With the Cavs having locked up the best record in the NBA about an eon ago, and having subjected fans to an interminable 4-game losing streak to close out the regular season, it's time to start playing the games that count, please.
I was preparing for the Cavs to meet the Raptors in round one, but a season-ending injury to Chris Bosh and a late surge by the Bulls have brought us to this point. So be it. The Cavs, after almost two decades, get a chance to exact some measure of revenge against the Bulls for all the pain and suffering the Jordan Era inflicted on the Cleveland faithful. My how times have changed.
Lets jump to matchups!
PG: Mo Williams vs. Derrick Rose - Rose basically willed the Bulls into the playoffs with his 28-7-4 in the final five games, impressive considering his team was dead in the water about three weeks ago. He is a hell of a player, though not quite an elite player...yet. His shooting is suspect, but he's become an adept scorer who can blow past rival guards and either score in the paint or find the open man. His counterpart, Mo Williams has not been the consistent scorer he was last season, but he is still a deadly jumpshooter who needs just an eyelash of space to get his shot off. What he's done much better this year is run the offense. When Mo is penetrating and setting his teammates up, the Cavs score, and in a variety of ways. Here's hoping he's shed the jitters that plagued him all last postseason, and that he gets to the line, where he doesn't miss, with some regularity. Advantage: Rose
SG: Anthony Parker vs. Kirk Hinrich - I've always liked Hinrich, but he's not a trustworthy player. He'll always play hard, and he'll give you some nice shooting games, but he's also liable to toss in a 2-8 stinker. Even so, he plays gritty if not great defense and adds another reliable ballhandler to spell Rose. The Cavs counter with Anthony Parker, who comes as advertised: long defender who plays smart help defense. He's a good shooter off screens and spotting up and he can handle the ball when needed. Downsides are that he tends to camp out on the sidelines a bit too much and he doesn't finish real well or go real hard at the hoop. Advantage: Hinrich
SF: LeBron James vs. Luol Deng - Deng is a nice player, a decent scorer who can put up big numbers when he's on. His rebounding is above average. Has been a fixture on many mediocre Bulls teams that have gone nowhere. In facing LeBron James, all he is being asked to do is contain the best player in the universe. That's not happening, not now, not ever. The Bulls can't guard him and can't afford to double him. Advantage: LBJ!
PF: Antawn Jamison vs. Taj Gibson - Another huge mismatch in the Cavs favor. Rookie Gibson, competant in the frontcourt, now enters his first playoff series with the uneviable task of guarding Antawn Jamison. Jamison has blended seamlessly into the Cavs' offense to the tune of 16 and 8. He remains as impossible to guard as ever with his arsenal of drives, flips, floaters, half hooks and jumpers. He's also a terrific rebounder in traffic and has been an absolute bitch to handle in the postseason (as the Cavs well know). Gibson simply does not have the skill set or experience. Advantage: Jamison
C: Shaquille O'Neal vs. Joaquim Noah - Yikes! Noah is a hell of a power forward. At center he gives up 100 pounds to Shaq. Expect the Bulls to use a lot of fouls when dealing with O'Neal, and expect them to try to get him into early foul trouble. Noah is way quicker, of course, and he's blossomed into a really nice starter. He's all hustle and emotion, but it won't help him. The Bulls have to double on Shaq, who will have a small army of shooters waiting for him to kick out. Diesel is not in game shape after missing 6 weeks, but he has shed 20 pound, according to all who have seen him. Expect a bloodbath. Advantage: Shaq
Bench: Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, Jawad Williams, Daniel Gibson vs. Brad Miller, Jannero Pargo, Hakim Warrick, Ronald Murray, James Johnson - Another nightmare for the Bulls. My greatest hope is that Brad Miller does not cripple a Cavalier at some point in the series. He will certainly use all 6 of his fouls in dealing with the Cavs' size. Jannero Pargo is a disappointment after some good moments as Chris Paul's backup in New Orleans. Warrick is an undersized and substandard big man, and Ronald Murray is as likely to shoot the Bulls out of a game as he is to provide some much needed bench scoring. The Bulls backup squad is possibly the weakest this side of Boston. The Cavs' bench, by contrast, features many players who can be and have been starters in their careers. Varejao remains, in my opinion, our second best player. He plays the best defense on the team known for defense and rarely shoots unless taking a high percentage shot. Hickson has matured enough and brings so much energy that Mike Brown will be forced to play him. Big Z has regained much of his touch after a monthlong layoff and West is probably the best guard on the team in terms of all around play. Moon, Powe, Williams and Gibson will only see spot action, but can help in situations. Advantage: Cavs, Cavs, Cavs
Coach: Mike Brown vs. Vinnie Del Negro - I give Vinnie credit: he got a fairly ragtag bunch into the show. He's got to really pull something out of his hat to make this a competitive series, though. Mike Brown, who has double the talent to work with, has become a fine, fine coach on both sides of the ball. Advantage: Brown
Prediction: Cavs win 4-0. I will be shocked if the Bulls steal a game. Forget the 2-2 regular season mark. Take LeBron out of the equation and the Cavs still win this series 4-2. The Bulls simply do not have enough scoring beat the Cavs' suffocating defense, enough size to deal with a wealth of Cavalier bigs, nor do they have a defense that can stop one of the most proficient offensive teams in the league. Some say the Cavs will be rusty with all the rest and the time that Shaq has missed. Whatever. Cavs sweep.
Around the League
Milwaukee vs. Atlanta: Hawks win 4-1. A tossup with Bogut playing. Alas.
Miami vs. Boston: Celtics win 4-3. Wade is by far the best player on the floor. The Celtics may well lose this series, but probably won't.
Charlotte vs. Orlando: Magic win 4-2. Expect some very physical games, though, and watch Vince get exposed. Again.
Utah vs. Denver: Nuggets win 4-3??? I have no idea what happens in this series.
OKC vs. LA: Lakers win 4-0. Welcome to the NBA, Durant.
SA vs. Dallas: Spurs win 4-3. Could go either way, but Ginobili puts the Spurs on top.
Portland vs. Phoenix: Suns win 4-0. With Roy out, the Blazers are done.