[Thanks to Easy Eis for today's game preview. Yup, it's back! Sign up! -yfbb]
When I was in the process of completing my review of the officiating in last year's playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, I left out Games 5 and 6 with the idea of including them in a final installment at the very end. This plan fell to pieces when Game 5 ended up being incredibly well officiated (with the obvious exception of Matthew Dellavadova's in-game WWE audition) and Game 6 featured one of the most laughable performances in recent basketball memory from the Bulls. I couldn't even complete the review if I wanted to because Game 6 was such a monumental joke that full footage of it doesn't even exist anywhere online. That game now only exists as a painful memory and an ugly box score, one that left many Bulls fans perplexed and enraged at what they had seen. All Bulls fans could do is adopt the more popular than ever Cubs mantra "there's always next year," grit our teeth, and bide our time as they watched the Bulls' season go up in flames. You can be sure that the Bulls organization, their fans, and all of BaB have had the start of this season mentally circled since the beginning of summer. I know I have.
Well, that day is today and that time is now (or more specifically at 8 ET). We waited five and a half months for NBA opening day to at last arrive, and now it's finally here. In previous seasons, this meant painstakingly biding time until the moment when Tommy Edwards yelled "FROM CHICAGO..." on the United Center PA system, but at long last Bulls fans have something to look forward to as the season begins other than a Rose return from injury. Although last season proved to be the last for Tom Thibodeau, early prognosis of the Fred Hoiberg era indicates that things should be looking up going forward, and that alone should generate all the excitement the Bulls and their fans need. But the cherry on top of the sundae that is the Bulls' opener is that it comes against a bitter--albeit miles from full strength--rival in the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving them an opportunity to somewhat avenge May's grotesque playoff loss.
But I didn't just jump at the chance to write this to gush about what might be for the Bulls, the biggest reason is because I hate Cleveland. No, I don't "strongly dislike" or "hold a great amount of disdain for" them (as some church school mom might have corrected you when you were a kid), I HATE Cleveland. I hate how close it is to where I go to college, ensuring I have to interact with people like this at least every day. I hate how their fans believe their absence of success in all sports makes them entitled to a championship in any of them. I hate how convinced their entire delusional fanbase is that they would have beaten one of the very best teams NBA history last season in the Finals had they had Kevin Love and a defensively inept injury-prone point guard defending Stephen Curry. I hate how the Cleveland Browns' main color is orange, and how their logo redesign called for more orange. I hate how I was harassed by five homeless people at once for spare change outside of Quicken Loans arena after the only Cavs game I have ever been to or will ever attend. I hate how Austin Carr yells "DEEP IN THE Q" on Television after every three made at home. I hate that I have to watch every Cavaliers game on Television because one of my roommates is an enormous Cleveland homer and the other is a displaced Sonics fan (the NBA equivalent of a Switzerland with mad beef against the state of Oklahoma). But despite all of this, do you know what I love the most about Cleveland? Well, two things actually: THIS GLORIOUS PICTURE and that Cleveland will never stop disappointing me or the rest of the universe with its hilarious attempts to achieve success in absolutely anything, whatever the cost. I showed some great examples in my last roast, but I've got a couple I'd love to exhibit here as well. But first, let's get down to business and examine the game at hand.
In case you haven't heard, the Cavs are good, but if you spent the NBA offseason out of the loop you may not be aware of how their roster currently stands going into this evening. Although the Cavs said goodbye to NBA legend Shawn Marion, NBA comedy legend Kendrick Perkins, and Mike Miller (voted "most likely to look like a meth lab employee when he grows up" by his high school); they still managed to improve over the offseason by acquiring Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson, and drafting Quinn Cook. Furthermore, long-time Joakim Noah wannabe Anderson Varejao will be returning from an injury that ended his season last year and Tristan Thompson at long last ended his holdout with management, which means he will play this evening coming off the bench. In front of Thompson is Kevin Love, making his own return from a controversial shoulder injury suffered in last season's playoff series against the Boston Celtics. Love initially indicated he was unsure if he'd be ready to go tonight, but he's been practicing in full for over two weeks and will be ready to start. Still absent from the roster, however, are Kyrie Irving as he continues to rehab from his knee injury suffered at some point during last years playoffs and Iman Shumpert, out at least the first two months following surgery on his wrist at the end of September. While the frontcourt of Cleveland shouldn't miss a beat now that it finally has all of its major elements back to play alongside LeBron James, the backcourt play of Cleveland tonight and in the immediate future will be substantially down from what it normally is. Mo Williams will help try to alleviate some of the damage felt by these absences, but he is not nearly the scoring machine that Kyrie Irving is (save for last season's most random 50-point performance) and none of the guards on the Cavs' roster are as capable in perimeter defense as Shumpert is. Given this, I would expect Derrick Roseand Jimmy Butler to drive like they were NASCAR drivers tonight.
