The Bulls face their second division opponent of the season and attempt to get their season back on track tonight when they host Cleveland. This is a tale of two point guards. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The Cavs, fresh off a home and home versus the Absolutely Not Tanking Look at Us We’re 4-3 Sixers, which they split. The first contest, in Philly, saw the Sixers run Cleveland off the court in the second half. The second contest went to two overtimes, the second of which was ended by a Kyrie Irving game winning layup with less than a second left, his sixth such shot in only 117 games. He scored 39 points, easily his highest point output on the young season, which has seen him struggle a bit to get back on the All-Star pace he set last season.
Of the aforementioned 117 games Kyrie has played thus far in his NBA career, none of them have seen him matched up against Derrick Rose, his lone true rival at the position in the division and one of the few hurdles the former #1 pick has to pass in his quest to become the best point guard in this league. Rose, as we all know, has had struggles of his own in reclaiming his former glory, although Friday night’s blowout victory over the hapless Jazz seems to be a step in the right direction. Rose only scored 12 points, but he did it on 8 shots, two of which were from deep. He still seems to struggle mightily when he gets to the rim, oftentimes failing to hit the proper angles and failing to get separation from defenders, two things which seemed to be his trademarks attacking the rim in the past. It’s still far too early to be entirely concerned, but the sooner Rose can shake off the rust, the better.
The rest of the Bulls seemed to right the ship a bit against Utah also, as Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy all had by far their best games on the young season. Deng nearly notched a triple double with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists on 7-9 shooting from the floor. Noah tallied 14 points and 8 rebounds, and seemed to keep his energy up throughout his 25 minutes of play at a level he hasn’t been able to sustain since his injury. Dunleavy played at the same level he has all season, he just hit shots. The level of concern for him was never very high, to be honest. All in all, the Bulls still seem to be struggling with their new offense. Coupled with their early injury struggles, Rose’s return, and the general growing pains inherent in all teams at this point of the season, we shouldn’t be too concerned. That being said, losing to a division foe is never a good idea for a team with championship aspirations. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
Cleveland Cavaliers (3-4, 2nd in Central, 9th in East)
C: Anderson Varejao, 10th season. 9.4 points, 7.0 rebounds per game.
PF: Tristan Thompson, 3rd season. 12.9 points, 9.7 rebounds per game.
SF: Alonzo Gee, 5th season. 4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds per game.
SG: Dion Waiters, 2nd season. 14.4 points, 3.4 rebounds per game.
PG: Kyrie Irving, 3rd season. 19.9 points, 8.0 assists per game.
Chicago Bulls (2-3, 5th in Central, 12th in East)
C: Joakim Noah, 7th season. 7.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game.
PF: Carlos Boozer, 12th season. 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds per game.
SF: Luol Deng, 10th season. 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds per game.
SG: Jimmy Butler, 3rd season. 10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game.
PG: Derrick Rose, 6th season. 14.4 points, 4.0 assists per game.
Key Matchup: Jimmy Butler vs. Dion Waiters.
Jimmy Butler is the starting 2 guard now, and while he was great in the opener against Miami, his scoring output has dropped in every game since, culminating in a 5 point on 5 shot performance against Utah on Friday. While it could be argued that he’s doing the right thing by stepping back and letting his teammates get themselves back on track, this team is too limited offensively to let their best offensive player from last season be so passive. Jimmy has to keep the potentially explosive Dion Waiters in check, and perhaps more importantly, he has to shoot. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.