It’s Over…

The NBA Finals are over and the Golden State Warriors are the Champions (of the world Craig). Congrats to them on winning their 2nd title in 3 years. Not too many people were surprised by the results of this season. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get a bunch of dumb thoughts from fans and media members. In the future I encourage you to enjoy these games and save the “hot takes” for something else.

Kevin Durant went to Golden State to get over a few humps. Those humps included the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City’s front office, and LeBron James. I’ll take the three in reverse order. LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA for 8-10 years now and it is no surprise that after winning his first championship KD admitted that LeBron was the guy he was “chasing” and the only guy he felt could look him in the eyes in basketball terms. Durant’s performance during the 2017 NBA Finals more than showed his desire to win. Oklahoma City’s front office is probably kicking themselves repeatedly and they should. They spent their time with Durant making questionable moves over and over and over. Jeff Van Gundy spent most of this Finals talking about Durant’s abilities and rightfully so. But I couldn’t help thinking “this is what happens when you’re not passing to Andre Roberson!” You don’t need me to tell you how great Golden State is cause you already know. Durant was surrounded by guys that made his game easier. On the offensive end, the spacing afforded to him must’ve been a dream come true. Not having to watch KD go isolation, bring the ball up the court in a point forward role, or just stand waiting was nice to see. Golden State maximized his offensive talents by being themselves. Durant maximized his talents on the defensive end by being a team player. Also how hard can it be to transition a skilled 7-footer – who currently is #1 or #2 on current best player lists – into one of the greatest teams most of us have seen?

LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James is now 3-5 in NBA Finals and some people find that as something to laugh at. Long ago I marveled at the fact Magic Johnson made it to NINE NBA finals (5 wins in those appearances) and feel that LeBron will get to 10 before he’s done. LeBron has exceeded every level of expectation that was placed upon him on the basketball court. I’ve read and heard fools state that he made “the wrong play” in Game 3 when he passed to an open Kyle Korver. For the sake of your sanity please don’t discuss anything with people saying that. The Golden State Warriors paid LeBron the ultimate sign of respect when they went and got Kevin Durant last summer. To me that’s all that needs to be said. For those that thought this, NO Andrew Wiggins nor Carmelo Anthony would’ve made a difference in this series against Golden State. The Cavaliers needed defense something they lacked most of the 2016-2017 season.

Overall the NBA is in a very good place. If I had to rate them on a scale of 1-10, I’d say they’re an 8.5. There are some things that could be improved but I’m far from disappointed. Superteams aren’t the problem some make them out to be. There’s talent – young talent ready to make big jumps – throughout the league. We watched one of the youngest All-Star games in NBA history. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had historic seasons. We saw a rivalry blossom between Washington & Boston. I could go on about the positives to takeaway from the season but I’m not getting paid for this. And think about it, next season we get to enjoy the sights and sounds of  LaVar Ball. I can already hear him laughing.

 

It’s Over…

NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs

The Playoffs start on Saturday, April 15 and the Eastern Conference teams are set. I’ll give a brief preview of each series and who I expect to win.

Boston Celtics (1) VS Chicago Bulls (8)

The season series was tied 2-2. Boston outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers and secured the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. This was important for Boston after getting thumped at home by the Cavs on April 5th. The Celtics will face a Bulls team that ended the season 10-6 in their final 16 games. The better performances to end the season came after a 5-game losing streak that included a 20 point defeat to the Celtics. both teams held down their home court in the regular season games. Boston’s main attack was the 3-point shot. Boston made an average of 13 3s per game versus Chicago while shooting 39.9% from long range. The Bulls played well in of the 3 of the 4 games. Dwyane Wade returned from an elbow injury and is back in the starting lineup for Chicago (the team seemed to play better without him). Isaiah Thomas 3rd in scoring and 2nd in 4th Quarter scoring at 9.8 points/4th Quarter. That was second only to Russell Westbrook. Jimmy “Buckets” Butler will help the Bulls scrap and claw their way to 6 games but it won’t be enough to win the series.  Boston in 6.

