I don't want to jinx the Bulls, but with two games left in the regular season and a one game lead over the Toronto Raptors: it would take a lot for the Raptors to come back from the hole they put themselves in by losing to Chicago last night.
With that said, the Chicago Bulls do not create as much of a match-up nightmare for the Cleveland Cavaliers as the Toronto Raptors would have, but you cannot overlook this young and upcoming team in Chicago.
Chicago lost a lot of it's scoring from the guards when Ben Gordon left for more money in Detroit this off-season. However, they do have one of the NBA's brightest, young stars in Derrick Rose. Rose will make life difficult on Mo Williams because of his quickness and ability to score from multiple points of attack on offense.
Kirk Hinrich is the seasoned veteran of the group, but will give up a major height advantage to the Cavaliers' Anthony Parker. Look for the pairing of Parker vs Hinrich to be an underlying story-line in this series. If Hinrich can score on Parker like he scored on the Cavaliers on Thursday night, it might open up more opportunities for the rest of the Bulls.
Obviously when the position of forward is mentioned about the Cavaliers, the attention is immediately turned to LeBron James. In this series, Luol Deng will have his hands full in attempting to guard one of the greatest players in the NBA today.
On the other side, LeBron has to make sure to not forget about the scoring ability of the former product of Duke. Deng averaged 17.8 points per game this season, and most recently dropped 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Cavaliers.
In the match-up at the "power forward" position, this series will feature two guys who are anything but powerful. The Cavaliers will start crafty veteran Antawn Jamison while the Bulls will go with the rookie Taj Gibson out of USC. Both players are not your prototypical big-bodied, physical presence down low, so look for Jamison to score at will versus the rookie in this series.
This will be the position that all eyes are on come tip-off of game one. Chicago Bulls fans know that Joakim Noah will be manning the position come game time, but the question will be: who is starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Shaquille O'Neal was just cleared by the training staff to return to the lineup for Cleveland today, but every time the Cavaliers attempt to change the starting lineup, they start off slow.
If risking a slow start isn't what Mike Brown decides to do, look for the Cavaliers to go with either J.J. Hickson or Anderson Varejao to deal with the high energy, average scoring ability of Noah.
The Cavaliers have a huge advantage when it comes to bench production between these two teams.
Over the past few games the Cavaliers have been resting their starters, and the increased playing time has boosted the confidence of all members of the Cavaliers bench.
Jamario Moon, Delonte West, Leon Powe, Jawad Williams, Zydrunas Illgauskas, Sebastian Telfair, and whoever isn't starting at center provide depth problems that the Bulls just cannot handle over a seven game series.
The Bulls will throw Flip Murray, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick, and Devin Brown at the Cavaliers in the battle of the benches. But the inexperience/lack of depth of the Bulls bench will prove to be a huge hole in this series.
Three Things to Watch
1) Who will be the starting center for the Cavaliers?
Like I stated before, the Cavaliers do not want to rush Shaq back into the lineup, and with the lack of a big, scoring center the Cavaliers do not have to against the Chicago Bulls. Varejao, Z, and Hickson can handle Noah.
2) Will Derrick Rose perform his first round magic again?
Last season against the heavily favored Boston Celtics, Derrick Rose took over. If it wasn't for his amazing performance as a rookie, the Bulls would have lost in four games.
Instead, the Bulls took the Celtics to the brink of elimination, but lost in Game 7. That Celtics team was injured and beat up, and even if Rose scores 40 points per game, I doubt he can perform that miracle again.
3) How quick will the depth of the Cavaliers wear down the Bulls?
Danny Ferry and Dan Gilbert spent the money and brought in the players to make sure that they don't have depth issues in this playoff run, and it has shown.
The Cavaliers have the ability to go further than 10 deep in this first round playoff match-up if they want to. Players that have been producing on a regular basis my find themselves left out of this series, such as, J.J. Hickson.
On paper the Bulls do not look as if they can match-up against the Cavaliers for 48 minutes per game over the course of a seven game series, so this will be something to keep an eye on. With all that youth: can the Bulls keep up?
Cavaliers over the Bulls 4-1