Definitive Guide to Cleveland Cavs vs. Chicago Bulls and Monday's Top NBA Games
Monday is traditionally a source of gloom and doom, but the Association is turning it upside down this week. Throw your occupational troubles by the wayside. That whole no-cotton-candy-cosmopolitans-after-five-o'clock-during-the-work-week rule? Get rid of that too.
There are nine games littered across the NBA sphere tonight, every one of them—save for the Denver Nuggets-Utah Jazz tanker's delight match—begging for you to watch.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed to the Windy City in an attempt to ruin Derrick Rose's return campaign even further and reach .500 for the third time this season. Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers are squaring off in the battle of First Team to 70 Points Wins.
Then there's that San Antonio Spurs-Philadelphia 76ers bout, which both seems like a formality and must-see television at the same time. If you're feeling spunky, prepared to stay up late and have enough cheese doodles to last through the night, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers promise to put on a show too.
Monday's here. To steal a line from the always-squeaky Pharrell: Errbody get up. And then sit back down, because basketball is best watched on the couch, in a bean bag chair or a pile of packing peanuts.
Monday Night's Lineup
Atlanta Hawks vs. Charlotte Bobcats, 7 p.m. ET
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. ET
San Antonio Spurs vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 7 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET
Toronto Raptors vs. Houston Rockets, 8 p.m. ET
Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET (NBATV)
Detroit Pistons vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET
Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET
Best Matchup of the Night: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls
Catch the Pacers if you can, which the Cavaliers and Bulls cannot. Not right now, anyway.
Cleveland and Chicago projected to be two of the more difficult matchups in the Eastern Conference. With them, the Pacers and Pistons all in the same division, season-long dogfights were going to ensue.
To open 2013-14, neither the Bulls nor the Cavs have been anything other than disappointing.
Rose's Bulls were supposed to rival the Miami Heat but have played under-.500 basketball early on. The Cavs haven't fared any better, as they're fighting to hit .500 once again as well.
Indy already has a four-game hold on the Central Division, so yes, even this early, these games count for something. Neither team can afford to fall too far behind the undefeated Pacers. Maybe Cleveland can, since it was never thought to be a title contender, but most definitely not Chicago.
Division matchups are always intriguing. Very rarely, however, do they hold this much weight this soon. And this one has Rikishi-sized implications.
Two teams are looking to show they're better than what we've seen thus far and show they're more playoff contenders than they are imitating the Milwaukee Bucks.
"We're just trying to iron out the wrinkles and I think we're still a good team," Rose said after the Bulls' latest victory over the Jazz, per the Associated Press (via ESPN).
Prove it, Chicago. You too, Cleveland.
Must-See Individual Matchup: Kyrie Irving vs. Derrick Rose
Monday will mark the first time ever that Kyrie Irving and D-Rose wage battle against one another. I'm not kidding. I would never joke about this. They haven't even faced each other in the preseason before. This is going to be big.
Of course, it would be bigger if both point guards weren't playing like, as Bleacher Report's Ethan Norof would say, "slop mcgoo."
Rose's PER has finally climbed above two, but it currently sits at 5.1, nearly 10 points below the league average of 15. He's shooting just 32 percent from the floor and turning the ball over an alarming five times per game.
Irving, to his credit, has been markedly better. He's shooting just 39.3 percent but still mustering 19.9 points and eight assists per game.
For the sake of our entertainment and their teams' chances at catching the Pacers, hopefully both point men put on a show tonight. If not, at least we know that, health permitting, we won't have to wait another two years for them to meet again.
Who Has the Most on the Line?
We'll go an entire slide without mentioning Rose and the Bulls. 'N Sync-style, this I promise you.
Just not right now, because there are problems brewing in Chicago, where the Bulls continue to underwhelm.
Fueled by Rose's individual struggles, the Bulls sit at 2-3 after spending most of the offseason being touted as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. They're 0-3 against teams currently above .500 and 1-2 when facing 2013 playoff contingents.
Five games in, there's no sense hitting the panic button now. But we're getting there.
Rose has yet to eclipse 20 points or dish out more than six assists in a single game. Dating back to the 2011-12 regular season, Rose has gone seven straight games without notching at least 20 points. Should he fail to hit that mark against the Cavs, he'll have set a new career long for contests gone without scoring 20 points.
Anyone who predicted that Carlos Boozer would lead the Bulls in points scored per game and PER at this stage of the season, I commend you for your brilliance and, frankly, pessimism.
The Bulls need to get their act together. That can start tonight, or they can keep us waiting, knowing full well the Pacers are only slingshotting themselves further and further out of reach with each passing game.
There's plenty of players to watch Monday night, but here's a list of big names you may, regrettably, not see join the festivities.