Washington Wizards (4) VS Atlanta Hawks (5)

Washington won the season series 3-1. The Wizards are back in the playoffs thanks to Coach Scott Brooks getting the most out of John Wall and Bradley Beal. All-Star John Wall had career highs in points/game, assists/game (2nd in the NBA at 10.7), steals/game, shooting % and double-doubles. Beal who was an All-Star snub – to himself and some fans – had career bests in points/game, assists/game, shooting % and free throw %. Both players also had offensive and defensive ratings that equaled or bettered previous career highs. Otto Porter Jr. faded towards the end of the season but was knock down shooter from the corner 3. The Hawks are led by Paul Millsap, Dennis Shcroder and Dwight Howard. Tim Hardaway Jr. was a pleasant surprise as he posted career highs in points, rebounding, assists, and shooting %. Washington had the 9th best offensive rating during the regular season. They were also 5th in points per game, 8th in 3 point%, 6th in assists, and tied for4th with 30 wins at home. Atlanta ranked 4th overall defensive rating. The Hawks had the best defensive rating in the league for the games that they won. Both teams ranked top 5 in deflections per game and were 10th and 11th in PACE. I expect this to be a fun series. Lots of end to end action from both teams. The Wizards takes this series in 7 games thanks to the home court advantage.

Toronto Raptors (3) VS Milwaukee Bucks (6)

Toronto won the season series 3-1. Milwaukee’s only win during the season over Toronto came at the beginning of March while Kyle Lowry was out with a wrist injury. Lowry returned to the team on April 5th and most fans hope he’s 100%. There are a bunch of intriguing matchups in this series. Demar DeRozan will have to deal with the length of the Bucks. One of those players is Giannis Antetokounmpo aka the Greek Freak. Giannis has had an All NBA caliber season for Milwaukee. Malcolm Brogdon – 2nd Round pick out of Virginia – is a Rookie of the Year candidate and has been steady for the Bucks all season. Toronto will lean on veterans Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker for some defensive toughness. Both players came to the team via trades in February. Tucker will likely spend time guarding the Greek Freak. Milwaukee must shoot better from 3 if they want to beat Toronto. The Bucks shot 30.3% from 3 in their three losses to Toronto and averaged 13.7 turnovers in those games. Toronto ranked 4th in Net Rating was top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive Ratings. Toronto depends on their starting guards a lot. This is a series where they will need Jonas Valanciunas to step up and negate the length and size of the Bucks. Toronto wins in 6 games. I wouldn’t be shocked if Milwaukee won this series in 6 games.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) VS Indiana Pacers (7)

Cleveland won the season series 3-1. The regular season couldn’t get over quick enough for the Cavs. Their regular season matchups against the Pacers highlighted some of the issues they had all season. Cleveland gave up 100-plus to Indiana in all four games. They had 22nd best Defensive Rating in the NBA. Some will argue that they can “turn it on” but that could be dangerous if they advance. The Pacers were a middle of the pack team all season and their ranking in the advanced statistics categories of Offensive/Defensive/Net Ratings showed the same. Paul George and LeBron James will definitely go at it but in the end Kyrie Irving’s ability on offense will be the deciding factor in helping Cleveland end the series in 5 games.

Stats courtesy of:

http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017_leaders.html

http://stats.nba.com/

NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs

2016…Be Great…Be Positive

We’re at day 7 of 2016 and things are “looking how they looking” as my wife would say.  We have the Presidential race to look forward to this year as well as the Summer Olympics in Brazil.  This happens to be a leap year so that means Wale will get to work an extra day this year.  I don’t know about y’all but I love off days.  Shout out to Wale tho.  All of that is fine and dandy but most importantly I’ll be celebrating something a lot more important within a few weeks.  I’ll blog about it when it happens.

Ok now on to a few sports thoughts…shout out to Ken Griffey Jr. for being 99.3% great.  He’s beloved by many that watched the game of baseball in the 90s.  “The Kid” best known for his sweet swing, home run saving catches, and wearing his hat backwards.  Thanks for the memories.  Congrats to Mike Piazza too.

