The I-90 Rivalry: Chicago Versus Cleveland is a Must-Drive for NBA Fans

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

It is a five and one-half hour drive from Cleveland to Chicago. There wasn’t much interest in NBA circles last season in making that trip.

Be advised: Traffic on I-90 is likely to be a lot heavier on at least four nights during the 2014-15 season.

Free agency, along with some unforeseeable events, has made the Central Division into the most intriguing in the league.

No potential matchup is more intriguing than the Cavs against the Bulls. Call it the I-90 Rivalry.

LeBron James returned home to Cleveland after a four-year, two-championship vacation in Miami – now, that’s a snowbird.

Derrick Rose, who has missed the bulk of the last two seasons recovering from knee surgery, has looked like the spectacular Rose of old in workouts with USA Basketball.

James may find himself surrounded by the kind of talent he enjoyed in Miami. Power forward Kevin Love could be traded to the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving will be the best point guard James has played with.

It’s good to be the king.

That doesn’t guarantee Cleveland will go from a team that finished 16 games under .500 to division champ. It will take time for James to show the Cavs how to win. But the Cavs haven’t been this excited since they moved from Richfield to downtown Cleveland.

Chicago, which went 48-34 last season despite not having Rose and trading away Luol Deng, knows how to win. The Bulls got better in free agency by adding Pau Gasol, one of the league’s most skilled big men.

Gasol, Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will take no prisoners, especially under defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau. Cleveland’s toughest task might be learning how to play championship-caliber defense.

Defense, of course, has been Indiana’s calling card. The Pacers won the Central Division by eight games last season. They advanced to the Eastern Conference finals where Miami sent them packing - again.

But two stunning events in recent weeks have weakened, if not broken, the Pacers.

Brooklyn’s Lance Stephenson, who led the NBA in triple-doubles, spurned a lucrative offer to remain in Indianapolis and signed with the Charlotte Hornets.

There have been mixed opinions as to whether the loss of the volatile Stephenson hurt or helped the Pacers. But there is no questioning the impact of losing the emerging superstar Paul George.

George suffered a horrific broken leg during a Team USA scrimmage. For a team that was a boa constrictor on defense but struggled at times on offense, the losses of Stephenson and George will make it tough for Indianapolis to finish ahead of Chicago and Cleveland.

The Brooklyn Nets will play each of those teams four times, twice in Barclays Center. Brooklyn fans can see for themselves which team looks like the class of the division.

Detroit, which finished 29-53, did little to get better. The signings of Jodie Meeks (three years, $19 million), Caron Butler (two years, $9 million) and D.J. Augustin don’t make the Pistons measurably better.

And the relationship between Detroit and power forward Greg Monroe went from marriage counseling to divorce court. Monroe and Andre Drummond gave Detroit a formidable frontcourt. If they lose Monroe in a sign and trade, Detroit fans will have to lean on the Tigers, Red Wings and Lions once again.

Milwaukee, the worst team in the league last season, might win that dubious title for a second straight season. They drafted a potential star in Jabari Parker who, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, gives the Bucks two young talents. They’ll have a young head coach in Jason Kidd, beginning his second season in the first chair and his first in Milwaukee. Milwaukee fans will have to lean on the Green Bay Packers, bratwurst and beer. There are worse fates. Detroit and Milwaukee have one thing in common: With all the attention that will be focused on Chicago and Cleveland, another year out of the playoffs will be just a blip.

Memo to Bulls and Cavs fans: Make sure the tank is full.

Garnett to Plumlee

Kevin Garnett fires a pass inside to Mason Plumlee for the reverse slam.

