(Chicago, IL) – Having gotten a dose of reality in their season opening 90-95 loss to the New York Knicks last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers now have the unpleasant task of trying to bounce back less than 24 hours later against the team that’s expected to challenge them this year for supremacy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls.
Tonight’s 8 p.m. (E/T) game at the United Center will mark the home opener for the Bulls, who like the Cavaliers, opened their 2014-15 season with a game against the Knicks. However, unlike the Cavs, that contest in Madison Square Garden saw the Chicago defense completely shut down New York in the second half, holding them to just 37 points in a 104-80 victory.
The Bulls pretty much had free reign in the paint on Wednesday night, which puts the onus on the Cavalier front line to keep that from happening again. At one point in the fourth quarter, they led by 35 points, with the Chicago bench ending up holding a 55-29 scoring edge on the evening.
These two teams met only 11 days ago in an exhibition game at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus, with the Cavs collecting a 107-98 win. Derrick Rose scored 27 of the Bulls’ first 55 points before cooling off to finish with 30 on the night.
Rose gave every indication that he is completely recovered from the devastating knee injury which has limited his play over the previous two seasons. One of the most watched matchups of the night figures to be his battle with the Cavaliers’ guard Kyrie Irving. Following the preseason meeting, Irving described the duo as “the next generation of guards”
Pau Gasol told the Chicago Tribune that the team isn’t counting on Rose or any one player to lead the team to victory. “We have a well-balanced offense. We just want to find the open guy and make the extra pass. Things really work out when you play that way.”
One other interesting battle will be at center when the always-active Anderson Varejao battles with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, who has never hid his dislike of either the Cavs, the city of Cleveland or LeBron James in particular.
James’ mere presence in the lineup has to help the Cavaliers, who severely struggled against the Bulls during the four years he was playing for the Miami Heat. In that span, the Cavaliers lost 13 of 15 matchups against Chicago, including six of seven at the United Center.
Despite having committed eight turnovers during his first game back as a Cavalier last night under an intense spotlight, James is expected return to form in front of what should be a very hostile crowd.
Kevin Love had the first double-double of his Cleveland career with 19 points and 14 rebounds, and will face a formidable challenge against Gasol.
Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt will look to better integrate the team’s bench into the game, a fact he acknowledged in postgame comments.
One question for the Bulls starting lineup is the uncertain status of forward Jimmy Butler, who sat out Wednesday night’s game with a sprained thumb. There was a possibility he would see action in the game, but instead Thibodeau said at that day’s shootaround that he would be out two to four weeks. For the second straight game, he’ll be a game-time decision.
If Butler’s unable to go, Mike Dunleavy will have the unenviable task of being matchup with James, who is no doubt looking to atone for his less-than-stellar night.
Even though it is the Bulls’ home opener against their main rival for conference supremacy, the team’s head coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to soft-sell tonight’s matchup by emphasizing “it’s just one out of 82.” That mantra is standard media patter, but given the Cavaliers’ performance last and the budding resurgence of the rivalry between these two teams, there’s no way this figures to be just another game.