[Thanks to paddyfairview for today's game preview -yfbb]
Happy MLK Day, Bulls fans! If you feel a sharp pain in your ass right now, it's because the Basketball Gods, much like your employer, have elected not to give you the day off. Your reward for being patient, loyal fans is a Nationally Televised game in Cleveland, during which every broadcaster within fifty yards of a microphone will be trumpeting the Cavs' "return to form" after defeating the Lakers (woohoo!) and Clippers in LA this weekend. People like Doris Burke and Mike Breen (not to mention Neil Funk) will be saying "swagger" at an alarming rate. I'd tell you to make a drinking game out of it, but you'd probably die.
Like all great games, or at least recent Bulls games, this one is already being defined by the Injury Report. On the Cavs side, Kevin Love is looking to return after missing one game with a bad back, and Iman Shumpert (shoulder) and Anderson Varejao (took an arrow to the
knee achilles) are out. And as for the Bulls, well...the longer this season goes on, the more I feel like we're sitting at the slot machines, pulling the lever over and over trying to get five healthy starters at the same time.
It won't happen tonight: Noah and Dunleavy were ruled out yesterday, (presumably so they wouldn't have to fly to Cleveland--Jo was devastated). If it seems strange that Thibs would forego one of his favorite rituals--kicking any player with a malady graded between "minor sprain" and "reduced to pile of ashes" into the purgatory of Gametime Decisions (where, it's said, the ghost of Richard "Gametime Decision" Hamilton will show up and gnaw your ankles if you stay too long)--think of it this way: Thibs is a shaman, and tonight (cross-sports reference in 3...2...1...) he's channeling Denny Green.
Because the Cavs, people, are who we thought they were.*
Don't let this titanic two-game win streak fool you. After looking lousy and still beating the execrable Lakers, they "returned to form" (seriously, get used to it) and beat the Clips...without Kevin Love. Is it a coincidence that their best game in ages, the one in which they regained their "swagger" (I'm only trying to help) and built "momentum", was the one in which LeBron and Kyrie were free to dominate the ball (which they did, combining for 69 points)? Maybe. But you can also note that Tristan Thompson, shuffled to the bench after the acquisition of Mozgov but starting at PF, mopped up the leftovers to the tune of 24 points and 12 boards, all while providing exactly zero defensive falloff from the guy they're angling to pay 100 million. He doesn't demand the ball, either, although he did apparently (and hilariously) demand more than 52 million before the season.
Many teams would brag about beating the Clippers with their starters injured, but for Cleveland the bigger concern should be whether a healthy starting five means playing worse. I don't know if the Bulls can beat the Cavs without two of our starters, but if they start all five of theirs, I think we've got a shot.
The matchups project to be pretty unique, so let's take a quick look:
PG: Derrick Rose vs. Kyrie Irving
After losing two in a row to Media-Annointed Rose Successor No. 1 (John Wall), wouldn't it be nice to nail Media-Annointed Rose Successor No. 2 to the hardwood? Rose is hitting from three again, which is a blessed relief, but Kyrie's been playing well and, you know, isn't eternally "rounding into form". Let's call it a wash.
SG: Kirk Hinrich vs. J.R. Smith
Kirk's nearly-nonexistant offensive game will not be severely tested by Smith. And in turn, his potential inability to defend the recently-acquired loose cannon could turn into an asset since trigger-happy J.R. is frequently an asset to opposing teams. Here's a thought, though: all four of the top teams in the East right now have primary scorers that are guards/wings. A team that could throw either LeBron or Andrew Wiggins at your No.1 option on any given night would be absolutely terrifying in the playoffs, no?
[Edit: Hey, I forgot about National TV Kurt. Edge Bulls, Edge Bulls! Also, this.]
SF: Jimmy Butler vs. LeBron James
Jimmy obviously needs Dunleavy's spacing in order to do maximum damage, but at the very least we know he'll make LBJ sweat. Not much else to say here.
PF: Taj Gibson vs. Kevin Love
I don't think Taj is going to enjoy jumping out after Love, but with Noah out it's reassuring to have another seven-footer to protect the rim. Can you imagine if Boozer were still here? I don't know what's scarier, having him responsible for Love or the rim. *Shudders*
C: Pau Gasol vs. Timofey Mozgov
Remember when Michael Jordan referred to the Bulls' Center rotation as "twenty-one feet of shit"? Timofey Mozgov is a big body who can protect the rim (and, hilariously, command two first-rounders in a trade), but I don't think he would have changed MJ's estimation if he'd been around on that team. He's physical, but he fouls a lot, so hopefully the Bulls can limit his minutes and get Pau going again.
Cleveland has no bench. At all. The players stand when they aren't in the game. On the Bulls side, the Artist Formerly Known as Dougie McBuckets will be back tonight. Hard to say if he'll play, but we sure could use that floor spacing with Dunleavy still out.
Coach: Blatt vs. Thibs
Didn't Blatt used to coach in Russia? It's possible LeBron could literally ship him to Siberia if they lose this game. Gotta love those stakes.
LENS CRAFTERS DESIGNATED PLAYER NEIL FUNK SHITS ON ALL GAME:
This has to be Kevin Love, right? No defense, bad fit...seems like an easy one. You can catch the game nationally, though, so...do that.
Ok folks. Game is at 6:30 on TNT. Annoy Cavs fans here. Let's get this train back on the tracks tonight. See Red!!