Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers (-4.5, 194 o/u)
After sweeping the Boston Celtics in the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers (57-29, 33-10 home) have been off for eight straight days. Considering the team lost power forward Kevin Love for the duration of the playoffs, the respite couldn’t have come at a better time. The short-handed squad is back in action tonight for Game 1 of its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final against the Chicago Bulls (54-34, 25-19 away).
For LeBron James, the foe is a familiar – and not unwelcome – one. In fact, he’s never lost to the Bulls in the playoffs. Though don’t expect “King” James to put too much emphasis on that fact.
“Every year is different,” James said. “Yes, I’ve had success but that doesn’t mean anything today. My approach is always the same but every playoff run is different and for me I have to make sure myself and my guys are ready for a very, very competitive and well-coached ball club.”
Cleveland head coach David Blatt must figure out his lineup minus Love and also J.R. Smith, who will miss the first two games of the series after throwing an intentional elbow at Boston’s Jae Crowder.
Despite the retooling of the lineup, James is optimistic.
“Nah, we’re not vulnerable at all,” James said. “It’s just basketball. You go out and play, you try to win and give it your best shot.”
That Cavs first round series with the Celtics devolved into something of a boxing-match, as the physical play became more and more intense – and flagrant – as the mismatch wore on. While the Bulls will inevitably play Cleveland tougher than Boston did, Cavs guard Iman Shumpert expects this series to be just as physical.
“Without a doubt,” Shumpert said. “I just think that’s just every round you go through, it just gets a little more physical because, guys don’t want to go home.”
For the Bulls, facing James brings certain realities.
“The only thing you can do with him is try to make him work for his points,” said Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau. “You can’t really give him a steady diet of anything. You have to mix it up on him. The thing that makes him who he is he can beat you a lot of different ways. It’s not only his scoring. It’s his passing. He’s seen every type of defense there is.”
Considering the physical nature of the game, and the fact the Cavs are shorthanded, look for this to be a defensive battle. That’s why the under (194) is the play.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (20090930-6029) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)