In four of the last six seasons, the Bulls have been ousted in the playoffs by a LeBron James led team. They lost to the Cavs in 2010 and 2015 and to Miami in 2011 and 2013. In those six seasons a LeBron led team has won 14 out of 18 playoffs series.
The loss in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals was the greatest example of LeBron's dominance over the Bulls. LeBron and the Cavs win in six games came without Kevin Love and with a largely ineffective and injured Kyrie Irving. How do the Bulls plan on getting past a completely healthy Cavs?
By most accounts the Bulls biggest strength over Miami and Cleveland the last few years has been depth. In the playoff loss to Cleveland last year, six Bulls averaged over 30 minutes per game in the series. Every year come playoff time the question was did the players burnout?
The hiring of Fred Hoiberg in the offseason should drastically change the culture of the Bulls. The starters are likely to get far more rest this season.
Thibs implored his players to play hard every game, quarter and possession. He frequently left his best players in during a blowout. Last season their intensity seemed to drop. The Bulls lost too many games to subpar teams and beat the Teams on par or better than them.
During the title runs of the 1990's, Phil Jackson sat his star players in the fourth quarter. This helped the bench players get more rest and limited Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Kukoc's minutes during the season.
With Hoiberg, expect these Bulls to rest when there is an opportunity. Rose, Gasol and Noah are likely to sit the back end of several back-to-back games during the season. This can only help them have more energy and be more effective come playoff time.
Their style of play will change from a team that puts defense and rebounding first, to one the will look to push the ball and be more offensive minded.
The Bulls defense will likely not be as good as it was the last four seasons under Thibs. Hopefully with Pete Myers, Randy Brown and Jim Boylen on staff the Bulls will be able to do that. Boylen should not be confused with former assistant and interim head coach Jim Boylen.
Boylen is known as a defensive coach. He has most recently been an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and was on Rudy Tomjanovich's staff during the Rockets back-to-back champions in 1994 and '95
The question remains without Tom Thibobeau where will the defense come from? Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell are the only two solid defensive players in the starting lineup. Pau Gasol is a solid shot blocker but doesn't do too much else defensively. Rose and Nikola Mirotic are far better offensive than defensive players.
Even with Thibs system, the Cavs still out-rebounded the Bulls by 16 last spring. The Cavs also shot 16 more free throws. LeBron shot only 40 percent from the floor but got to the line 40 times and Irving even with his injury 38. The Bulls are going to need to get to the line more often against the Cavs this season.
In both the pre-game and post game we're likely to hear from both sides that tonight is just one game of a long season. When asked about the importance of defeating LeBron by Bulls.Com writer Sam Smith Hoiberg Said
"You want to go out and have success against all teams...(Especially) against the teams you'll hopefully have a chance to fight against when you're trying to get to the NBA Finals. It is (the challenge) both (mental and physical)....There certainly is a mental hurdle to get over when you're playing against a guy and a team that you haven't been able to beat. Again, you've got to put a game plan together and trust it and execute it."
We won't be able to judge either team's season based on tonight, but each of the four games this season could play a huge part in determining home court. Cleveland finished three games ahead of the Bulls and won two of out of their three meetings during the regular season.
Don't want to miss a post from the Sports Lists. Please subscribe below.