Katelyn E. Clooney
Tonight, the Bulls will have to opportunity to advance to the Conference Semis to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wait, stop me if you’ve heard that before.
After needing two overtimes to take game three, the Bulls dropped both games four and five to the Milwaukee Bucks. With all respect to the Bucks, I cannot see Chicago, still up 3-2 in the series, losing another two-straight games. In fact,by the time you read this, they may have already punched their ticket. Though, Cleveland is probably hoping that the Bucks, at least, win game six.
Coming into the playoffs, the Cavs were, arguably, the hottest team in the league. They ended the regular season on a 34-9 run and after sweeping the Celtics in the first round, the Cavs have been resting since Monday, awaiting their next opponent. However, with an injured Kevin Love out for (most likely) the remainder of the playoffs and J. R. Smith unavailable for the next two games due to a suspension, no matter how much rest they get, the Cavs will still be shorthanded.
Though Love struggled early on, adjusting to his role as a third option, he averaged over 16 points and almost 10 boards during the regular season and played a key role in the first round sweep. Hailed by many as the best outlet passer in the league, Love’s presence would especially be missed, should the Cavs face the Bulls, as Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are a huge step up from the Tyler Zellers and Brandon Bass’ the Cavs saw in Boston. Mozgov will be more of a factor, but he can’t play the full 48. With Brendan Haywood and Kendrick Perkins two more options at center, expect Coach David Blatt to go small at times, with Tristan Thompson at the five and LeBron James at the four. Thompson has steadily improved since be drafted by the Cavs, alongside Kyrie Irving, in 2011, and has been an ironman, not missing a single game since his rookie campaign. His durability, hustle and self-described “see ball, get ball” mentality will be priceless for the Cavs. During the regular season, Thompson ranked fifth in the league in offensive rebounding. With the absence of Love, Mike Miller is also an option at forward, as he can also spread the floor; however, he would be a clear weakness on the defensive end. Though, Cleveland’s depth will be especially thin in games one and two, as swingman Iman Shumpert is forced to fill in for his former Knick teammate, J.R. Smith, Shump’s presence on the defensive end will be necessary. Even with Smith available, expect Shumpert to be heavily used.
Though the loss of Love is huge, David Blatt still has options. While Blatt received much of the blame for the Cavs’ early season woes, he has transitioned the Cavs midseason acquisitions into the lineup quite well and has earned the trust of media, fan and, most importantly, his players.
The same, of course, could be said for Jason Kidd. After leading the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs last year, Kidd is the first head coach to lead two different teams to the playoffs in his first two years of coaching. While his Bucks continue to fight for their lives, Kidd’s ability to stretch his player’s talent should not be dismissed, especially going against Tom Thibodeau led squad.
While the Cavaliers and be shorthanded and whoever they face will be roughed up, in this Eastern Conference Semifinals, the sideline matchup will be just as important matchups on the court.