After dropping their first two games to open the season the Cleveland Cavaliers have turned things around with three consecutive wins. That doesn't mean King James & Co. are back in a groove however, with Shaquillie O'Neal still trying to fit into the scheme and Delonte West battling problems off the court after an arrest in September and subsequent eight-count indictment that included weapons charges.
Though many experts picked the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA title this season, they have had a bumpy start. Some of the key culprits have been Shaquille O’Neal and DeLonte West. Shaq has been slow to adjust to his new surroundings, while West is dealing with a mess of off-court issues. The tough little guard was available for the first time last Saturday.
The return to form of West is the most pressing issue facing the Cavaliers. They badly need their point guard to make the decisions, imagine the plays and bring the roster together. For this team he is indispensable.
Cleveland has won three straight since losing its season opener at home to Boston and getting hammered the next night in Toronto.
The Cavaliers host the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena, kicking off another Thursday night TNT doubleheader.
The Bulls must hope their early trip to Beantown isn’t indicative of how this fall’s team measures up to last spring’s. The Bulls absorbed a 118-90 beating at TD Banknorth Garden and also came up short in their other road game this season at Miami, 95-87.
Chicago does have a home win over Western Conference power San Antonio on this season’s brief resume. The Bulls showed true grit on Tuesday, storming back from an 18-point deficit to nip Milwaukee at the United Center, 83-81. The win didn’t exactly boost the Bulls stock, considering the Bucks were without leading scorer Michael Redd.
Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro has been going small early in the season, with Kirk Hinrich playing alongside Derrick Rose with John Salmons sliding up to three and Luol Deng over to four. The reemergence of Deng, who is coming off a monster night against Milwaukee (24 points, 21 boards), has made the Bulls’ small-ball, crunch time lineup their best bet for the fourth quarter.
Cleveland also overcame a big deficit Tuesday while knocking off Washington, 102-90, sneaking out the spread win as 11 ½-point favorites. The Cavaliers had not trailed by more than 15 points at any point in their last 60 regular-season home games prior to Tuesday.
Cleveland has moved back atop the division, but it still has issues. Defending high pick-and-rolls and closing out on the wings remain sore spots, and the offense has been sputtering.
The Cavaliers totally dominated Chicago last season, winning and cashing in all four meetings by an average margin of 14.3 points. The Cavs stomped the Bulls twice at home by 14 and 25 points, respectively.
Chicago has ended on the low side in three of four games, while Cleveland has followed suit in four of five outings. All four series meetings in 2008-09 ended on the high side, with the teams combining to average 201.8 points per game.
Odds opened with the Cavaliers 11-point favorites and the 'total' set at 187½.