The Chicago Bulls appropriately get the 2015-16 NBA season started off against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the very team that ousted them 4-2 in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Bulls and Cavs could once again clash in the playoffs, but at the moment they are taking very different paths to such a meeting. Chicago has started over at the top, replacing former head coach Tom Thibodeau with the more offensive minded Fred Hoiberg, while the team is also tinkering with their starting lineup. Cleveland looks to be in a better spot for the long-term, but enters a huge opening night contest at less than 100%.
Aside from last year’s playoff meeting, these two Eastern Conference foes have a ton of history, as they’ve met 233 times overall, with the Bulls holding the edge with a 135-98 record. Fans will recall the Bulls taking care of the Cavaliers during the Michael Jordan era and pre/post-LeBron James eras, but James has helped the Cavs turn this series around during his time in the league. Cleveland was especially good against Chicago last season, as they won the season series (3-1). Chicago dominated Cleveland while James resided in South Beach, but a quick look back to James’ final two seasons in Cleveland in 2008 and 2009 show Cleveland went on a 5-3 run. Needless to say, LeBron James has had a good amount of success against the Bulls and at least statistically speaking, that’s unlikely to change on Tuesday night.
Bulls Preview (-3)
Chicago is in a bad spot to get the season started, as they’re breaking in a new coach and system without small forward Michael Dunleavy and an already less than 100% Derrick Rose. Rose did return for the Bull’s preseason finale and will play in this game, but he’s going to be wearing a mask and could be rusty and/or limited. He has a good matchup in the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about Kyrie Irving (out – knee) on the other side, but it is definitely worth wondering how much he’ll be able to give the Bulls. Chicago needs to make up for the absence of Dunleavy (back), too, as he was a steady presence who gave solid effort on defense and could hit the outside shot. Tony Snell is projected to start in his place, but the Bulls could end up using a rotation to solve the three spot. The other big question mark resides down low, as Joakim Noah is expected to come off the bench with Pau Gasol playing center and Nikola Mirotic likely manning the four spot. Offensively that’s the right call, but Gasol is a huge liability on defense, while Noah’s defense would be on the court even less. Despite some big question marks, the Bulls are narrow favorites as they open up the year at the United Center.
Cavaliers Preview (+3)
LeBron James enters the 2015-16 NBA season potentially quite rusty and not at 100%, although he’s been public about his availability and suggested the media has made a bigger deal out of a sore back than it should be. Perhaps, but it’s still troubling, as is the absence of star point guard Kyrie Irving, who will miss the opener and possibly quite a bit of time. Mo Williams makes that less of an issue thanks to a great outside shot and the ability to effectively run an offense, while a healthy James will be handling the ball and creating a lot, anyways. A healthy Kevin Love adds to the encouraging feel in Cleveland, who still open up the year as the title favorites if they can eventually get/stay healthy. The Cavs will also be without Iman Shumpert, but get big man Anderson Varejao back after losing him to a torn Achilles last year. Not having Irving or Shump could hurt on the road, but the Cavs still have two elite players and plenty of depth to give the Bulls a tough fight on opening night.
It’s a little troubling that the Cavs are just 2-5 ATS in Chicago in their last seven games and just 2-6 ATS versus the Bulls in their last eight meetings, overall. Be that as it may, I still think the Cavs are the better team, even without Irving. Playing in Chicago could be a problem, except the Cavs topped Chicago 2-1 on the road in the playoffs last year and split the season series at the United Center during last year’s regular season.
With both teams a little banged up, I think this game is about as close to a pick’em as it gets. Chicago loses points for a new head coach and Cleveland loses points due to being on the road. At the end of the day it’s LeBron James leading his team into a showdown with what is supposed to be an inferior Bulls team.