Season Series: Tie 2-2, Chicago Bulls 86 @ Cleveland Cavaliers 85, Cleveland Cavaliers 101 vs Chicago Bulls 87, Cleveland Cavaliers 92 @ Chicago Bulls 85, Chicago Bulls 109 vs Cleveland Cavaliers 108.
Relevant Statistics: Cleveland: 91.3 possessions per game (25th), 111.5 points scored per 100 possessions (4th), 104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th). Chicago: 93.1 possessions per game (11th), 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions (27th), 105.3 points allowed per 100 possessions (11th).
Hit the jump to see the individual match-ups for the Cavaliers and Bulls…
Point Guard: Mo Williams vs Derrick Rose
There are several reasons you can point to for the Cavs losing to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but the biggest one was Mo Williams’ disappearance. After having one the best regular season’s of his career, Williams went cold from the outside and made the offense totally reliant on LeBron. Williams had a dip in production this season and its unclear whether or not he will continue to struggle this post-season. Starting off against Derrick Rose isn’t going to help any. Though he isn’t a menace defensively, his size and strength on the offensive end is going to kill Williams. Rose has been playing out of his mind of late and he is going to continue his phenomenal play against a smaller, weaker point guard in Williams.
Shooting Guard: Anthony Parker vs Kirk Hinrich
Anthony Parker takes a lot of bad shots. A whole lot of bad shots. But at the same time, he connects on his three-point shots, which is why was brought to Cleveland. Parker finished 13th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 41% and has fit in well with the Cavs offense by sticking in the corner and hitting three’s created by LeBron or Mo. Hinrich has had a down season, but over the past week, he has stepped up his game like Rose in order to get to the post-season. We all know he is a terrific defensive player, and even though he gives up some height to Parker, he should stick to him. On offense, if his jumper is falling, Chicago has a chance to win a game.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs Luo Deng
Will this be the easiest series in LeBron’s career? Not that they will sweep Chicago like Detroit and Atlanta last season, but in terms of how the Bulls will attempt to stop him, it just might be. In 27 games against Chicago in his career, James is averaging 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists a game. Luo Deng is a solid defender but LeBron has said that he is taking his game to another level this post-season, especially once he gets into the lane and sees the face of Joakim Noah. Could we see 35/11/10 as a series average from James? It may even be likely. Deng is a good offensive player, as well. He might struggle late in games if LeBron is checking him but he should be able to generate a good amount of offense.
Power Forward: Antawn Jamison vs Taj Gibson
So this is what the Cavs got Antawn for. Jamison will stretch the floor against Chicago and cause all kinds of ruckus at the rim. Even though Noah is a great shot blocker downlow, as is Gibson, Jamison is so creative around the rim that he will be able to finish against either. This would be a good time for Jamison to get himself to the line and repair his broken free throw stroke that earned him a 56% free throw percentage during his time with the Cavaliers in the regular season. It wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Cavs to see Jamison knock down some three’s either. Gibson is a natural rebounder and has already shown some nice tough from the mid-range. Defensively, he’s a nice shotblocker and is pretty good when switching onto smaller players thanks to his lateral quickness. He should be able to stay with Jamison on the outside, but Jamison still has the veteran edge.
Center: Shaquille O’Neal vs Joakim Noah
Who knows how Shaq is going to play in this series? Maybe he’s rusty or maybe he’s back to how he was before he got hurt. The former is more likely but either way, the Shaq of old isn’t coming back and its not likely he is going to make a huge difference in this series. And that’s fine. He’s in town for Dwight and Bynum. Noah, on the other hand, is going to play a huge part if the Bulls plan on winning a game or two. He runs the pick and roll beautifully with Rose and he’s one of the best pure rebounders in the entire league. I dream about the possibility of seeing Noah and Varejao on the court at the same time. It might topple Matt Bonner vs Brian Scalebrine as the best match-up of players with similar hair in the entire league.
Bench: Delonte West, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs Flip Murray, Jannero Pargo, Hakim Warrick, and Brad Miller
The Cavs are going to be doing a lot of toying with their team in this first round. Its kind of like this is still a warm-up for the playoffs. If Shaq is too rusty, Varejao may start or maybe J.J. Hickson will go back to starting. Mike Brown will also have to figure out how to split time between Boobie Gibson, Mo Williams and Delonte West at the point position depending on their performance. If Mo struggles then we may see more of Delonte. The Bulls don’t have too much too look forward to once Rose, Hinrich and Noah leave the floor. Murray and Pargo are both high volume chuckers that don’t do a good job of running an offense but are perfect for Chicago since all they do is shoot long jumpers. Brad Miller vs Big Z would be almost as fun as Noah vs Varejao.
The Cavs aren’t going to lose this series. No way. But I don’t think they’ll sweep Chicago either. It would be beneficial to them to lose a game or two in order to see which rotations and line-ups work better together. LeBron is going to go off and he’s going to scare folks around the league as his intensity level rises to a point that we haven’t seen before.
Toronto would have provided a better series had it not been for Antawn Jamison’s elbow to Chris Bosh’s face but I’m glad Chicago got in. Derrick Rose is going to be tremendously fun to watch even if its his second first round exit in two years.
Pick: Cavs in 5.