The Chicago Bulls have finally dispatched of the Milwaukee Bucks and are headed to the conference semifinals. Their opponent has a familiar face starting right at them. The Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics to cruise into the second round of the playoffs. But the game the Cavs had to clinch the series was anything but smooth. The Cavs lost versatile big man Kevin Love to a separated shoulder during a fight for a loose ball with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. And later in the game, Cavs guard JR Smith took a wild swing at Celtics forward Jae Crowder while boxing him out. The result was Crowder sprawled on the ground from the force of the blow. Smith received a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected from the game. And the news came down on the fate of each player for the their matchup with Chicago. Kevin Love has been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs after surgery to repair damage from his separated shoulder and Smith has been suspended two games for his hit to Crowder’s head. In all actuality, Smith should have been suspended even longer than he was. The only reason he wasn’t suspended longer is due to it being the playoffs. But nonetheless, both will be out come Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and will be watching their team face off against the Bulls.
Given the state of the Bulls and the state of the Cavaliers, it would be easy for many to say the advantage goes to the Bulls for this series. After all, they are the deeper and healthier team at this point in the season. But over the years, one man has always stood in the way of the Bulls and their path towards a seventh championship. Who’s that man you may ask? None other than LeBron James. Back in the 2010-2011 season, the Bulls had an outstanding regular season. They were the top seed in the East that season and many picked them to go to the NBA Finals on the strength of good defense and the play of MVP point guard Derrick Rose. The Bulls would make it all the way to the Finals and they would face the team that many wanted to lose so badly, the LeBron-led Miami Heat team. After the first game of that series, many who projected the Bulls to win the series were feeling really good about their projection. The Bulls handled the Miami Heat 103-82 and at that point had beaten the Heat four straight times including the regular season that year. But after that game, the Heat and LeBron owned the Bulls. The Bulls would not score over 90 points the rest of the series as Miami smothered them with suffocating defense and big-time play from LeBron. At that point, it just seemed like he could do no wrong against the Bulls and he was at their mercy. And just like that, the best chance the Bulls had to beat the Heat and LeBron had just went away, or so they thought.
Over the years, the Bulls have been struggling with being healthy at the right time. It seems like every year since that series, the Bulls have been bitten with injury at the wrong time, especially with Derrick Rose. Ever since that series, the injuries have mounted for him and his absence has sabotaged the Bulls' seasons. When Rose got hurt again this season and had to have knee surgery, many thought the Bulls would be headed down the same path they always do. But surprisingly to a lot of people, Rose was able to battle his way back in time for the playoffs. He has been off at times and spectacular at others, but the team around him is considerably better than it was in the past. As a result, the Bulls have the best team they have ever had around Derrick Rose. With Cleveland suffering the injuries and suspensions, the upper hand seemingly is with the Bulls this time around. But what has to be mentioned is the Bulls have been in this position before. They have been the favorite by many to win a series against a LeBron-led basketball team. And in each time they have failed to make it happen and capitalize. For the Bulls to keep their championship aspirations alive, they have to take advantage of this opportunity. The Cavs are there for the taking if the Bulls want to take it. But they also have to take away the will of a team that is led by the best player in the world.
LeBron will undoubtedly be fired up to go against the Bulls. After all, he has owned them in the playoffs. As the Bulls have been suffering injuries at the wrong times over the years, LeBron has been enjoying the most successful stretch in his career and you can be sure he is going to fight to continue his successful run. You can expect he and Joakim Noah to get into some kind of talk or skirmish with each other. The two just don’t like each other that much and that will add to the excitement of this one as well. But the Bulls have a golden opportunity ahead of them and the King is the only thing standing in their way. We shall see what happens when the two collide soon.