1. Let’s go ahead and pretend last night didn’t exist for the Cavaliers. Not the whole last week, because there was some (tiny) value in those first three games. But last night was, um, forgettable. And it’s over, so now we forget. Now, the real games begin. The Bulls won in Charlotte to lock up the eighth seed and set up an interesting first-round series. The Cavaliers are bringing the Big Guy back and looking to get their swagger back. No, it won’t be easy. But part of me thinks there are 20,562 reasons they’ll have plenty of energy, and I know this date has been circled on lots of calendars. It’s a Cavaliers team that’s been here before. It’s a team that knew not a lot mattered until now — and still won more games than anybody else in the regular season. It’s a team that I believe has the parts to win it all.
2. Cavaliers-Bulls is an interesting series. The Cavaliers need to work Shaq back into the flow, find a rotation that works (and makes the Bulls work) and keep Derrick Rose in check. Rose is the Bulls’ young and dangerous go-to-guy; he’s not LeBron, but he can take over a game and score in a lot of ways. He has playoff experience, too, from last year’s thrilling first-round series with the Celtics. Now, Ben Gordon made a ton of big shots in that series and he’s now stealing money from the Pistons, but Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich made a lot of big plays over the last couple weeks as the Bulls got healthy and rallied to make the playoffs. Add Luol Deng to that mix, and you’ve got a young team that should embrace its underdog role and could make for a fun series.
3. That being said, the Bulls barely snuck in. Part of that was due to a late-season rut caused by a rash of injuries. Part of it was that the roster was turned over at the trade deadline to create cap space for next year (and John Salmons has been pretty good in Milwaukee). The Bulls are young and still a year or so away from being a legitimate threat. But they’ll play fast, and Joakim Noah will thrive on the 20,562 people calling him names, and the Cavaliers are going to have to defend the 3-point line. But I think last year showed that if the Cavaliers lose a game in Round One, it’s not the end of the world. A little back-and-forth in this series might be a good thing as the Cavaliers go forward. And they’re going forward.
4. The Celtics will play the Heat in the first round, with the winner of that advancing to play the Cavaliers-Bulls winner. That series, to me, will more likely produce a survivor than a winner. D-Wade is good for TV, but his teammates simply aren’t good enough. And the Celtics, well, their summer of early dinners will begin no later than May 10. In the other half of the East bracket, I look for Orlando and Atlanta to both win in five games and set up an intriguing second-round series. But I think it would be a major, major upset if it ends up anything besides a Cavs-Magic Eastern Conference final.
5. I had the Indians on my second television during the Cavaliers game last night. That was a mistake. It was much more exciting staying up way past my bedtime watching the Suns rout Utah and earn a first-round date with Portland. What a race it should be in the Western Conference when you have FIRST-ROUND matchups like Lakers vs. Thunder and Spurs vs. Mavs. Wow. More playoff predictions tomorrow as part of the comprehensive playoff preview we’re rolling out.
Again, for those Cavaliers fans pressing the panic button, step away. Mike Brown did the right thing resting these guys. A week from now all this will be forgotten.