1. How can the Cavaliers overcome the stout Chicago defense?
Chris Manning, RDE co-editor: Frustrating as it is, I think it comes down to the performances of two players: Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum. Irving – who has largely struggled against Chicago in his career – is the key to igniting the Cavaliers offense. If he can get going – especially from the outside – the Bulls will be forced to zone in on him, thus opening up options for other players. As for Bynum, I think the Cavs should continue what they have done as of late and feed him early. If he can get in groove early, he’ll command a double-team even with Joakim Noah defending him. If he can command attention, looks for open up inside for players like Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and even Dion Waiters and Irving.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: I really hope the Cavs push the pace in this one. They can’t get sucked into playing slow, allowing the Bulls to get their defense set up, and being forced into terrible shots. I’d feel much better about playing fast and missing Jarrett Jack PUJITs than losing possessions to missed ISOs. You need all the possessions you can get against Chicago, especially if you’re a team with no shooting. The Cavs won’t push the pace, because that’s not what Mike Brown does, and they will probably shoot terribly because of it, like they did against San Antonio on Saturday. However, I feel this is the easiest way to combat the 3rd-most efficient defense in the league.
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: I have serious doubts that they will be able to execute at all on the offensive end. The offense was absolutely dreadful for most of the game last night and playing on back-to-back nights will not help. Chicago meanwhile will have fresh legs, not having played since Wednesday’s 20-point blowout win over Detroit. I do think the Cavaliers should pound the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and see what he can do, but he’s been pretty awful, making just 30-of-81 (37 percent) shots from the field and the Cavalier guards don’t seem to know how to play with him yet. Other than that, Cleveland must hope Kyrie Irving and the rest of the crew has a great night from the perimeter. Mike Brown hasn’t shown any creativity on offense and it won’t start against Tom Thibodeau’s lockdown defensive schemes.
2. Will either team crack 90 points?
CM: In their last five meetings against Chicago (starting with the lone matchup from this season), the Cavaliers have scored 81, 98, 92, 85 and 86 points. Chicago, on the other hand, has scored 96, 101, 118, 95 and 115. And out of those five games, the Bulls only had Derrick Rose for the one out of those five games. Thus, I expect Chicago to repeat history and be able to get over the 90 point mark. Even without Rose, they have Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, all viable offensive weapons. As for the Cavs, unless Irving can get going early and often, I see it unlikely that they get over 90 points. They are highly dysfunctional on offense and everyone sans the injured C.J. Miles has been all over the place thus far. Expect Chicago to get over 90 points and win this game handily.
TM: Haha! This game features the 18th and 25th-fastest paces in the league, and the Cavs shoot 42 percent from the field while the Bulls are at 41.9 percent. Both teams are also missing one of their best offensive playmakers, which is sad because a) Derrick Rose is injured, and b) I am talking about C.J. Miles. This game is going to be a horrible, 86-78 Bulls win n a trainwreck that you shouldn’t watch.
MA: Chicago may get to the low 90s but I’m skeptical that the Cavaliers will hit even the low 80s. Cleveland, as everyone knows, struggles to score the ball, especially with Kyrie Irving in a slump. Chicago has issues themselves without Derrick Rose and will be relying on the lean shoulders of Luol Deng and former Cavalier Carlos Boozer. Promising starting two-guard Jimmy Butler is also out dealing with a painful turf toe. Coming into Friday night, both teams were in the bottom six in offensive efficiency. This will be ugly basketball, which is just that the Bulls want. Chicago has been a top five defensive team in each of Thibs’ first three seasons and this year has been no different. The Bulls are third in the league in Defensive Efficiency, allowing 95 points per 100 possessions. Additionally, the Cavaliers will be playing for the second straight night, coming home to the Q after getting shellacked in Boston. If the Cavaliers slump to another slow start, don’t be surprised to hear the boo-birds reign down.
3. True or false: If the Cavaliers get down early, they should go small with a three guard lineup and try to out run Chicago.
