We’re finally here.

As soon as we heard LeBron was heading back to Cleveland, this moment was inevitable.

I previewed the East earlier in the season, which obviously was before Kevin Love went down with a shoulder injury that will keep him out the remainder of the postseason.

The preview is looking pretty good though, I nailed the Final Four match ups. However, it looks like Atlanta will have their hands full with Washington and yes, I’m changing my pick in the Cleveland-Chicago series.

 

I have five main reasons for doing so, which I’ll highlight below.

1. Noah & Gasol Can Now Play Together

Most of the time, anyway. If Kevin Love were on the floor, there is no way you could’ve left both of them on the floor. Once JR Smith is back (more on that later), the Cavs will likely go with a Kyrie-JR-Shump-LeBron-Thompson lineup down the stretch. With that lineup, you are probably only able to play one of these guys. But most of the time, Thompson & Mozgov are both going to have to be on the floor, which allows the Bulls to keep both of their bigs out there. Huge advantage for Chicago.

2. No Kevin Love

This is the big one. Kevin Love was an easy target this season but the reality is he’s a very, very good player. He’s even more important to the Cavs for one simple reason, floor spacing. Against a team like the Bulls, this is massively important. When they went with LeBron at the 3, Love at the 4 and either Thompson/Mozgov at the 5, it was really difficult to matchup. The Bulls probably would’ve left Pau in to matchup with the 5 (for offensive reasons) and would’ve to had to bring in Niko or Gibson to matchup with Love. That’s a pretty big problem on the other end of the floor. I can’t overstate how much this is going to hurt the Cavs, it’s 80% of the reason I’m picking Chicago to move on.

3. No JR Smith – 2 Games

Meet the other 20%. If the Cavs win this series, they will have to win the first two home games. I don’t think they do. As a matter of fact, I think they lose Game 1 tonight. JR Smith isn’t a massive deal by himself, but without Kevin Love, he turns into a big deal. That late-game lineup I mentioned earlier will still be pretty solid, but without JR? He’ll have to be replaced by someone like James Jones or Mike Miller, and either of them will be a big liability on the defensive end. Even though JR shoots threes like George Costanza, he at least has the ability to go around you and get to the basket.

4. Coaching

Thibs is going to outcoach Blatt, simply put. If the Cavs win a title, it’ll be despite David Blatt, not because of him. I was skeptical of the hire when it was made and once LeBron was brought on board, I hated it even more. Thibs is coaching for his job and won’t go down easily. With Love healthy, the Cavs force the Bulls to adapt. Without Love, it’s probably going to be the other way around. I’m not sure Cleveland has the personnel to offset that.

5. LeBron Running Out Of Gas

LeBron is going to have to play 40+ minutes every game of this series. That usually is bad news for longer series. He’ll play everywhere from PG to PF and maybe even a little C. Don’t be surprised to see him guard anyone from Derrick Rose, to Jimmy Butler, to Jo Noah. He’ll be asked to do everything and do it for most of the night. He’ll be Point Forward on the offensive end while running around chasing Jimmy Butler on the defensive end. He has a lot of mileage on him, can he really hold up with that kind of responsibility every night? I personally don’t think so. I don’t know of anyone that could, ever.

 

I wrote the following back in January.

The only thing that will keep the Cavs from winning the East will probably be health. I don’t exactly trust Kyrie Irving to stay healthy over an extended period of time and LeBron, Love, Shumpert and Miller have already missed time this season.

The Bulls are good and will no doubt want to finally get past LeBron come postseason, an injury to even one guy would probably do Cleveland in and send Chicago to the Finals.

I’m sticking to that. Chicago wins this series in 6. Kyrie could go nuts and win this series by himself, LeBron obviously could too. But I just don’t see where they are going to get consistent production after those two and Chicago is good enough defensively to not allow them to have historic performances more than a time or (maybe) two.

Prediction: Chicago – Cleveland – Chicago – Chicago – Cleveland – Chicago.

However, it’s never easy to beat the best player in the game. He also happens to be the best player of this generation. This is the Bulls best (and maybe last, for awhile) chance to send LeBron home.

They better not miss.

 

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