In the NBA my Pelicans are still trash.  As of today they’re sitting next to last in the Western Conference at 11-23 but are only FOUR games away from the 8th seed.  This has caused a lot of confusion for fans as to whether the team should fight for that playoff spot or blow it up and acquire some assets.  I’m sure we’ll know by the end of this month.  Over in California, the Golden State Warriors (33-2) are still in striking distance of the best overall record for the regular season in NBA history.  Draymond Green has been a monster for GSW, he leads the NBA so far in triple-doubles with 7.  The 2 losses for the Warriors have been on the road and in both games the team was missing key players. With all of that GSW only has a 3 game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.  There’s space between San Antonio and Oklahoma City but the Thunder is picking up momentum and is looking solid.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers are still at the top.  Kyrie Irving returned from injury in December and he hasn’t disappointed as he gets in game shape.  Right on their heels are Da Bulls.  Chicago has had a few lumps this season but look to be getting things together.  Thanks in-large to the play of Jimmy Gets Buckets.  After a few ugly losses and some comments about head coach Fred Hoiberg, Butler has upped his game.  He and Paul George went at it on New Year’s Eve in an excellent game.  Butler ended that OT thriller with the game-winning points and a blocked shot/contest against Paul George.  After that the Bulls bounced the Knicks easily by 27.  Then on Sunday night Mr. Butler went for 42 against Toronto.  After a slow first half – with only 2 points – Jimmy dropped 40 points on 14-19 shooting to help his team pull off a close victory.  The 40 points in one half broke Michael Jordan’s old Chicago Bulls record.  The Eastern Conference race promises to be exciting as only 6 games separate the top 8 teams and only 6 games separate teams 8 thru 13.

In football news, we’re at the best time of the year.  The NFL Playoffs start on Saturday and in college football we get the National Championship game on Monday night.  I don’t like making picks but I’ll do so.

NFL Picks:

Kansas City over Houston

Cincinnati over Pittsburgh

Seattle over Minnesota

Washington over Green Bay

FBS Championship:

Alabama over Clemson

If any of the teams teams I chose to win are dear to your heart then be very afraid.

I posted the words “Be Great…Be Positive” in the title of this blog for a reason.  2015 while it had its ups also had a bunch of downs.  I don’t recall a year where I saw so many people so set on being divided and tearing others down.  I can point out a lot of examples of negativity but instead I’m challenging everyone that reads this blog to not only heed my words but to also encourage others to “Be Great and Be Positive.”

2016…Be Great…Be Positive

NBA BYKE!!!

It’s not March Madness but hey it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t pay homage to the Opening Night of the 2015-2016 NBA Season. Not much in-depth stuff here. Only some quick thoughts and predictions that are sure to be wrong (WARNING: if I mention your favorite player or team be afraid). I’ll do all of the major individual league awards and give playoff teams and the Conference Champions. I’m excited to see the return of players like Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Kobe Bryant. I look forward to seeing the progression of young players like Andrew Wiggins and Rodney Hood.  I’ve been tracking Hood since he was a freshman in high school at Meridian High in Mississippi. I also want to see which rookies will stand out – both players and coaches – during this grueling 82-game season. Once again the Western Conference will be loaded but I have a feeling the East will put up more fight this season. Especially if the Miami Heat can stay healthy. Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks should put up a better showing this year…things can’t get any worse. Ty Lawson’s arrival in Houston could pay big dividends for James Harden. Harden will be able to play off of the basketball and move more freely. Paul Pierce went over to the Clippers along with Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. There will be plenty of tense moments out there for Doc and Co. LeBron and the Cavaliers finally have their roster set but they’ll be without Kyrie Irving for the start of the season. I expect Golden State to shake off the rust quickly. They will definitely have a chip on their shoulders after spending the summer hearing about “who didn’t play and who wasn’t healthy” while they made their run to the championship. Keep an eye on how the Warriors play while Steve Kerr is recovering from back surgery. The Spurs got better by bringing in – LaMarcus Aldridge and David West – two solid power forwards. This season is going to be great, talent is up and the league hasn’t had this kind of excitement in a long time. I’ll leave you all with this reminder…I told y’all

