INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Growing up less than 10 miles outside Chicago in Oak Park, Illinois, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert said the Chicago Bulls meant "the world" to him as a child, unable to suppress a smile when asked about his Chicago connection on Sunday.
"But, that don't really matter right now," Shumpert continued, with the Cavs set to open up their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Bulls in Game 1 on Monday.
Shumpert figures to matter more to Cleveland than he ever has before to start the second round. He is the assumed replacement for J.R. Smith in the starting lineup while Smith serves a two-game suspension. He will be looked upon not only to defend Derrick Rose at times, but also to pick up some of the slack in scoring that Smith's absence creates.
"We know what he's capable of," Kyrie Irving said this week. "He's not short of confidence. That's why I love him. We need him to be himself and go out there and be locked in. I'm not going to have to worry about looking to my left and worrying about Iman being out there with us. He's not going to miss a beat. He's a professional. He's been in playoff series against great teams. We need his experience out there. He'll raise his level of play."
The fourth-year guard averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 24.2 minutes per game for the Cavs since being acquired from the New York Knicks in January. He kept right along with those numbers in Cleveland's first-round sweep of Boston -- 7.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals in 29.0 minutes -- but finished in crescendo fashion, totaling 15 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals in Game 4.
Shumpert credited his double-digit boards to simply more playing time -- he logged 38 minutes in Game 4 after Smith was ejected and Kevin Love dislocated his shoulder -- but knows that rebounding will be crucial against Chicago.
"The more I'm on the court, the more I can help out on the boards, especially with Kevin going down," Shumpert said. "That freed up a lot more rebounds. Kevin usually corrals a lot of those loose balls. We look for our bigs to rebound. In the event the ball isn't corralled into their hands, of course, I'm going to look to go get it. Whatever we need to do to win the game."
That will include putting the ball in the bucket, but LeBron James doesn't want to put too much pressure on Shumpert on the offensive end.
"What we get from him as far as points is extra credit for our team," James said. "All we care about is his energy and effort defensively. What shows on the box score is his rebounding and steals. That shows he's very active and in tune of the game. What we get from him offensively -- we love it as well -- but it's not his focus. His focus is to come down and guard and wreak havoc defensively. When his opportunities come on offense, he'll be able to exploit them as well."
As pragmatic of a response as that was by James, Cavs coach David Blatt was quick to shine a light on Shumpert's all-around game.
"I want everybody to be fair to Iman," Blatt said. "He can score and he can put points on the board and we need him to do so given the situation we're in right now. Now, is he going to be a guy that you're running multiple screens for so he can come off and shoot like a [Mike] Dunleavy? No. Or a J.R.? But he's a guy that can put the ball in the basket. He's a guy that can create some offense. Is he going to be our first option? Probably not. But I think you should give him a little bit more credit. He's a guy that has shown the ability to score the ball and we're going to ask him to do everything in this series. Everything in terms of being prepared to contribute in all aspects of the game is a better way to do it because we need him to do so and he's capable of doing so."
Smith serves as a floor-spacer for the Cavs. He averaged 7.5 attempts from 3 per game against Boston. Shumpert doesn't want to take Smith's place on the perimeter, however.
"At times I feel like, just watching film, I fell in love with shooting the 3," Shumpert said. "Of course there's going to be times when I'm going to have to step up and knock down corner 3s, but, I don't want to settle all the time. So, it's just something I've been trying to keep in mind as we approach this series."
For all the talk of offense, if Shumpert can come close to replicating the defense he showed against Isaiah Thomas in Games 3 and 4 against Boston -- Thomas finished the series 6-for-26 in those games -- when he is matched up with Rose, he'll have done his job.
How well he does on both ends could very well become the X factor in Cleveland's chances of advancing past the second round.
"Guys that are going to have to step up will be ready," Shumpert said. "Everybody in this league waits on an opportunity when you don't play the starter minutes, when you don't play the type of minutes you want. And with each given opportunity, you got to be ready to come out and perform."