CM: I think so, as there isn’t really a downside. There’s an argument to be made that a lineup of Irving, Jarrett Jack, Waiters, Thompson and Varejao consists of five of the six best Cavaliers. And in all honestly, I’d be okay with running a frontcourt of Anthony Bennett and Thompson and, even if it’s for a short stretch, space out the floor even more so. The first lineup could push the pace, and if they can hit shots, they’ll be difficult to defend. They’d also be able to do okay in the rebounding department, a Chicago strength. The issue here is that a) they won’t be able to create many turnovers and b) poised to be pick & rolled to death by Chicago. But again, if the Cavs fall behind quickly, what is there to lose beyond a game that you would probably lose anyway?
TM: See Response to Question 1.
MA: Cleveland’s three-guard lineup has logged over 60 minutes, the third most of any five-man unit. Mike Brown hasn’t been afraid to use it and stick with it, even when that means having Dion Waiters guard LeBron James or Jeff Green. Last night, Brown went to it with the Cavaliers down 16-2 only six minutes into the game, desperately looking for a spark. Suffice to say, little changed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown went to the well again in an effort to space the floor if the offense sputters out of the gate.
4. Derrick Rose’s injury has fueled talk that Luol Deng could be available in a trade. Should the Cavaliers be interested? And if so, put yourself in Chris Grant’s shoes and offer a package for Deng.
CM: This a question with two distinct answers. If the Cavaliers are that intent on making the playoffs this year – no matter what seed they get – then they should by all means go after Deng. First off, he would stabilize the small forward spot at least until the end of the season. And by stabilize I mean a) actually defend small forwards like Jeff Green and b) provide 28+ minutes of solid play a night. Deng would also provide real veteran leadership and moxie to a team that desperately needs it. But on the other hand, the price of young pieces and picks may be too high for player with a lot of mileage and who is not under contract past this season. We simply don’t know when the absurd number of minutes Deng has played under Tom Thibodeau (35.9 MPG per game for his career) will catch up to him the way they catch up to everyone. Still, he’d be an improvement, and if the Cavaliers can keep him past this year on a fair price, then he’s worth it. At that point it comes down to the deal and if the Bulls want anything more than one of the Cavaliers protected first round picks, Alonzo Gee and a veteran (i.e. Anderson Varejao) then the price is too high and thus not worth it.
TM: I feel like the Cavs should give this a cursory thought. Deng’s a perfect solution to the Cavs’ problems at the three, instantly shores up the wing defense, can play the four in small-ball, and is an okay shooter. Basically, he’s Earl Clark but good! Also, the Cavs can totally offer Deng the money he’d want in free agency, and he’d be a nice veteran presence for this young cast, even if he’s getting up there in age. Also, if we’re going to get dumb and plan for LeBron, he and Deng can conceivably play beside each other because LeBron’s versatile enough to play either in the paint or on the perimeter while Deng’s on the floor, so the Cavs’ spacing isn’t wrecked. To do this trade, I feel like the Bulls would want Anderson Varejao to be their backup center, and since the salaries don’t match exactly, I’d throw in Carrick Felix (Cheap contract, a guy the Bulls would love to have as a perimeter defending project), or a couple of second rounders. Knowing Chris Grant, he could probably squeeze more out of the Bulls for this deal, but that seems logical for both sides because the Bulls get more cap flexibility, and the Cavs keep theirs and add the ability to re-sign a very good wing player.
MA: Deng is a valuable two-way player who would help any contender. Are the Cavaliers a contender? Playing in the pathetic Eastern Conference, Deng would bolster a position that has been a revolving door for Cleveland since LeBron James left town after the 2009-2010 season. Deng could certainly help the Cavaliers, but his contract is up at the end of the season. I’m not a fan of renting a player for a few months and giving up value, particularly when the player won’t make your team a championship contender. Unfortunately, Indiana and Miami are in another league compared to the Cavaliers and the rest of the conference. The Bulls won’t just give Deng away for a pile of crap and the Cavs would have to outbid a number of other teams (I disagree with Trevor that Varejao and two second round picks would be even remotely enough). Chris Grant does have a number of interesting young players, two 2014 first round picks (they own Sacramento’s pick, which is protected for selections 1-12 this season) and two 2014 second round picks as well as extra first rounders in the 2015 draft. But unless you want to extend Deng upon acquiring him—I’d be wary of shelling out a long-term deal because of his injury history and the mileage on his knees—I don’t think he’s worth the price. However, if you want to be blown out by Miami or Indiana (if you even make the playoffs), then by all means go for it!