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Chicago Bulls (18-13) V. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-27) Preview: It’s a New Year

January 7th, 2013 at 3:09 PM
By Caleb Nordgren

The Chicago Bulls are 2-0 in 2013.

It's hard to imagine a better possible start to the new year than the one we've gotten, especially after ending 2012 with an embarrassing home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Wins against the Orlando Magic — without Joakim Noah — and the Miami Heat, both on the road, have rekindled a feeling amongst Bulls fans that this team can still be a legitimate contender when Derrick Rose finally comes back.

Enter yours truly, your collective cold shower.

Let's remember a few things. Number one, for all the optimism coming from behind close doors, there is precisely zero guarantee that Rose will be at the level we've become accustomed to when he returns. ACL tears are typically considered 18-24 month injuries in that it can take a substantial amount of time for a player to get back to his previous level. Adrian Peterson, for all that he's accomplished, is the exception, not the rule. Granted, virtually anything Rose can contribute will be a substantial upgrade over Kirk Hinrich, but that's not the point.

Second, the last time the Bulls pulled off an upset on the road against an elite team in the East — December 21 against the New York Knicks — they followed it up by going 1-3 with the only win coming at home over a truly terrible Washington Wizards team. So let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Thirdly, the Heat, as good as they may be, are a great matchup for the Bulls. As the Bulls demonstrated, given the proper circumstances, the Heat can be beaten on the glass. Badly. The Knicks also have issues in that respect. Both of those teams like to play small, with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony playing the four, respectively. The Bulls have elite rebounders and possess the ability to match up with such teams without compromising size for quickness. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are perfectly capable of handling perimeter players and big men alike, which gives Tom Thibodeau a huge edge in flexibility. He can go small, making Luol Deng the nominal power forward, or he can stay big and trust his players to play solid defense anyway while also destroying the other team on the glass. Absent those matchup advantages, the Bulls could be screwed. The Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks have beaten the Bulls already this year because they have the size to bang with the Bulls inside and the Bulls don't have any kind of offensive firepower on the perimeter.

Which brings us back to Rose. Much of the optimism is centered on his return, and rightfully so. But a lot of people seem to think that he will return and magically be himself — or better, somehow — and lead the Bulls deep into the playoffs. And it could happen. But the matchups are going to have to fall perfectly, and don't forget they'd still have to beat whoever comes out of the West to win a title. Their forays into the Western Conference have gone very not-well. They're 4-8 against the West, with their only wins coming against the Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves, all of whom are at best fringe playoff teams. And three of those wins came at home.

I'm all for hope and optimism. Lord knows we need it. I would just prefer that we hold off, thus avoiding the crushing blow of disappointment if Rose isn't himself or the matchups don't fall just right. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised, given a choice.

Key Matchup: Good Carlos Boozer v. Bad Carlos Boozer

I realize I haven't spent much time talking about the actual game in this piece, for which I apologize. But the Bulls have already beaten the Cavs in Cleveland twice, so you would think they wouldn't have much trouble tonight. But then again, you never know with this team.

Anyway, Good Carlos Boozer showed up in Florida, putting up a season high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds in Orlando, then going for 27 on 12/17 shooting with 12 rebounds against the Heat. That is what the Bulls thought they were getting when they handed Boozer a 5 year, $75 million contract back in July 2010. If he shows up on a consistent basis, you can toss out everything I said earlier. And with Anderson Varejao out, if that Boozer shows up tonight, the Cavs don't have a chance, Kyrie Irving notwithstanding.

Tags: Carlos Boozer, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Miami Heat, NBA, Tom Thibodeau

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