Arguably the two most prominent active players in the NBA will take center stage on Halloween night when LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to Chicago to face Derrick Rose and the Bulls at the United Center. James has won four MVP awards, while Rose has won one, but both are making comebacks of sorts in their second games of the 2014-2015 season.
James, who spent his previous four seasons in Miami before announcing his return to the Cavs this summer, made his homecoming to poor results at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Thursday. The superstar forward converted just five of his 15 attempts for 17 points, while committing eight turnovers in a loss to the Knicks.
"Well, first of all, that was an emotional night for [James] without question," said Cavaliers head coach David Blatt. "He wanted badly to win the game and help the team play well. His effort was there. His efficiency was not what it normally is. That was obvious. We have to do a better job of getting him things in motion."
James was less diplomatic about his performance. "I didn't press," James said. "I didn't do much."
The Bulls thumped the Knicks on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, but didn’t need much production from Rose, who played just 21 minutes and scored 13 points. Rose has played just 50 total games since his MVP season in 2010-2011, and has been the subject of many questions about his ability to bounce back from a right knee injury that had kept him inactive for several months. Rose will look to shine in the Bulls’ home opener, and dispel notions that his past ailments are affecting him.
“He's got to shake that rust off,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. “Offensively, he was attacking well. Defensively, he's got to keep working at it.”
While the game features two highly visible superstars, it also may be a very early preview of the Eastern Conference Finals. According to Bovada.lv, the Cavaliers are the top favorites to win the NBA title at 13/5, while the Bulls have the third best odds of winning the title at 6/1. The Cavs have never won a championship, while the Bulls have not reached the Finals since a certain NBA legend retired from the game.
Indeed, the shadow of Michael Jordan still holds a lurking presence over the two superstars, though for different reasons. Rose, a Chicago native drafted by the team with the top overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, was welcomed as the Bulls’ best perimeter player since Jordan, and has helped elevate Chicago’s chances of winning a title for the first time since Jordan’s last Bulls season in 1997-1998. The pressure has been on Rose to finally carry the Bulls to a higher level.
The Bulls have had championship-caliber teams in each of the past two seasons, but failed to make it beyond the second round because of injuries to Rose. If the point guard can’t play a full year in 2014-2015, Chicago might come to the realization that he isn’t the superstar that will lead them back to "the Promised Land."
Jordan’s aura has certainly hovered over James. The 29-year-old has consistently been compared to the first player to make No. 23 famous, and Jordan proponents who double as James detractors, are quick to point to the disparity between championship rings. Jordan won all six of his trips to the NBA Finals, while James has won two in five Finals appearances, meaning he has some catching up to do. James’s presence at the United Center often sparks debate about the “greatest of all time” against “the heir apparent.”
The game also marks an encore presentation for the NBA and a chance for a big ratings bump for ESPN. After both teams faced the Knicks, the top media market, a high-profile superstar matchup on an evening without an NFL, college football, or World Series game makes the NBA the featured sporting event on a Friday night. On Halloween in 2013, the Bulls hosted the New York Knicks.
An IBTimes staff reporter contributed to this report.