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NBA Rivalry Outlook: Chicago and Cleveland

By Erik Lambert

Jan 4, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) trips and falls into Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Eastern Conference is as wide open as it has been in the NBA for years.  How do longtime rivals Chicago and Cleveland stack up in the coming race?

Tom Thibodeau faced with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving attack

This might as well be the same song, second verse for Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.  When LeBron James was in Miami, he led a dominant offensive attack teamed with Dwyane Wade.  It became the near-obsession of Thibodeau to devise a defense to stop them, and on many occasions he succeeded.  Now he will have to do the same again as James teams with rising point guard Kyrie Irving on the Cleveland Cavaliers, who averaged 20 points per game in 2013-2014.  How Thibodeau adjusts will set the tone for how the rivalry unfolds through the heart of the coming season.

Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah headline very deep Bulls front court

The question is how will the Bulls counter?  Getting Derrick Rose back is of course a big help but their greatest source of strength in facing that two-headed monster in Cleveland resides in their front court.  Thanks to the addition of veteran Pau Gasol and overseas star Nikola Mirotic, Chicago has built perhaps the deepest front court in the NBA.  Together with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the Bulls have a wealth of big bodies who can control the paint both offensively and defensively.  It remains to be seen whether Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Bennett can offer an effective counter to that.

Doug McDermott and Andrew Wiggins offer interesting zest

Both teams also plan to unveil some very important rookies in their coming campaigns.  Cleveland selected Kansas prospect Andrew Wiggins with the #1 overall pick while Chicago traded up to #11 to nab Creighton star Doug McDermott.  The intriguing part of the two youngsters is what they mean to the future of the teams they represent.  Wiggins, while in the long-term is a potential franchise-caliber player, will be expected to help improved the Cavaliers iffy defense that ranked 19th last season.  Conversely, McDermott, who finished college as the 5th all-time scorer in NCAA history, hopes to improve a Bulls offense that has struggled the past few years.  Whichever player does their job better could mean the difference in showdowns to come.

As rivalries go for the NBA season approaching, it won’t get more balanced and competitive than the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers out East.  Each has significant advantages over the other, while each has a potential Achilles heel.  How they accent one and mask the other will decide the fate of a conference.