PBT Second-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls

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SEASON RECORDS

Cavaliers: 53-29, second place in Eastern Conference.

Bulls: 50-32, third place in Eastern Conference.

FIRST ROUND

Cavaliers: Swept Boston in four games.

Bulls: Beat Milwaukee in six games.

KEY INJURIES

Cavaliers: Kevin Love underwent surgery this week for a separated shoulder that occurred in Game 4 of the Celtics series. He’s out four to six months. The Cavs will also be without J.R. Smith for the first two games after he was suspended for punching Jae Crowder in the face.

Bulls: None, which feels weird to type. But Joakim Noah has been banged up all year and Nikola Mirotic is coming off a knee injury in Game 3 of the Bucks series, so their play is worth keeping an eye on.

OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE RANKINGS

Cavaliers: Scored 107.7 points per 10 possessions (4th in NBA); Allowed 104.1 points per 100 possessions (20th in NBA).

Bulls: Scored 104.7 points per 100 possessions (10th in NBA); Allowed 101.5 points per 100 possessions (11th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. How will the Cavs’ rotation adjust to Love’s absence? Love had an up-and-down season but by the time the playoffs hit, he’d grown into his role with the Cavs. He’s been crucial as a floor-spacing big man and rebounding machine. Without him, the Cavs lose some versatility. They’ll either have to start Tristan Thompson and sacrifice some of their bench production or play LeBron James at power forward, which can tire him out. Which brings us to…

2. Can the Bulls make LeBron work on defense? James has a lot of miles on him, so the Bulls’ best hope is to tire him out. If he plays power forward, they’ll either post up Taj Gibson on him or make him chase Nikola Mirotic around the perimeter.

3. How consistent will Derrick Rose be? Rose was phenomenal Games 1, 3 and 6 of the Bucks series. When he’s on, he looks like every bit the player who won MVP in 2011. He’s no longer taking threes as his first option on any play — he’s looking to attack and make plays more now. If that version of Rose shows up every game against the Cavs, Chicago will be tough to beat.

PREDICTION

It’s a coin flip. Losing Love hurts, but the Cavs still have the two best players in the series, including the best player in the world. Like the Spurs, until he’s actually out, I’m not going to be the one to pick against him. Cavs in 7.