I was put on the spot last night and these are the teams I went with. Most notable in the East was that I left out Washington and Boston. Both teams made the playoffs last year. Not sure how I feel about that. I also left out the Indiana Pacers. I expect them to play at a faster pace with Monta Ellis joining that team. The defensive makeup of that team will be something to watch. I left Portland out for obvious reasons. I kept Dallas in, that’s the only pick I was unsure of. The Sacramento Kings were a consideration but there are a lot of things that need to go right for them. The main thing being a focused and healthy Rajon Rondo.

*Both groups in no order:
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams; Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons
Eastern Champ – Cleveland Cavaliers
Western Conference Playoff Teams; Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder
Western Champ – Houston Rockets

Coach of the Year: Stan Van Gundy – Detroit Pistons

Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan – Los Angeles Clippers
Most Improved Player: Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers
Rookie of the Year: Emmanuel Mudiay – Denver Nuggets

Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas – Boston Celtics

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

 
NBA BYKE!!!

2015 NBA Finals Preview

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This year’s NBA Finals should be very interesting when the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meet up. Both teams have a first year head coach, both teams have lead players that have won an MVP award, both teams have solid #2 players that enter the Finals banged up, and both teams are making their second appearance in the NBA Finals. If we’re being technical this is the Warriors “franchise” 7th time reaching the Championship Series. They made it 3 times (2-1) as the Philadelphia Warriors and twice as the San Francisco Warriors (0-2). The “Golden State” Warriors are making their first appearance since 1975 when they won (4-0 over the Washington Bullets). While Cleveland is back in the NBA Finals after last reaching this destination in 2007 and losing (4-0) to the San Antonio Spurs.

The 2 teams met twice during the regular season with the home team winning in both instances. On January 9th, the Warriors won 112-94. All five starters for the Warriors reached double figures with Steph Curry leading the way with 23 points and 10 assists, Klay Thompson had 24 points, and Draymond Green was 2 assists (10, 11, 8) shy of a triple-double. The Cavaliers scrapped but they didn’t have enough firepower as they were without LeBron James (this was during his 2 week getaway to Miami and the BCS National Championship Game) and Iman Shumpert who didn’t play because of an injured left shoulder. Kyrie Irving dropped 23 and J.R. Smith put in 27 but both needed 23 shots to do so. Kevin Love gave a solid effort with 17 points and 14 rebounds but as mentioned the Cavs needed much more. In the return match on February 26th, the Cavaliers won 110-99 behind a monster night from LeBron James. James shot 15-25 from the field and went for 42 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. Irving scored 24 points but had another bad shooting performance. Draymond Green and David Lee were the only bright spots for the Warriors. The trio of Curry, Thompson, and Harrison Barnes combined to shoot a dismal 14-40 from the field.

Both teams have been very good this NBA Post Season combining to only lose 5 games. It may be fair to say that Cleveland has had the easier road coming out of the Eastern Conference. They swept Boston in the First Round, were pushed to 6 games by the Chicago Bulls in the 2nd Round, and then swept a frail Atlanta Hawk team in the Conference Finals. Despite the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving the Cavs have found a way to manage. LeBron James hasn’t shot the ball well at 43% from the field and 18% from 3-point range but he’s still averaging 27.8 points per game and willing his team to victories. James is also averaging 8.3 assists per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. He ranks in the top 10 of all 3 categories for the Playoffs. Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) has looked his TV age while battling injuries but has managed to average 18.7, 3.3, and 3.7 while shooting 48% from beyond the arc. The role players like Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, and Matthew Dellavedova have all had crucial moments in the Playoffs when needed. But the biggest two have been J.R. “Swish” and Shumpert. J.R. has consistently provided the outside threat that the Cavs have needed to spread the floor while Shumpert has slashed to the basket, knocked down timely jumpers, and played solid defense on the opposing team’s top scoring threat. On the flip side, Golden State swept the New Orleans Pelicans in their first series, battled back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Memphis in 6 games, and then in the Western Conference Finals they beat Houston 4-1. Steph Curry’s play this post season has solidified the voters choosing him as the MVP. Curry is averaging 29.2 points/game, 6.4 assists/game, and 4.9 rebounds/game. Curry has scored 30 or more points (he’s reached the 40-point plateau twice) in 8 of the Warriors 15 postseason games. Draymond Green’s play has been exceptional during the Warriors run to the Finals. Green is averaging a double-double at 14.0 points/game and 10.8 rebounds/game. He has also chipped in with 5.3 assists/game and very solid defense. The First Team NBA All-Defense forward has guarded every position. He’s seen the likes of Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, and James Harden. Klay Thompson is averaging right under 20 points/game but hasn’t shown consistent play. He and Harrison Barnes will need to bring it each game if the Warriors plan on being World Champs. They’ll also need their other role players like Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Andre Igoudala, and Shaun Livingston to play as they have all season.