Playlist 050814

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Garnett to Plumlee

Kevin Garnett fires a pass inside to Mason Plumlee for the reverse slam.
Dec 21, 2014  |  00:00

Plumlee at Both Ends

Mason Plumlee strips Andre Drummond then finishes with an alley-oop from Sergey Karasev.
Dec 21, 2014  |  00:00

NBA Inside Stuff Promo: Jarrett Jack Graduates

Inside Stuff follows 31 year-old Jarrett Jack of the Brooklyn Nets as he realizes a life-long dream of graduating from Georgia Tech.
Dec 21, 2014  |  00:00

Morris to Plumlee

Darius Morris tosses up a perfect alley-oop to a streaking Mason Plumlee for the dunk.
Dec 20, 2014  |  00:00

Plumlee Is Active

Mason Plumlee gets the block on one end, and on the other converts the baseline jump hook.
Dec 19, 2014  |  00:00

Plumlee Pummels It

Mason Plumlee spins off of Kevin Love and finishes with the strong reverse jam inside.
Dec 19, 2014  |  00:00

Send the Brooklyn Nets to NBA All-Star 2015

Find out how to vote for your favorite Nets' players.
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Spreading Holiday Cheer

The Brooklyn Nets and Tyler's Trees help brighten the borough's spirit by delivering Christmas trees.
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Nets vs. Raptors

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Williams to Plumlee

Mason Plumlee takes the pass and finishes with authority.
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Plumlee And-One

Mason Plumlee gets fouled and sinks the shot.
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Knockin' It Down

Mirza Teletovic buries a three from the wing.
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Johnson's Floater

Joe Johnson drains a nice shot during the first quarter.
Dec 17, 2014  |  00:00

Jeffrey Vanchiro Tribute Video

A look back at the Brooklyn Nets' super fan.
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Nets Honor Gamblero

The Brooklyn Nets honor their superfan Jeffrey Gamblero after passing away this past weekend.
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Heat vs. Nets

Dwyane Wade scores 28 points as the Heat defeat Nets 95-91.
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Recap: Nets vs Heat

Sarah Kustok recaps the Nets loss to the Miami Heat at Barclays Center.
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Plumlee Denies Haslem

Mason Plumlee gets up and denies Udonis Haslem's layup attempt.
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Karasev Flips It In

Sergey Karasev drives to the basket and flips in the shot over his back avoiding the outstretched hand of Chris Andersen.
Dec 17, 2014  |  00:00

Nets Minute

Chris Shearn looks at a key three-game stretch for the Nets that starts with a matchup tonight vs. the Heat.
Dec 16, 2014  |  01:02

Brooklyn’s All-Star Kids Dance Team

Brooklyn’s All-Star Kids dance team performed at halftime of the Brooklyn Nets vs Chicago Bulls game on November 30th at Barclays Center.
Dec 15, 2014  |  02:26

Plumlee's Reverse Jam

Kevin Garnett finds Mason Plumlee who finishes with the reverse dunk.
Dec 15, 2014  |  00:00

Jack Graduates From Georgia Tech

On Saturday morning, Jarrett Jack walked at his graduation from Georgia Tech in Atlanta -- earning a degree in Business Management.
Dec 13, 2014  |  00:00

Nets vs. Hornets

Joe Johnson scores 22 points, Deron Williams adds 18 as the Nets rout the Hornets 114-87.
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Jack At The Buzzer

Jarrett Jack brings it up and hits the runner to beat the buzzer ending the quarter.
Dec 13, 2014  |  00:00

Block of the Night: Cory Jefferson

Cory Jefferson gets up high to block Alexey Shved's layup attempt.
Dec 12, 2014  |  00:00

Sixers vs. Nets

Mason Plumlee scores 18 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Nets defeat the Sixers 88-70.
Dec 12, 2014  |  00:00

Recap: Nets vs. Sixers

Lenn Robbins recaps the Nets 88-70 win to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Dec 12, 2014  |  01:29

YES Minute

KG talks about getting the team back on track as the Nets get set to face the Sixers tonight at Barclays Center.
Dec 12, 2014  |  01:47

Jack Poised to Fulfill a Promise

Jack, the Nets’ backup point guard, will fulfill a promise he made to his family and himself 10 years ago.
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