Lou Williams (knee): The Hawks could really use his shooting. And scoring. Fielding a guy named Lou is never a bad idea either. They just need him.
Rajon Rondo (knee): Beantown misses Rondo. I think. Without him, the Celtics have registered a better record than both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, so yeah.
Al Jefferson (ankle): According to the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell, Jeffy Jeff practiced on Sunday, and the 'Cats are hopeful he can play. Jefferson hasn't played since the season opener, thus ruining Charlotte's plans not to tank.
Danilo Gallinari (knee): Denver desperately needs Gallo's offense. At this rate, however, by the time he's ready, the Nuggets may have traded Kenneth Faried and entered full-blown tank mode.
JaVale McGee (leg): The Nuggets announced Sunday that McGree had a stress fracture in his left tibia and will be out indefinitely. Take Gallo. Take Wilson Chandler. But not McGee. Please, oh please, not McGee.
Danny Granger (calf): Has Granger played his last game as a member of the Pacers? They're 7-0 without him this season, came within one victory of an NBA Finals berth without him last year and his contract comes off the books this summer. Injured or not, he's valuable trade bait.
Tobias Harris (ankle): Magic.com's John Denton previously reported Harris would be sidelined indefinitely. It's a shame, really. Harris finally escapes the Bucks last season and then this happens.
Nerlens Noel (knee): If the Sixers keep winning, perhaps Noel won't sit the entire season. Prediction: The Sixers won't keep winning.
Trey Burke (finger): ESPN had Burke sidelined for six weeks back in mid-October. So, at least he's getting there. Probably.
*All injury information obtained from CBS Sports unless otherwise attributed.
Pop-in Potential: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Indiana Pacers
All hail the Pacers.
Seriously, do it. You won't regret it. Not the way Indy is playing.
The NBA's lone unbeaten team is defending at a historic pace. Through seven games, the Pacers are allowing a mere 92.3 points per 100 possessions. To put that in perspective, only one team in league history—Washington Bullets, 1974-75—has closed the season out with a defensive rating under 93.
In today's NBA, where long balls are flowing like cocktails at J.R. Smith's bachelor pad, Indiana's current mark is unlikely to stand. But if the Pacers defense is going to falter, it won't be tonight.
Like the Pacers, the Grizzlies aren't known for their scoring. The teams finished first and second, respectively, in points allowed per 100 possessions last season. Instead, this figures to be a defensive grudge match.
Shockingly, Memphis' defense has struggled early on and presently ranks 17th in the league. If there's one thing we know about the Grizz, however, it's that their defense can never be discounted. They held the ever-potent Golden State Warriors to just 90 points on Sunday, and against an offensively inferior Pacers team, a duplicate outing may be in the cards.
As I said before, first team to 70 points wins.
Pay attention, because I'm about to drop some serious knowledge on y'all.
Whenever more than half the NBA's teams are in action, the potential for fantasy-lineup predicaments is greater. Deciding who to bench and who to play, even if it's just at one position, can be a headache.
Stay calm, though. I'm here to save you. Unless, of course, you're not faced with such a problem, in which case consider this merely an FYI.
The Big Guns
If there's been one bright spot about the Nuggets, it's Ty Lawson.
Though Denver is 1-4, Lawson is averaging 22.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game while knocking down 40 percent of his treys. His dominance hasn't helped the Nuggets amount to anything more than a confusing tank job, but he's been a consistent source of fantasy numbers every game.
Moreover, a point guard is going to torch the Jazz eventually. A combination of Alec Burks and Jamaal Tinsley won't shut down opposing floor generals forever.
Count on Lawson to go bonkers tonight.
Somehow, no one in Gregg Popovich's starting lineup played more than 26 minutes against the New York Knicks. Such is the advantage of embarrassing a pretender on its home floor.
Now San Antonio heads to Philly to face a real challenge, if only because the Sixers continue to their run as a longstanding aberration and, therefore, an oxymoron.
Well rested, Tony Parker is primed for a big evening. The Sixers continue to have problems cutting off penetration-heavy point guards, having allowed opposing floor generals to notch at least 18 points in three of their last four games.
The only way this is a mediocre pick is if Coach Pop is able to rest his starters again. Even then, if Parker plays, he's going for 18 points and eight assists at least.
Sweet baby Jesus, Nikola Vucevic knows how to rebound.
Currently he ranks fourth in rebounds per game, hoarding 12.1 a night, and is only two games removed from a 30-point, 21-rebound performance against the Clippers.
On Monday, the Magic, the NBA's top-rebounding team to date, travel to Boston, where one of the worst glass-crashing outfits awaits. The Celtics' struggles on the boards, coupled with them allowing the fifth-most points in the paint of any team, paves the way for a comfortable double-double from Orlando's big man.
Think Kevin Love-esque, where Vucevic finishes with at least 15 points and 15 'bounds.