Welcome to The Land.
LeBron James triumphantly branded his hometown of Cleveland and his Cavaliers squad the place of such wonderment last summer when he bolted the Miami Heat for a return to his roots. No doubt, it makes for a catchy moniker, but it hardly does justice to summing up just how excited hoops fans are to be at this point and time in the NBA postseason.
When James and the Cavs host Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, ticket prices will be at an average of $125.81, with a get-in of $43, and there almost certainly will be no place most of Hoops Nation would rather be than front and center. Cavaliers tickets will certainly be a hot item as a result, as this is the most anticipated series of the second round. There is an expected high demand for Bulls tickets as well when they return to the United Center for the third and fourth contest of the series.
It’s true, this clash, at this point, for the prize of a berth in the Conference Finals, raises such decibels and more on the Richter scale. The Cavs won the season series over the Bulls, 3-1, but that means very little at this juncture, particularly when you factor in Rose sat out one of those games and parts of another due to injury.
The Cavs made quick work of the Boston Celtics in the opening round, but who’s to say that team and the one that shows up at Quicken Loans Arena Monday night will completely be the same?
What’s certain is James and Kyrie Irving will have to make due without Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs and J.R. Smith for the first two games of the Chicago series, as he pays the price for yet another of his boneheaded actions resulting in banishment.
After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead in their opening series, the Bulls were stretched to lengths by the Milwaukee Bucks they had no intentions of having to go to. But for a starting unit that has barely played 30 games together all season, an extra game or two in the name of cohesiveness may not really be all that bad.
For all the star power of James (27 points, nine rebounds, seven assists in Round 1) and Irving ( 23 points, five rebounds, four assists), and Rose (19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals), Jimmy Butler (25 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals, Pau Gasol ( 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) and Joakim Noah (seven points, 12 rebounds, four assists), the key to the series could be the respective benches.
Featuring a second unit of Taj Gibson, Tony Snell, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls are much deeper than the Cavs, and that holds even truer now that Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thomas will almost certainly be forced into starting roles.
But what the Cavs do have is LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Any other time, that might be more than enough to be the great equalizer, but against Chicago you have to wonder.
Welcome to The Land.