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In the most important preseason game of October, the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off against their pre-labeled rival in the Eastern Conference: the Chicago Bulls. Cleveland came out on top in a 107-98 game that saw incredible point guard play from both Derrick Rose and the Cavs’ own Kyrie Irving. Rose finished with a preseason high 30 points on an efficient 12-18 shooting, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point line, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Irving matched up well with his former USA teammate, scoring 28 points on 10-19 shooting with 3 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals.

Chicago was missing Jimmy Butler, a defensive engine alongside Noah, who drastically improved his offensive game this offseason but has faced injuries in the early stages of the season. They did have an overall balanced scoring performance led by Rose, but the Cavalier defense combined with great ball movement on the offensive side allowed the Cavs to walk away with the W. The Good Guys, as Cavaliers TV broadcaster Fred McLeod refers to his team, had 5 players in double figures (Love finished with 9) while the Bulls had 3. While the Cavaliers were able to control almost the entire game, the preseason matchup with Chicago was an invaluable lesson. It’s no question that the Bulls will be Cavs’ most competent opponent in the Eastern Conference this season, so learning from this experience will help the Cavs prepare for a more crucial encounter down the road, especially if that entails a playoff series.

{adinserter 2}For starters, although Cleveland held the halftime lead, they allowed way too much dribble penetration from the Chicago guards in the first half, specifically Derrick Rose and his new backup Aaron Brooks. For Cleveland to succeed, Irving, Waiters, and Dellavedova will have to significantly step up the defensive intensity to keep guards from freely getting into the painted area. Cutting off the paint will be key because of the shooters Chicago can spread the floor with; Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and even Taj Gibson can all hit the mid-range to 3 point jumpshot off of a drive-and-kick.

When Rose went out last year and forward Luol Deng was traded to the Cavaliers, the Bulls’ arguably best playmaker was also the Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah. Mostly playing in the high posts, Noah has started to make a living finding open players off cuts, setting effective screens, and making quick moves at the basket for an easy score or assist. His assist average last year was at a very solid 5.4 leading all Centers, a big jump from his 4.0 average; only 4 Centers averaged more than 2, those being Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson, and Cleveland’s own Anderson Varejao. With Pau Gasol in town, who was 4th among all power forwards in assists with 3.4 a game, the Bulls add more playmaking to their frontcourt. If both of these facilitative bigs stay healthy, coupled with the quickness of cutting guards like Derrick Rose and Aaron Brooks, it can exploit a lot of frontcourt holes in the Cavs’ defense.

The Cavaliers may have won their preseason matchup with Chicago, but this was merely an appetizer. There are 4 more regular season games to be played against these Bulls and with a possible playoff series looming in late May, Cleveland will have plenty of chances to prove they can neutralize any prominent threats the Bulls present.

The Cavs will see the Bulls very shortly, as they travel to their second regular season contest this Friday, October 31st at Chicago.