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The Cavaliers tip off the 2021-22 preseason on Tuesday night in Chicago – ready to break in some new offseason acquisitions, including a pair of former Bulls.
The Wine & Gold won 22 games one season ago – finishing fourth in the Central Division, nine games behind Chicago. The Bulls were active at the Trade Deadline last year – dealing for All-Star center Nikola Vucevic – but they went 11-15 with the former Trojan in the lineup and missed the Playoffs for the fourth straight season.
With both teams looking to reverse their recent fortunes, here are some Keys to tonight’s preseason opener in the Windy City …
The Bulls were active in the offseason – acquiring guards Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozen and Derrick Jones Jr. via trade – the latter bringing Lauri Markkanen to Cleveland and eventually sending Larry Nance Jr. to Portland.
Via free agency, Chicago acquired some solid reserves – notably Alex Caruso and Tony Bradley – but also lost some depth in the Ball and DeRozan deals with the departures of veterans Al-Farouq Aminu, Tomas Satoransky, Daniel Theis and Thaddeus Young.
The Cavaliers won two of three over Chicago last year – splitting the first two games before Cleveland dropped the Bulls by 16 points at the United Center in late April behind 30 points from Collin Sexton and a stingy Cavs defense that allowed just a single Bulls starter double-figure scoring.
In the three-game set last year, Darius Garland topped the 20-point plateau in all three – averaging 23.0 points and 8.3 assists, going 12-of-18 from three-point range and a perfect 7-of-7 from the stripe.
In terms of Chicago’s offseason moves, a pair of former Bulls – Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine – return to face their former team tonight.
Both players spent their first four seasons with the Bulls. Markkanen was originally the 7th overall pick by the Timberwolves before being dealt to Chicago in the Zach LaVine trade on Draft night. Valentine was the 14th overall selection by Chicago in 2016 after a prolific career at Michigan State.
Markkanen posted the lowest scoring average of his career (13.6ppg) and found himself in a numbers squeeze after the Trade Deadline, but still managed to have the best shooting season (48 percent from the floor, 40 percent from beyond the arc) of his young career. Valentine notched double-figures in 21 games last year, including seven straight contests in early February.
These two longtime Central Division rivals have plenty of history between them. Unfortunately, the Bulls have had the edge for much of it.
In 222 all-time meetings, the Wine & Gold have gone 93-129 in the regular season and 14-20 in 34 all-time Playoff matchups (with Cleveland winning the last two series, in both 2010 and 2015.
The all-time single-game record for points against Chicago is held by LeBron James, who dropped 41 on the Bulls twice in 2008. Michael Jordan, of course, went for 69 points in an overtime win over Cleveland at the Richfield Coliseum in 1990.