A capsulized look at the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, which starts Monday at 4 p.m. PDT in Clevaland. The game will be broadcast on TNT.
53-29 (Home: 31-10; Road: 22-19; Playoffs: 4-0)
50-32 (Home: 27-14; Road: 23-18; Playoffs: 4-2)
Season series: Cleveland, 3-1.
Key stat: Both Cleveland and Chicago went into defensive modes in the playoffs. The Cavaliers allowed 94.8 points per game against Boston, third best among playoff teams in the first round, and held the Celtics to 42.0% shooting, fourth best. The Bulls ramped up their defense, holding Milwaukee to 88.5 points per game and 38.8% shooting, the best in both categories.
Outlook: This becomes the most intriguing second-round series because of the star power of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose. James and Irving are the Dynamic Duo after losing Kevin Love, who had season-ending surgery for a dislocated left shoulder he suffered in the series against Boston. Love was the “stretch four” for the Cavaliers that provided driving lanes for James and Irving. The Cavaliers also will be without guard J.R. Smith for the first two games of the series while he serves a suspension for punching Boston’s Jae Crowder in Game 4. Rose started showing signs of his old self during the playoffs, driving hard to the hoop, while averaging 19 points per game against the Bucks. His backcourt mate, Jimmy Butler, will have the biggest challenge. Butler will have to score (he averaged 24 points in the first round) and defend James. Bulls All-Star forward Pau Gasol (16.3 points, 11.8 rebounds) remained a double-double machine in the opening round. Everyone will be waiting for Bulls center Joakim Noah to add spice to the series by making one of his snarky comments about the city of Cleveland. Noah also can play, his 11.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the first round were a big plus.
Prediction: The combination of James and Irving will be just enough. Cleveland in seven.