Dwyane Wade, who joined the Cavaliers (2-1) before the start of the season after negotiating a buyout with the Bulls, has struggled in his transition to Cleveland. The 35-year-old is just 7 of 28 from the field and has committed almost as many turnovers (8) as he has assists (10). After Saturday night’s surprising 114-93 home loss to the Orlando Magic, Wade met with coach Tyronn Lue and volunteered to come off the bench to help the half court offense.
J. R. Smith, who was initially upset he would come off the bench when Wade arrived, now gets the chance to make his case. He’s made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range, and the career 37.3 percent 3-point shooter is 8 of 24 overall as he struggled in his role as sixth man. The switch adds to the state of flux in the backcourt as Jose Calderon will start his second straight game as Derrick Rose nurses a sore ankle.
Chicago is looking to avoid its first 0-3 start since the 2007/08 season, but its lack of sustained efforts on both ends of the floor have proved fatal. In a loss to the Raptors, the Bulls allowed a 28-4 first-half run. It wasn’t as lopsided as that in their 87-77 home loss to San Antonio on Saturday night, but the Spurs pulled away by holding them to ten points over a 13:19 span bridging the third and fourth quarters.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen again proved to be a bright spot as he totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double. Through games played Sunday, Chicago’s 39.8 percent shooting is ahead of only Phoenix and it has attempted a league-low 28 free throws.
Three Keys to the Game
Cleveland's 3-point shooting - The Cavaliers have run hot and cold from beyond the arc and enter this game shooting just 31.5 percent (23 for 73) after three games. Take away Kyle Korver's 5-for-6 outburst against Milwaukee and that number drops to 26.9 percent. Smith is familiar with how LeBron James runs the offense and knows where to spot-up when he drives, so look for him to make an instant impact.
Robin Lopez, go-to scorer? Throughout his career, Robin Lopez has been the more offensively challenged of the Lopez twins and was more of a role player on that end of the court. But with a Bulls backcourt struggling to score points, the 7-footer has become a viable option in their half court sets. He leads the team in scoring at 17.0 points per game and his usage rate is at a career-high 24.0 percent.
Love stretching the Bulls defense - It's hard to tell if playing center on the defensive end is affecting Kevin Love offensively, but like everyone else on the Cavaliers he's struggling from the perimeter and has hit just 1 of 12 from 3-point range. But if Lopez draws Love as a defensive assignment, he must still respect Love's perimeter shooting. That can open up the lane for Cleveland to drive-and-dish and find spot-up 3-point shooters.
Matchup to Watch
Lauri Markkanen vs. Jae Crowder - It's been a trial by fire for Markkanen, the No. 7 overall pick, and it will not get any easier since he will likely draw the undersized Crowder first on the offensive end. But that's just the first quality defender who should draw the assignment of guarding the Bulls rookie as both James and Tristan Thompson likely will get time to play against him. Markkanen has been steady in his first two games, but this game will make him utilize all of his offensive tricks.
Chicago Bulls Projected Starting Line-up
PG - Jerian Grant | SG - Paul Zipser | C - Robin Lopez | SF - Justin Holiday | PF - Lauri Markkanen
Cleveland Cavaliers Projected Starting Line-up
PG - Jose Calderon | SG - J. R. Smith | C - Kevin Love | SF - LeBron James | PF - Jae Crowder
It's always a no-brainer when James is involved, but facing the Bulls of late seems to bring out the best in him. Since eliminating Chicago in the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinals that led to the current rebuilding project in the Windy City, James has averaged 27.6 points on 56.1 percent shooting to go with 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists over the last seven games. In short, play the man.
The Cavaliers have a large number to cover in 14.5 points, and though the Bulls are 13-3 against the spread in their last 16 trips to Quicken Loans Arena and 23-7 in the last 30 overall between the teams, it's a number they should usurp. Chicago doesn't have enough consistent scoring, and no one has had a 20-point game yet. That may change with Markkanen continuing to find his way, but the Cavaliers have too much firepower in spite of their offensive struggles.
The Bulls will lose this game because of their overall lack of scoring and the lack of any good match-up defensively against James. The latter holds true for just about every team in the NBA, but Chicago's tendency to struggle for prolonged stretches on offense makes an 0-3 start all but a certainty. For the Cavaliers, it's a chance to work out the kinks offensively with Smith back in the starting five, and look for the ball to move quicker since Calderon is a pass-first point guard. Cleveland should get its mojo back and cruise to a 107-85 victory.
This game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and TSN in Canada, and locally on Fox Sports Ohio and NBC Sports Chicago. Tip-off time is 7pm ET.
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