They didn’t go head to head during the entire game, but both Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving put on quite the show in what is probably something of a prelude to the main attraction this season in the Eastern Conference: The Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers fighting to win the top spot in the conference and eventually make the NBA finals.
It was only a preseason game, but the Cavaliers played their big three major minutes while the Bulls were a bit more careful with how they spread their minutes, eventually losing 107-98. The Bulls were also playing without Jimmy Butler, their star on the exhibition circuit this month, while the Cavaliers pretty much used everyone that has a part to play for them this season.
Irving led the Cavaliers with 28 points in 39 minutes, helped out by Anderson Varejao with 22 points, LeBron James with 18 points while both Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson (playing off the bench this time) scored 10 points each. Kevin Love was having an off day shooting-wise (just 2-of-10 from the field) but still ended up scoring 9 points while grabbing 13 rebounds.
The Chicago Bulls, despite the loss, got the thing they most wanted to see in this preseason, hoping it’s not a one-time thing: Derrick Rose playing like a superstar. He finished with 30 points while also adding 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. The talk about his outside shooting has been quite busy since his return, and not for the first time in this preseason, he proved that there’s more to him than blindly attacking the rim.
So which team is the better one going into this season? Both teams have undergone a lot of changes over the summer. Even though the Bulls have a core that’s sticking around with Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and others, Derrick Rose is like a completely new player (for a second time). Pau Gasol is a major addition, while Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic are rookies that have a very important role if this is to become a championship team at some point.
The Cavaliers have the bigger dose of star power. Not just the Big three with James, Love and Irving. Dion Waiters is an excellent offensive player, while Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, with one of them starting off the bench according to initial planning, are starters and more than that on most NBA teams. And there’s depth – seemingly more than the Heat had last season to back up their own big three.
It comes down to a matter of who clicks first and rides with it the longest. David Blatt has the disadvantage of being a new head coach not just on the team but in the league in general. Tom Thibodeau knows the Bulls inside out, molding the team and players to his belief. This season will be the first time in a while that he might have a group that’s better offensively than it is on defense. Figuring out what to do with it in time might be what separates the Bulls between first and second. The other thing that the whole project hinges on is once again Derrick Rose.