Antonio team many have predicted to be a serious contender this year, the Bulls' next three games have fans once again predicting doom and gloom for the season.  A blowout loss, a 4th quarter choke, and a slim two-point victory over a predicted cellar dweller don't exactly inspire confidence, even with the team sitting at .500 for the season.

Through four games, the Bulls offense is ranked 27th in the league, and guys expected to play key roles in the offense are struggling - Tyrus Thomas (47.1%), Derrick Rose (44.2%), James Johnson (41.0%), Kirk Hinrich (41.0%), and John Salmons (33.9%) all have sub-.500 true shooting percantages so far.  John and Kirk have been particularly frightening, as our "3-point threats" are currently shooting 18.2% and 13.3% from 3 respectively. It's no wonder that people are having flashbacks to the miserable 07/08 season!

(I've left out Lindsey Hunter, since he's not  expected to play a key role in anything but honorary titles this season - but for the record, Captain Hunter is shooting 0% and sporting a PER of -20.  True, he's only played 7 minutes and attempted 2 shots, but anytime you can be in the "Top 5" of something deserves mention, right?  Even if the category is Worst PER in the League....)

I tend to be a major optimist where my sports teams are concerned, though, and I'm far from ready to give up on the season.  The optimist in me is holding onto the facts that (1) Boston is generally considered the most talented team in the leauge when healthy, and the Bulls faced them on the second night of a back-to-back while Boston was rested, (2) Miami is a good team with a superstar, and Chicago hung tough the entire game on Miami's home court, and (3) the team did not quit in spite of being down 18 points mid-way through the third quarter to the Bucks.

Meanwhile, the defense is currently 11th best in the NBA, in spite of having played 3 decent to great offenses (excluding Milwaukee).  The offense is a classic chicken/egg conundrum - does the offense look bad because key guys are shooting poorly, or are key guys shooting poorly because the offense isn't great?  In my humble opinion, it's a little of both.  The odds of both John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich shooting this poorly all year have to be infinitesimally low, and hitting more shots will undoubtedly improve the offense beyond the mere increase in team FG%.  And at least the front court is playing reasonably well.

All that said, tonight's game is likely to be rough, to say the least.  After starting a surprising 0-2 (losing to Boston and @ Toronto), Cleveland has won it's last 3 games by an average margin of 13.3 points.  The Cavs offense is currently ranked 16th in the league, and it's defense 7th.  They have bigs our front court might struggle with, and of course they have Lebron James.  Having Tyrus Thomas expected to miss the game with the flu (not "flu") won't help.  Last season, the Cavs won 3 of 4 against the Bulls, with an average scoring margin of +7.5, and the W the Bulls did scrape out came on one of Lebron's worst games of the season, without Zydrunas Ilgauskas playing, and with Delonte West leaving early with an injury - and it still took OT.

For the game tonight, looking at the Accuscore simulations, Cleveland won 84% of the time, and won big (by 10+ points) 52.6% of the time, with an average score of Bulls losing 96.8 to 86.3.  If the Bulls come out playing and shooting like they did to start the Milwaukee game, it's going to be a whole lot uglier than that.  But I always pick the Bulls to win, even would logic would dictate otherwise.  Shooting slumps have to come to an end at some point.  And, even though Cleveland is predicted to do great things this season, they really haven't done much yet with two of their 3 wins coming against Minnesota and Charlotte.  So until proven otherwise (which hopefully won't happen in the first five minutes of the game), I'm going to hold out hope that the near loss and comeback win on Tuesday will have galvanized the Bulls into a great effort, that Kirk and John come out hitting tonight while Luol and Joakim continue their great play, and that Derrick leads the team well even if still somewhat hampered by that dratted ankle.  After all, the Bulls went 4 and 1 in Thursday games last year, while Cleveland was a mere 5 and 4 - and Chicago it currently batting 1.000 on Thursday night TNT appearances for this season!

Check out the coverage from the Cavs side on Fear the Sword.

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