NBA Playoffs Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls

04
May

At the start of the season, it was assumed that the LeBron-fueled Cavaliers would meet the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. Some slow stretches for both teams and some surprising play from the Atlanta Hawks rendered that impossible, but never fear! The matchup of the playoffs is here now. It starts in Cleveland, though don’t expect many Bulls fans to make that trek. After all, according to Joakim Noah it’s not the hottest vacation destination. But then again, LeBron’s teams have owned the Bulls in the playoffs since he came into the league, and most of the time it’s been in five games, so maybe Bulls fans should get to Cleveland if they’re holding onto a game six ticket.

Losing Kevin Love is huge for the Cavs, but the Bulls have been as inconsistent as any of the contenders this season. If they’re playing at a prime level from the start, they could win this in four games. Or, if they’re playing like they did games four and five against the Bucks, the Cavs could find themselves with plenty of rest before the Eastern Conference Finals. And that’s what makes this series so exciting. So much could happen in any direction. Plus, the rivalry between the teams has never been hotter.

Key to the Series

Cavaliers

  • Keep the starters out of foul trouble. This team is going to be so depleted, especially the first two games, that if Kyrie, LeBron or even Mozgov gets into foul trouble, things won’t be pretty. You don’t want to rely on Kendrick Perkins or James Jones to play major playoff minutes.
  • Aggressive LeBron. There have been many versions of LeBron over the past few years, but with how this team is currently playing and missing players, the 2015 Cavs need LeBron to score and score at will. Irving can handle quite a bit of the load, but in the end, it’s LeBron who has the ability to hold the fate of the series in his hands. He needs to be sure to not wait until it’s too late.

Bulls

  • Start Strong. The Bulls have to win one of the first two if they want to have a chance. Love is out all series, but getting J.R. Smith back could also have a huge impact. If they can’t steal one when the Cavs are down J.R., they’ll be in serious trouble.
  • Keep the rotation fresh. The Bulls are arguably the deepest team in the NBA, but oftentimes they end up going to a seven or eight man rotation. That’s fine when things are going well, but to put a guy in at some point in the fourth who hasn’t played all series could be a risky move. I say they should keep Tony Snell, Aaron Brooks, and Nikola Mirotic getting a few minutes throughout for when the need arises.

X-Factor

Tristan Thompson

A team cannot live on LeBron alone. They can come close, but we’ve seen time and time again that one superstar isn’t enough to get it done if he doesn’t have the proper supporting cast surrounding him. With Kevin Love out for the series, it’s going to be time for Thompson to step up in the already-shallow Cavs frontcourt. We know Thompson can get offensive rebounds, but he’s going to have to do far more than that if the Cavs can compete with the likes of Noah and Gasol down low.

Prediction

The Cavaliers are a solid team, but LeBron isn’t as dominant as he once was, and this team isn’t deep enough to survive losing Kevin Love. It’ll be a hard fought series, there’ll likely be plenty of technicals to go around, but in the end, the Bulls are going to pull it out and be back to looking like the Eastern Conference favorites.

Bulls in 6

About the author: Alex Lowe

A former college athlete in a sport that no one cared about, Alex now spends most of his days being a furiously biased Bulls and Braves fan. When he's not busy with that, he still imagines his 5'7" self making an improbable rise to NBA stardom.