By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) You’re sweating at your desk. You’ve prepared well, or at least you think you have. Did you? Relax, take a deep breath and repeat after me: This isn’t a test.
This is game No. 2 of 82 for both the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. Both are consensus favorites to end up meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals half a year from now. A lot is going to happen to both teams between now and then.
What happens Friday night is hardly indicative of all that, though.
The hype is there, as it should be. Lebron James is always a story, and his return to Cleveland joining star sidecars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving trumps maybe only Derrick Rose’s Bulls comeback after never actually leaving for NBA feature story supremacy. Two of the league’s superstars going head-to-hairline. Irving against Rose is the slightly more subtle intriguing battle. Joakim Noah and his heart-on-sleeve hatred of what no sane person would argue is a great city. The return of chalk dust. Will Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau release Nazr Mohammed on James tonight?
It’s all fantastic theater. And Friday night’s game will hopefully be fun, compelling and not lopsided. Basketball is back, and that’s a beautiful thing. But it’s not a test for either team.
Thibodeau can treat a regular-season game against the Milwaukee Bucks like a Game 7, so don’t expect any Popovichian consideration of tread on his players’ tires for the long haul.
“Yeah, when you look at this city, the franchise, the history, the tradition and what basketball means here, it’s a big deal,’’ Thibodeau said when prompted to be human for once. “We’re fortunate to be part of it and to be here. We certainly appreciate the support (the fans) give us. But we can’t get lost in what we have to do. We understand how important the game is to our fans. We want to make sure they’re proud of our team. And I think they will be.’’
Translation: “We will go out and try to win a basketball game tonight. Hopefully without network TV making me set my coordinates to funny.”
I can’t speak to new Cavs coach David Blatt’s spelling of his guys, but it’s safe to assume both coaches are treating this as the October game it is, not the epic, deciding battle of a narrative that TV is dressing it up as for Halloween. (Note: I promise that will be my only Halloween reference here, so please don’t run away.)
Bulls-Cavs will be a basketball game involving a ton of collective and individual talent, but it will not be indicative of either team’s season to come or the outcome of a possible playoff pairing in the spring. If one team wins — even by double-digits — it’s no measuring stick. The New York Knicks have already been the variable to prove that. The Bulls smoking them in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night is no more emblematic of the 2014-15 Bulls than the Knicks winning Thursday night in Cleveland is a microcosm of the 2014-15 Cavs.
Call it a quiz, I guess. A small measurement of capabilities, but nothing that is going to impact an A or an F by the time all is said and done. Don’t be awful, but if you are, you have time to fix stuff. And if you ace the thing, that isn’t a license to get comfortable.
Lebron and Co. arrive in Chicago on the second of a back-to-back without likely having adjusted yet mentally or physically to the rigors of the regular season. The Bulls slept in their own beds last night.
Jimmy Butler is likely out, and Noah can’t be everywhere at once. Pity whoever else tries to cover James as he looks to wipe the egg off his face from his embarrassing performance Thursday night. Whether he drops 40 or 14, though, will only matter in terms of “LOL LARBON SUX” Twitter fodder. Because sketchy starts by him and his teams have historically been accurate assessments of how those teams finished, right?
Ditto Rose. His first game was underwhelming in limited minutes, but who’s to complain when he’s one of six Bulls in double figures? A dominant game Friday would be really cool, but a stat line like Wednesday’s shouldn’t be alarming either. (And should there be another Bulls blowout, Thibodeau surprisingly resting his starters again would be comforting.)
The United Center is hosting its first Bulls game of the season, and the NBA couldn’t have picked a more hype-able matchup. Fans of both teams and pro hoops should be jacked up because it comes with just about everything an appreciator of the game could ask for.
And if you’re one who does appreciate it, you will be without test anxiety because you know this isn’t definitive. It’s a fun early treat in a tricky NBA season and there’s plenty left to go.
(Fine, I lied about Halloween references.)
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.