The conference semifinals in the NBA playoffs continue as the Chicago Bulls face off with the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 1, while the series also begins for the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets.
Since 2010, LeBron James teams have eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the playoffs three times. This time, back with the Cavs, might be his most difficult challenge, as he’ll be playing without two teammates in the opener: The injured Kevin Love (out for the playoffs) and the suspended J.R. Smith, who is going to miss game 2 as well.
If there’s one team that’s used to playing without key players for prolonged periods it’s the Bulls, but despite going through a physical ending to their series with the Bucks, it seems everyone, from Derrick Rose through Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, is healthy and ready to pounce on the best opportunity they’ve had to make at least the conference finals since Derrick Rose began his long series of injuries.
Both teams didn’t shoot very well in the first round. The Cavs at 43.8%, the Bulls at 43.7%. Both teams shoot quite a lot from beyond the arc; the Cavaliers over 30 times, the Bulls 28. It’ll be interesting to see if the absence of Kevin Love will make this more of an inside vs inside type of series, where the Bulls should have an advantage at some point due to the fact that they actually have a bench.
Clippers vs Rockets
For the first time in his career, Chris Paul played in all 82 games this season. Now, after playing a wonderful, almost heroic game 7 in the first round to overcome the San Antonio Spurs, he might miss the opener against the Houston Rockets, which obviously changes almost every perception and conception one might have about the odds in this series.
Right now, his situation is unclear, still feeling a lot of pain in his hamstring, It didn’t stop him from burying a game winner with one second remaining, but Paul made it through the entire game hobbling and playing without hiding the fact that he’s in pain. Once the adrenaline and excitement wear off, it’s hard to actually handle the pain.
With or without Paul, the Clippers will be facing a Rockets team that looked very good in its series against the Mavericks. One thing that stands out more than anything is the Rockets’ ability to get to the line, making the most of soft officiating so far, shooting 36.8 times per game. The Clippers shoot 28.7 free throws a game, but a lot of it has to do with DeAndre Jordan getting sent there on purpose. Dwight Howard is no stranger to the tactic. Will both teams avoid doing it, or both engage in the disgusting practice?
Besides the shooting, something both teams do in very similar numbers of accuracy, there’s the superstar play of James Harden facing Paul (if he plays) and Blake Griffin, but maybe it’ll be the bench, with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer among others that sets the Rockets apart, while Doc Rivers continues to try and expand his rotation which right now is about using 6.5 players each game at best.