Still without Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, the Cleveland Cavaliers will try to win at least one game from their home stand in the series against the Chicago Bulls, while the Los Angeles Clippers are trying to make it a 2-0 lead in their series with the Houston Rockets, not knowing if Chris Paul is going to play or not.
The Chicago Bulls didn’t look all that great in game 1 against the Cavaliers, but they did shoot 50% from the field and 51.6% from beyond the arc, as isolation plays for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler or pick and rolls off of Pau Gasol easily made the Cavaliers defense crumble, as the presence of Mike Miller made everything confusing for them defensively.
Unless David Blatt is going in a different direction, which means more Shawn Marion (only 6 minutes in game 1) or James Jones (8 minutes), expect the Bulls to keep attacking that weak spot. Miller played 16 minutes and does space the floor or at least asks questions of a defense, but scored just 3 points. Marion and Jones finished with 0.
But besides the role players and defense issue, there’s LeBron James. He scored just 19 points on 9-of-22 from the field, too many times taking tough shots from too far away. Most of the time it was with Jimmy Butler guarding him. James did add 9 assists, but the Cavaliers need him to play like it’s now or never. Game 6 in Boston (2012), games 6 and 7 against the Spurs in the 2013 finals. We’re “only” in the conference semifinals, but James needs to play like an MVP, even if he didn’t win the award.
The one thing the Bulls could have done better is getting more from their bench, but that has less to do with players and more with their coach, who has never been an expert and managing minutes and rotations. Only two minutes from Nikola Mirotic (who is slightly hurt)? No Tony Snell at all? Butler isn’t going to be playing 44 minutes every game, unless the Bulls want someone to get injured or completely burned out again.
Clippers vs Rockets
No Chris Paul, yes Chris Paul, it seems the Clippers don’t care. A fantastic performance that actually made Rockets players quit on the final two minutes of the game has made the visitors confident they can take a 2-0 lead back to Los Angeles in this series, doing quite well on the road against the Spurs in the previous series. The Rockets, on the other hand, can’t afford to once again doze off and let the game run away from them in the fourth quarter.
James Harden has all eyes on him. To respond to his performance in the previous game. To respond to finishing second in the MVP voting. He did finish with 23 points, 12 assists and 4 steals in game 1, but also turned the ball over nine times and was able to reach the line only six times. Maybe it’s the referees not giving him the benefit of the doubt he usually enjoyed, but it had a lot to do with Harden taking bad, hurried shots and not attacking the rim in a way that he’s used to.
The Rockets do have a problem with the Clippers. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan make it very difficult for Dwight Howard to dominate like he did in the series against the Mavericks. Terrence Jones seems a bit weak, physically, for the demands in the paint from him in this series. Josh Smith played 29 minutes and maybe should spend more time on the floor, even if it messes with Kevin McHale’s rotation.
Austin Rivers scored 17 points in the previous game, a huge surprise. Any time Rivers doesn’t mess it up for his own team it’s a surprise. But maybe he has the responsibility to keep on playing like a decent point guard. The Clippers won’t’ start Jamal Crawford, saving those wild moments for later in the game. Rivers has had two big moments in this postseason, but back-to-back? He might actually finally put behind the calls about nepotism behind him.