These teams don’t mirror each other in style of play but the end results are the same. So far in the Playoffs both teams are holding opponents to field goal percentages below 44% (below 32% from 3 point range) and they both enter with +8.0 or more scoring differentials. Neither team is shy about jacking up 3 pointers.   Both ball clubs are shooting at least 35% from 3 point range with GSW attempting 30.3 3 point FG/game and Cleveland attempting 29.1 3 point FG/game. I mean they’re even neck to neck in the team rebounding statistics. The Cavs are grabbing 46.9 reb/game (12.1 offensive) as a team and Golden State is grabbing 46.2 reb/game (12.0 offensive). The difference shows up in team assists. GSW with it’s free flowing offense leads the Playoffs averaging 25.1 assists/game while Cleveland is next to last at 18.9 assists/game in their more iso-dominant style. The one downside for Golden State is that they’re next to last in turnovers/game.

I’ve stuffed you all with stats so let me get this pick out of the way. The two teams are eye to eye in just about everything you look at statistically. So that means the games will come down to coaching and execution. On the surface the advantage appears to be in Steve Kerr’s favor but I think Blatt (with the help of LeBron) will make things tough. LeBron hasn’t shot the ball well from the perimeter but data from NBA.com Player Tracking shows that he leads four statistical categories related to Drives (to the basket) on offense. I fully expect the Warriors to pack the paint and mirror the defense the Spurs have thrown at LeBron. Look for Draymond, Iguodala, Livingston, Barnes and Thompson to guard LBJ at times during this series. The Cavs will need Shumpert, Smith, and company to knock down 3s. And which Uncle Drew will we get? The spry free moving one or the aching injured one? GSW will also need to keep Tristan Thompson and Mozgov off of the offensive glass. Cleveland has thrived off 2nd chance opportunities throughout the Playoffs. Defensively Cleveland will have to defend the 3 point shot. We’ve seen what happens when the Warriors go on one of their patent runs. According to NBA.com Player Tracking Stats, Curry is Top 6 this postseason in offensive stats related to Catch & Shoot, Drives (to the basket), Passing (that leads to points scored), and Pullup Shooting. I’ve already mentioned Draymond’s defensive needs but he’ll also need to keep up his all-around offensive threat. Klay Thompson needs to show that he’s fully healthy from the concussion he suffered in Game 5 against Houston and play with more consistency. The Warriors raucous home crowd will definitely play its part to help. I’m not making the same mistake twice so when it’s all said and done I expect Cleveland to be victorious. LeBron says he is “playing his best basketball” right now. He’ll need to show it at least 4 more times if he plans on beating a tough Golden State Warrior team and bring Cleveland it’s long awaited championship.

