The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers put their perfect seasons on the line in Cleveland tonight where the winner will stake their claim for the central division lead. Two will enter undefeated, one will remain in this battle for divisional supremacy. [look it's not easy hyping a game against the Cavs on a Friday night.]
Team vs Star
The Cleveland Cavaliers are powered by Kyrie Irving, a legit young star in this league. Rose and Irving will likely battle for years the way people expected John Wall and Rose to battle before John Wall decided never to get better. However, the Bulls are bringing a knife to this PG gun fight.
What the Bulls do bring is a solid team that can play together while the Cavaliers are still looking to find pieces that can consistently perform around Irving. One advantage the Bulls have is Thibodeau's schemes very well to shut down individual star players on other teams that can't get the appropriate ball movement and find multiple scoring options.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are powered by many young players and likely don't have the discipline to play solid defense for 24 seconds every possession, get back on defense as consistently, or stay true to their defensive principles all game long. The Bulls have more depth and talent spread out across the roster, but Cleveland has the star.
How to stop Kyrie Irving?
With Derrick Rose in the house, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Rose has the size, strength, and quickness to make Kyrie's life awfully difficult for most of the game. With Rose out, the Bulls will count on Kirk Hinrich to apply a series of grabs, holds, and veteran moves to slow down a guy he has no hope of staying with athletically.
Kyrie will likely break through the initial defense frequently at night, and Chicago's big men will need to rotate over in order to play help defense quite a bit while Luol Deng and others will need to be quick on their rotations to help the helper.
Don't be surprised to see more Noah/Gibson time on the court tonight as the Bulls may put a premium on help defense around the basket, an area which Carlos Boozer has historically struggled mightily.
Where does Chicago get its points?
The Bulls should attack whomever Tristan Thompson is defending on defense. He doesn't have the size/strength to defend either Boozer or Noah, and Chicago should get plenty of opportunities against him regardless of whom he's defending.
Chicago will also need to stick with its standard game plan of a five man offense with plenty of ball movement in order to open up holes against a pedestrian defensive team. Playing inside out should generate plenty of good looks, and Chicago should look to take more three point shots than the nine they hoisted up against the Kings on opening night.
Rip Hamilton should also have plenty of opportunities as he'll be matched up by rookie Dion Waiters. His hustle and veteran moves should work well against a player still getting acclimated to the league whom he also has several inches of height on. The mid range jumper should be there for Hamilton all night long, will he consistently knock it down?
What does the game two rotation look like?
Nazr Mohammed should get a few more minutes tonight due to a favorable matchup when the Bulls bring size. Thibodeau should realize he can't ride Noah for 40 minutes a night either. As noted above, Taj Gibson could play more over Boozer as well, if the Bulls need more help to shut down the lane against Kyrie Irving.
Keys to a win
The Bulls formula for victory is simple every night, and they'll need to apply again tonight.
1: Play team defense for 48 minutes
2: Rebound the basketball
3: Share the ball on offense
The Bulls will attempt to outwork teams every night and overcome a lack of shot creators by team play. They were successful through one game, but I'm not optimistic about the formula repeating tonight on the road against wh