Chicago Bulls versus Cleveland Cavaliers Preview: Bulls defense is bad, must improve to win championship


The Chicago Bulls will open up their 2015-2016 season against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. The game will air on TNT at 7:00 Central Standard Time at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. While most of the attention will center on the Chicago Bulls new brand of offense under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg, how well the Chicago Bulls defend the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely determine the outcome of the game.

The Chicago Bulls square off against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that ranked fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency a season ago. Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and small forward Lebron James both ranked top ten in the NBA last season in points per game. Last season, the Chicago Bulls gave up 97.8 points per game to opponents which was good for ninth best in the league. They ranked eleventh in defensive efficiency with a 101.5 efficiency rating.

With a revamped offensive system, the Chicago Bulls can likely compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers offensively. Last season, the Chicago Bulls trailed the Cavaliers 107.7 to 104.7 in offensive efficiency with a vastly inferior offensive system under former head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Oct 23, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) points instructions while Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) defends at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Chicago defeated Dallas 103-102. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

However, things have changed since last season for the Chicago Bulls including the addition of offensive-minded head coach Fred Hoiberg who has shifted the emphasis from defense to an offense predicated on movement and pace. So far in the preseason, Hoiberg hasn’t found a defensive scheme that has worked and the Bulls reside among the worst teams in the league in several key defensive categories.

According to, in eight preseason games the Chicago Bulls surrendered 104.9 points per game which was fourth worst among all NBA teams during the preseason. According to advanced statistics, the Chicago Bulls ranked second worst in the NBA in defensive efficiency over the course of the preseason with a 106.2 rating. To put these numbers in perspective, between the 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 seasons, the Chicago Bulls never ranked outside the top three in opponent points per game nor outside the top five in defensive efficiency rating.

In addition, the defensive intensity that defined this team for so many years under former head coach Tom Thibodeau is gone. Veteran big man Taj Gibson admitted that the Bulls haven’t been playing as hard as they should on the defensive side of the ball.

"Our defense is lackadaisical right now.—-Quote obtained by CBS Sports writer Cody Westerlund"

Prior to the Chicago Bulls October 14 preseason contest against the Detroit Pistons, head coach Fred Hoiberg cited a number of reasons for the defensive struggles.

"Pick-and-roll defense, especially in the middle of the floor, we’re not keeping them on the side well enough. We need to get into our ice defense on the side. Things get into the middle too much. And we had too many blow-bys. —-Quote obtained by CBS Sports writer Cody Westerlund"

Historical trends seem to suggest that the Chicago Bulls can’t afford to struggle to this extent on defense even if their offense is among the most efficient in the league.

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  • According to Sporting Charts, from 2002-2012, nine out of the ten NBA Champions were top ten in the league in defensive efficiency during the regular season. Eight of the ten were in the top five in this category.

    The key is balance. However, defensive efficiency has been more important than offensive efficiency at least as of late. From 2002-2012, only six out of the ten NBA champions were top ten in offensive efficiency (compare this to defensive efficiency where nine out of ten teams were top 10 in this category during the regular season in the same time span).

    The Chicago Bulls opening night game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday will provide an early indication of whether the Bulls can compete defensively against one of the best offenses in the league.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers present a major roadblock to a Bulls championship bid and Chicago simply can’t beat them if their defense stays this bad even if they continue to operate efficiently on offense. Throughout the summer and during the preseason, the emphasis was always on improving the offense; however; the Bulls defense will likely decide how far they advance in the playoffs.

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