2015 NBA Finals Preview

An Apology, A Wedding, A Messi

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I’ll start first with the apology. I’d like to apologize to LeBron for picking the Chicago Bulls to defeat him and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2nd Round of this season’s NBA Playoffs. I can’t think of too many times where I went against a team that LBJ was on other than when he’s recently played the New Orleans Pelicans. Surprisingly the Cavs outlasted the Bulls and then swept the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now Cleveland is set to face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Warriors were the best team during the NBA’s regular season and have kept up their form during the 2015 NBA Playoffs. I look for Steph Curry to lead the way offensively as he’s done but it’ll be key to see the health of Klay Thompson. He’ll likely see some minutes defending LeBron along with Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and a host of others. I hope we get a good series but I think it’ll be over in 5 or 6 games.

Included in all of the sports drama in May was a very important event in my life. On May 24, I officially entered #washedlife but I must say my Wedding Day was anything but. We had plenty of ordeals to overcome on that glorious day. As expected it started with none of the Wedding Party showing up on time (well Raven was on time lol), from there it was tuxedo malfunctions for a few fellows, and finally there was the threat of rain! With all of this you’d have thought the day was doomed but we made our way through. The Wedding Party started trickling in and the laughs began. We all had a few beverages to ease the tension and long wait, thanks to a few heads up gentlemen. A few safety pins and good fortune helped fix a few britches. The rain was also generous. The ceremony was set to take place outside but with a little over an hour and a half to spare the skies parted. The rain didn’t last long but was very heavy and amazingly the decorations held up quite well. After the downpour my lovely wife to be arrived and some more pre-ceremony pictures were taken while I was kept out of view. The ceremony included many goofballs and goof ups but it was still great. After the ceremony we took more pictures right before the impending monsoon. The rain poured outside but inside kids and adults (young and old) danced all over the place. With my dad stealing the show while “Wipe Me Down” played. It was a great day and night, one that I won’t forget. Keeping with the sports theme I’ve decided to give out a few accolades. My wife of course was MVP (I’m not dumb). Rookies of the Year went to the kids.  They did great during the ceremony and danced all night during the reception.  Coach of the Day honors went to my dad. He was smart enough to pop the trunk and whip out some steak, chicken, and hamburger buns from that he had saved from the night before. I heard almost everybody got them a sandwich. 6th Man honors went to Nic. He’s my wife’s cousin and was pretty much called on for whatever errand she needed taken care of. I’m about to mix sports but if you know her and saw pics of my “Best Wo(Man)” Karmen Charmain you’d understand why she was the clear cut Heisman Trophy winner. Nic was discouraged by the fact that she was “for everybody” but even he said “Kodi, you ain’t gone believe it when you see Karmen.” Karmen got the most votes and looked great. Not sure when I’ll see her with makeup and “brows on fleek” again but I enjoyed it.

My Dad held it down for you @greedy_gekko lol. #ChamblissWedding2015 #wipemedown @officialboosieig

A post shared by inthekcmix (@inthekcmix) on

I end this entry by paying homage to “Messi”. Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest player to ever touch a soccer field. The things that he does while on the field are just majestic. It’s hard to explain and I can only suggest that you watch and be amazed. I’m just thankful I was able to spend the month of May watching the 2 sports that I love most, spend time with the people that I love most, and tie the knot with the woman that I love most. Folks that’s the best hat trick of all.

An Apology, A Wedding, A Messi

Cleveland VS Chicago: The Year of the Bulls?

I’m sure if you bump into the right Cleveland Cavalier fan they’ll cringe if you mention “Michael Jordan”. If you’ve been following basketball since the 90s there’s no way you haven’t seen highlights of Jordan and the Bulls repeatedly breaking the hearts of Cavalier fans. Move forward to 2015 and you’ll probably find Bulls fans disgusted when you mention “LeBron James”. LBJ hasn’t been quite as dramatic as MJ when beating Chicago but he’s knocked them off when it has mattered the most. A quick history lesson for those that don’t know…