One would think in an environment as miserable as Cleveland that any means of becoming not-sober were and are forever welcomed with open arms. Well, that wasn't always the case! If you are a fan of Comedy Central's hit show Drunk History, you are probably already well familiar with Cleveland lawyer Wayne Wheeler. If you aren't, boy are you in for a treat. Long ago when America wasn't even 150 years old yet, Wheeler worked on a farm in Ohio when one day an obscenely intoxicated farm hand accidently stabbed him in the leg with a pitchfork. As you could imagine, this traumatized Wheeler significantly and instilled a deep hatred for all alcohol within him that would guide many of the decisions he made. Essentially, alcohol ran his life in a far different way than alcohol normally runs one's life. He joined Anti-Saloon League before he graduated college, manipulated almost the entire country's political system into favoring dry candidates over their counterparts regardless of their political beliefs or affiliations, and then finally got prohibition ratified and implemented by Congress in 1920. On the surface, this simply seems like an American standing up and advocating for his beliefs, but the ways in which he did so were incredibly unethical and even evil. On top of inventing the concept of pressure politics while spreading his agenda, Wheeler went as far as to deliberately poison all forms of alcohol so that it would kill anyone who unlawfully acquired and ingested it. Prohibition was thankfully revoked in 1933, and thus we once again return to the idea that Clevelanders will do anything to achieve their success, even if it means killing innocent people for drinking fermented beverages. Not only are there no hilarious new lows to which Cleveland will sink to find success, but now it appears that there are no evil ones either. So the next time you pay $8 for a beer at the United Center, make sure you curse Wayne Wheeler's name before every sip (and Cleveland with him) for trying to deny you such freedoms.
Now, back to basketball. Although the Bulls will be unfortunately without Mike Dunleavy at this time, they are fortunate to be healthy at (relatively) every other spot on the roster going into the opener. Yes, Derrick Rose and his eye are still making the"I feel the drugs kicking in" face beneath the mask and he claims his vision is still messed up with both eyes open, but it's hard to imagine Rose will struggle after seeing how he played in his brief preseason stint the other day. He tore up the Cavs before he exited early in last year's home opener, so now that he doesn't have to worry about taxing himself guarding Kyrie Irving I would expect him to achieve somewhat similar success. Jimmy Butler will look to build off of his most-improved-player campaign from last season while also figuring out how to better play alongside Derrick Rose. It will be interesting to see the distribution of ball handling between the two of them given how easily open the driving lanes will likely be for both of them tonight. Per Chuck Swirsky, Tony Snell will start at the 3 in place of Mike Dunleavy, so we can only hope that Hoiberg has the sense to switch Butler onto LeBron James. But the biggest news regarding the Bulls' starting lineup this evening is the confirmation that Nikola Miroticwill start at the 4 and Pau Gasol at the 5, which means that Joakim Noah will be coming off the bench alongside Taj Gibson. While many are down on Noah not getting the start because of the defensive setbacks that will likely bring, I am personally thrilled about Mirotic's starting role within Fred Hoiberg's offense. During the March last season in which Mirotic set the league on fire by leading the NBA in 4th quarter scoring, his per 36 numbers were almost identical to that of Kevin Love's. If Mirotic can play (and shoot) more consistently in his Sophomore season, now that he's in a starting role I don't think it's inconceivable that he could be an All-Star candidate. It will be extremely hard with three other proven scoring threats in the starting lineup with him, but even without such honors I believe it still figures to be a fruitful season for Mirotic. Sometimes it's really easy to forget how talented this team is at full strength.
You know what my favorite Cleveland story of all time is, though? It has to be Balloonfest '86. In summary, in 1986 the City of Cleveland partnered with United Way to break the world record for balloons released at once and it went horribly, horribly wrong. While the launch itself went according to plan and actually set the record (that still stands, because events like this are now banned), the aftermath of releasing around a million and a half balloons into the air was worse than anyone expected. Weather caused the balloons to land in areas all over Northeast Ohio and Lake Erie, which subsequently caused several traffic accidents and even the closing of Burke Lakefront Airport. Worst of all, though, was the Coast Guard failing to find two people reported missing on the day of the event due to an overwhelming amount of the balloons landing in Lake Erie, making any search virtually impossible. What is the purpose of this ridiculous story? Cleveland's eternal search for glory brought them to the task of doing something as simple as releasing some balloons into the air and they couldn't even get that right. They couldn't set the world record in something that children accidentally do every day without getting two people killed in the process. And this is the city that refers to itself as "The City." This stuff writes itself, folks.
Tonight's game could go any matter of ways, but the one thing guaranteed to happen is that LeBron is going to score. Often. There is no Kyrie Irving to take away any ball-handling responsibilities, and everyone in the offense (Kevin Love included) will need him to get going if they themselves are to get anything going, not to mention LeBron has real estate in all of the Bulls' heads except for Bobby Portis. The Bulls offense will probably hum along nicely given the backcourt absences and general defensive lapses of the Cavs, and I would expect both Rose and Butler to have nice games as a result. As long as off-the-bench Joakim Noah can keep Tristan Thompson from being the wrecking ball on the glass he was against the Bulls in the playoffs last season, and if LeBron can be held to under 50 points, then I would expect the Bulls to open the season with a close but comfortable win over the Cavs. It may not be a win that will hold much weight when judging these two teams months from from now (when it actually matters), but 1-0 is always better than 0-1, especially when it comes to division rivals.
Go Bulls. F*ck Cleveland. Welcome back, NBA.