NBA: Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Preview & Picks

LeBron JamesThe Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers kick off their second round series tonight (7pm ET, Monday).

Ever since the 2010 Eastern Conference first round, which saw LeBron James’ Cavs defeat Derrick Rose’s Bulls, these two teams have been embroiled in playoff destiny. Since that series, the teams have gone on to meet twice more in the following four seasons.

It is important to note that James (pictured), regardless of whether he was with the Cavs or Miami Heat, holds a 3-0 record against the Bulls. His teams have only lost three games as well over the course of those three series. James is averaging 27.1 points, eight rebounds and 7.5 assists over the 15 games he has played against the Bulls in the playoffs

To be fair, outside of that first series, Rose was really a non-factor in either of the two remaining series clashes. He played just one game in the 2011 matchup and missed 2013’s playoff run, as well as most of that season, in its entirety.

But this isn’t 2010 nor is this 2013. Both James and Rose have really evolved leaps and bounds since the last time the two teams met in the postseason.

However, despite a resurgence from Rose which includes 19 points, 6.5 assists and an 89.5 free throw percentage in six playoff games this year, James, despite having a team with a brand new cast of characters, still has the advantage.

James and the Cavs defeated the Bulls three games to one in this year’s season series. Although again, that series largely saw an absent Rose, an injured Jimmy Butler and a double-double Kevin Love putting up big numbers. In the postseason, Butler has been a factor averaging 24.8 PPG, so has Rose, and Love won’t be around because of a shoulder injury of his own.

James still has Kyrie Irving though, who has lived up to the hype in his first playoff series. In the end, the young star could end up being the X-Factor, especially if he continues to average 23.3 points and five rebounds a game.

The Inconsistent Chicago Bulls

Over the course of the season, no one was a more inconsistent, up-and-down team than the Bulls. One doesn’t need to look any further than the team’s first round playoff series to get a perfect glimpse into those less than stable performances.

After winning the first three games somewhat comfortably, the confounding Bulls faltered in game four, dropping the contest by just two, despite committing a staggering 28 turnovers against the Milwaukee Bucks. These giveaways enabled the Bucks to stay in a game they otherwise should have lost. Game five followed a similar erratic pattern from the Bulls, this time coming in the result of poor shooting. Chicago managed to go just four of 22 on three-pointers, dropping the contest by six at home.

But in game six, the Bulls that look like the team that can win the Eastern Conference Finals showed up. The team that defeated the NBA’s best in the Golden State Warriors, their second round opponent in the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets, among others, made the Bucks the victims of a vicious offensive onslaught. Chicago won by 54 points, falling just four points shy of the record for the largest playoff victory. They shot 50% from three and all of their starters contributed at least 11 points. Additionally, the turnovers were kept low.

Even without Love and JR Smith for the first two games due to a suspension, the Bulls still have to contend with the NBA’s best duo in James and Irving. They will need to play the kind of game they did in game six, not the one they played in game four or even game five for that matter. The Cavs are going to be a tough team no matter how well the Bulls play. Chicago’s best chance is to build off of game six’s momentum and run with it.

The Real LeBron James

For the first time in a few years, James is happy. He’s laughing on the court, he’s enjoying his teammates, he’s focused and he’s ready. During his time with the Heat, James had built the ultimate team and they came together to win two titles. But Miami was never Cleveland for James. It was never the team he rooted for as a child, the one he went on to play for and unceremoniously leave when a better opportunity arose.

James came back to Cleveland because it was right and because he knew the team had been built to win a title. They just needed a star and he was that star. And James has never wavered this season in his feelings that this is finally Cleveland’s year.

James is averaging 27 points, nine rebounds and 6.5 assists so far but he is known for getting better the later he travels into the playoffs. Considering his career numbers against the Bulls, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James take over the series.

Unlike in the past, not only is this enough, but it is paramount. James finally has some help. He carried the Cavaliers teams before but now, he and Irving are an excellent team. Even without Love, the two should be able to hold off the Bulls and advance to yet another conference final.

Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Game One Betting Picks & Predictions

The Cavs and Bulls are likely going to be the most exciting second round series in the NBA playoffs this year, mainly because of the history, because of the implications and of course, the franchise cornerstones who haven’t really met in the postseason since 2010.

That said, the first game is in Cleveland, where James’ playoff record is almost blemish-free. It is a statement game for the Cavs and for James and I really think, that statement will be made. This man is on a mission to win the one for his hometown team he was never able to during the first go around and that all begins with game one.