Center Joakim Noah took the role of an extended offensive role in the Bulls season opener, scoring a game-high 23 points in Chicagos 93-87 win over Sacramento Wednesday at the United Center. Hell face a stiff test tonight when the Bulls travel to Cleveland to take on Kyrie Iriving, Anderson Varejao and the Cavaliers on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.
Varejao, who missed the Cavaliers final 41 games last season with a broken wrist, showed no ill-effects in the home opener against the Wizards, scoring nine points, grabbing 23 rebounds and handing out nine assists in a 94-84 win. Varejao also blocked two shots in 37 minutes, which should make for an enticing matchup with Noah.
The Bulls center was aggressive on Wednesday against the Kings frontcourt duo of DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson. Along with his 6-of-12 shooting, Noah also made 11-of-12 free throws, while Cousins played just 25 minutes with four fouls. Varejao also picked up four fouls in Wednesday nights matchup with Washington, and his aggressive defensive play could play right into the hands of Noah and Carlos Boozer, who got to the line five times himself.
Defensively, the Bulls held the Kings to 40.5 percent shooting on Wednesday. Specifically, point guards Isaiah Thomas and Aaron Brooks were a combined 6-of-18 from the field as Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson were impressive in Game 1 of the Derrick Rose-less era. But theyll get their first true test tonight against Kyrie Irving, the 2011 No. 1 overall pick who scored 29 points on Opening Night.
Irving missed two of the three matchups against the Bulls his rookie season, but hes one of the up-and-coming bright stars in the NBA who showed no ill effects of having four teeth pulled earlier this week. Irving was the one of two Cavaliers to score more than 12 points on Wednesday, so the defensive plan is simple: shut down Irving, shut down the Cavs. The two veteran point guards in the Bulls backcourt should do the job.
The other key matchups also will be veterans against youngsters, as Boozer matches up against Tristan Thompson, last years No. 4 overall pick. Boozers jump shot was working Wednesday, as he made 5-of-8 shots from the outside that freed up the paint later in the game, where he made his other three field goals. Tonight will also mark Taj Gibson's first game since agreeing to a four-year, 38 million contract extension with the Bulls. It's a sure bet the sixth man will want to assert himself two days after shoring up his future in Chicago.
13-year veteran Richard Hamilton, who scored 19 points in the opener, will match up on rookie Dion Waiters, who added 17 of his own against the Wizards. Hamilton showed spark on the offensive end, but had trouble against Tyreke Evans drives (8-13 FG, 4-4 FT). Like Evans, Waiters wants to get to the basket early and often. Stout defense inside may be the key if Hamilton has problems keeping up.
The veteran-youth disparity between these two teams should play into the Bulls hands. The youthful Cavaliers turned the ball over 20 times in their Wednesday win, while Chicago forced Sacramento into 19 miscues themselves.
Expect a defensive battle tonight against two Central division foes. The Bulls travel on the road for the first time in 2012, but enter Cleveland riding a six-game winning streak. Luol Deng (3-13 FG against Sacramento) should find his touch while stiff defense against a Cavalier team shallow on the bench could cause problems for the young Cavaliers.