In preparation for tonight's series opener between the Bulls and the Cavs, some of your favorite BlogABullians got together to chat and preview what should be an epic matchup....
What's one thing to love about the Bulls right now? And also one thing to hate?
Chris: Love everything about Jimmy Butler at the moment. Think he's going to EAT against Cleveland if they have anybody not named LeBron James guarding him. I feel confident saying that this series will cement his status as legitimate star in this league, win lose or draw. I mean, that's not really news to us -- we've watched him impress night-after-night all season long -- but I'm not so sure the casual fan is aware of Jimmy's greatness.
Hate knowing Tom Thibodeau *might* stick with Kirk Hinrich coming off the bench before Tony Snell. He did it in Game 6 against the Bucks, and, well...we know how that turned out. That's obviously all the ammunition Thibs needs to justify playing Kirk. Also, Thibs not playing Nikola Mirotic until Game 6 was firmly in control does not make me feel great, either.
Alex: Love: Easily Jimmy Buckets. The guy contributed eight points per 100 possessions to the Bulls, just on free throws! The evolution he has made from end of the bench to a bailout scorer on last second basket cuts to the guy you have to foul to stop is contributing so much free money. The fact that he will have to play 40 minutes per game in this series on LeBron will mean that getting to the line will be crucial to get him some breathers here and there. Also, he isn't going to consistently get his buckets in this series, but he has become the type of player who can go 5-for-21 and still score 20, as he did in Game 5.
How much do you think Mozgov is going to disrupt the Bulls?
Jay: The Cavaliers hit another level when they made those in-season trades, and getting Mozgov to protect the rim was absolutely necessary. He's a legit 7-footer with good strength, and he has a bit of offensive skill as well and is capable as a PnR roll guy. Defensively, he can body up Pau Gasol, and we've seen Pau struggle with physicality at points this season. If Mozgov can somewhat neutralize Gasol, that would be huge for Cleveland and bad news for Chicago. Mozgov has played well in all three games against the Bulls in a Cavs uniform, and two of those were Cleveland victories.
How do you see the Derrick Rose - Kyrie Irving matchup playing out?
YFBB: It's obviously of small sample, but Rose does seem to play well against him. I'm not even as much sure it's that Rose raises his game for Irving as much as that Kyrie is a truly poor defender that he can easily get by. Doing that and putting pressure (and fouls) on Cleveland's few bigs would be nice. Rose only attempted 3 FTAs in the first round, and I don't think it's due to an officiating conspiracy.
But Kyrie has definitely improved as a player this year, and may have gotten over whatever 'playoff jitters' would've potentially hampered him. This series won't have any multi-days of rest outside of Game 1, should we be worried that Derrick can't go an all-out 38-40 minutes a night, meaning 1) he'll lose effectiveness, especially late in games, OR 2) it'll provide too many minutes where someone else has to guard Irving and he'll feast? It may bring solace to Rose supporters if Kyrie only gets his when Derrick sits, but it could mean a loss for the Bulls.
Alex: Rose-Irving is going to be epic scoring some nights and total poo-flinging contests in one or two. Neither is going to prevent the other from getting what they want. That said, that's the NBA; pretty much every point guard can around one another.
However, like you said, playing Derrick closer to 30 minutes rather than 40 means Kyrie gets to cook either Brooks or god forbid, Kurt. And like Jason said, Brooks was miserable against Milwaukee. Although, one alternative that I'm 100 percent certain will not happen: have Tony Snell guard Kyrie when Rose gets rest and have Jimmy play point. I've wanted Jimmy at the point to happen for a LONG time now, as has Kevin. I know Thibs won't do it, but it's one way to avoid playing Brooks/Kurt too many minutes while Kyrie's on the floor.
What's the way the Bulls win, or the way the Cavs win?
Jay: The Cavs can win if they get big performances out of their role players. The Bulls will still have a chance even if LeBron and Kyrie get theirs (and they will), but it'll be super tough to beat them if guys like Mozgov, Thompson, Shumpert, Smith (when he returns) or the corpses of whichever other old players get a chance to play go off. I'm already having nightmares about Mike Miller hitting 5 threes in a game or some nonsense like that.
Bulls can win if Derrick Rose consistently shows up throughout the series. Rose doesn't have to be MVP Rose for the Bulls to advance, but Chicago can't afford for him to have too many stinkers. 5 of the games (if necessary) will be on one day rest, so that'll be something to watch. If Rose can outplay Kyrie Irving or even play him to a draw, that's huge, and we've seen Rose really handle Kyrie in the past. This is probably too obvious a prediction, but if Rose isn't good, the Bulls have no shot.
YFBB: The Cavs win this series if they keep enough of the games close to take them. It's even more than just the 'best player in the world' thing (or 'best 2 offensive players in the series' thing), I sincerely worry about this Bulls team's ability to get stops late in games like they used to. If these are a few close contests we may find ourselves lamenting the 'crazy shots' LeBron and Irving hit to 'steal' them.
The Bulls can do this if they dominate the glass. Kevin Love was the Cavs best rebounder overall, and if they limit Tristan Thompson's work on the offensive end it'll lead to a huge edge in that facet of the game. A lot of Noah, Gibson, and Gasol screams after tip-ins will both get the Bulls easy points but also further demoralize a Cavs defense that will struggle to get initial stops in the first place.