Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Cleveland counterpart Kyrie Irving have different styles of play, but one thing the pair of former No. 1 overall draft picks have in common is their refusal to let individual matchups take precedence over wins and losses.
Irving, a first-time All-Star last season, showed plenty of respect for Rose when discussing his fellow former Rookie of the Year following the Cavaliers’ shootaround Monday at the United Center, but emphasized the fact that playing the Bulls meant more for his team than for himself facing off with Rose for the first time in his three-year NBA career.
“Exciting matchup. Like you said, it is Bulls vs. Cavs, but another chance to go against a great guard in our league. He’s established, he’s a superstar in our league and it’ll be a good test, not only for myself, but for our team,” Irving said. “We’ve played—our teams have played—but we’ve never played against each other. Either he’s playing and I’m not or I’m playing and he’s not, so this is the first time we actually get the chance to match up against each other.
[MORE: Bulls' chemistry more complicated than meets the eye]
“I know he’s an extremely hard worker. I know he’s been putting in a lot of time in the gym and it’ll pay off. By the end of the season, his shots will fall, I’m pretty sure and he looks more explosive, as quick as he used to, so it’ll be exciting,” he continued, when asked his thoughts on Rose early in the regular season. “Nothing but respect for him, but tonight we’re just going to try to get the win with my teammates.”
Irving sees the game as important for the Cavs because of their attempt to become a factor in the Central Division after an offseason overhaul that has many observers thinking the team is bound for the postseason for the first time since LeBron James left Cleveland, not to mention the fact that the Bulls are potential title contenders with what’s regarded as one of the league’s stingiest defenses.
“We’re trying to win every single game, but especially when you play guys in your division. We have some of the toughest teams in our division with Indiana and Chicago. You know it’ll be a test any time and you want to get a divisional win. That’s the most important thing and Chicago will be a good test for us,” he said. “Against the Bulls, they always make it tough, no matter who they’re playing against, but especially me. The emphasis is more on my drives and they’re more aggressive on their pick-and-rolls, so I’ve just got to use my teammates the best I can and try to make plays, especially getting in the lane. They like to protect the paint. You’ve just got to knock down shots.”
[RELATED: Have patience in Bulls, Rose early on]
Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, back in Cleveland after an abbreviated stint coaching the Lakers, concurred with his superstar: “It’s a good team, plays hard. I think they’re a playoff team, an Eastern Conference Finals team, so it’s going to be tough for us tonight because of the job that Tom Thibodeau does and players on that team, they execute very well on both ends of the floor. So there’s nothing to not like about that team. They play hard, they hit first, they do all the little things the right way.”
Brown believes that Rose, even as he endures early-season struggles, is back to being the same player, at the least.
“He’s still great. Obviously missing as much basketball as he’s missed, he’ll always be working on his timing and stuff like that, in terms of pace of the game. But he’s just as deadly,” the coach said. “He’s just as explosive, in my opinion, as he was before, if not more so because he has confidence. So we don’t look at Derrick Rose as anything but getting better as he was in the past."
[MORE: Bulls ready for Cavs, Irving]
However, while Brown had high praise for both Rose and Irving, he doesn’t see the floor generals as similar players, due to Irving’s proficiency as an outside shooter and Rose’s elite athleticism.
“I don’t think so, but some other people might disagree with me. I think they’re two different types of point guards,” Brown explained. “I think one [Irving] right now shoots the long ball a little better than the other. I think the other one [Rose] is probably more explosive getting to the rim. But they’re both intelligent, they’re both smart, they both can pass the ball, they both are capable of leading their teams and playing defense. But I think if you talk about getting to the rim and shooting the long ball consistently, I think they’re both a little different.
“Two very good, young, dynamic point guards. They’ve got different styles of play, but they’re both capable of putting their teams on their back and winning a ballgame on both sides of the floor, and that’s what’s exciting for the fans tonight.”