While he hasn’t enjoyed his time visiting Cleveland in the past, Joakim Noah told reporters “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m very excited to go to Cleveland.” following the Chicago Bulls Game 6 win over Milwaukee. Noah’s excited because the Bulls will get another shot at finally beating a “LeBron James led” team in the NBA Playoffs. So far teams that LeBron James featured on are 3-0 VS Chicago with all ending as 4-1 series wins. We’ll get into that and more in a few. But at this present moment this could be the Bulls’ best chance to overthrow the “King of Akron”. The Bulls have some old faces such as a mostly healthy Derrick Rose, the aforementioned Noah, arguably the league’s best 2 way SG in Jimmy Butler, the various contributors from their “Bench Mob”, and fiery Coach Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls also bring a few new pieces in Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Aaron Brooks. Most importantly the Bulls bring a full roster to the 2nd Round matchup with the Cavs. Meanwhile Cleveland enters without Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. Love is out for the remainder of the season due to an injured shoulder and J.R. is suspended for Games 1 & 2 of this series. Smith punched Jae Crowder in Game 4 of the first round series versus the Boston Celtics. The Cavs still have the duo of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James to lean on but they’ll need a lot of help from an even thinner supporting cast.

The division rivals met four times this regular season with the Cavs winning 3. LeBron James’ perceived struggles versus the Bulls and Tom Thibodeau led teams seems to be over. During the season series, LBJ averaged 28.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists. Those are some gaudy numbers but the Bulls can take solace in the fact that they forced him into 5 turnovers per game. The Bulls were also without Jimmy Butler in two of the games and they didn’t have Derrick Rose in the fourth and final regular season matchup between the two teams. On the flip side Chicago will need much more from Pau Gasol who struggled in games versus Cleveland. Gasol shot a miserable 36% from the field and only averaged 14.0 in the 4 games against Cleveland. The Bulls will also need to protect the basketball and rebound better. The Bulls had 16+ turnovers and were outrebounded by double digits in 2 of the 3 losses this season. The Bulls must continue to make Kyrie work for his points during the series. He averaged 21.3 points and 6.5 assists in the matchups but also shot only 38% from the field while averaging close to 3 turnovers. In the game that the Bulls won, Derrick Rose had 30 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists. The Bulls forced Cleveland into 16 turnovers (8 by LeBron) and controlled the backboards.

As I mentioned earlier the Bulls have lost 3 times to teams led by LeBron James. The first playoff matchup occurred in 2010 while LBJ was still with Cleveland. James averaged 31.8 points, 9.2 reb, and 8.2 assists. Those numbers prompted the Bulls to snatch up Tom Thibodeau who was an Assistant Coach for the Boston Celtics back then. Thibodeau was in charge of the Celtics defense and had slowed LeBron in previous matchups. James’ numbers would decrease (25.8, 7.8, 6.6 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and 23.6, 7.0, 7.8 in the 2nd Round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs) the two series Miami won over Chicago but he had a much better supporting cast. Also in 2013, Chicago was decimated by injuries. They were able to fight of some injuries and defeat the Brooklyn Nets in the 1st Round that season. They were without Rose that entire season after he suffered an ACL injury in the First Round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Bulls come into this series with a lot of confidence and for the first time a bit of luck. Both teams will need to establish authority in the paint. According to NBA.com Player Tracking Stats, LeBron James and Derrick Rose are both in the top five for points generated on drives to the basket. LeBron currently averages 11 points per game on drives and Rose is at 7.3 points per game on his drives.   The absence of Kevin Love and J.R. Smith in could mean that the Bulls will look to clog the paint to prevent LeBron and Kyrie from attacking the bucket. It will be important for the Cavs to maximum spacing offensively. This also means that the Bulls shouldn’t be outrebounded by double digits in any games of this series. The height advantage of Noah, Taj Gibson, Gasol, and Mirotic should lead to major advantages. The Bulls will have to keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass when a shot goes up for Cleveland. Thompson is currently third in the playoffs with 3.8 offensive rebounds per game.

I think the Bulls will finally beat a LeBron led team. There are too many things in Chicago’s favor for them to not win this series. The Cavs will be dealing with the loss of key players. The smothering individual defense – and improved offense of Jimmy “Buckets” – should have LeBron working double time. The matchup between Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving will be a wash. Which leaves the advantage of the low post players and bench production of Chicago. In the end I see Chicago taking the series 4-2.

Cleveland VS Chicago: The Year of the Bulls?