Many thought that the matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers would probably decide the Eastern conference before the NBA season started. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but this is still a pretty important pre-playoff contest for the two clubs currently placed third and second respectively in the East.
The Bulls are still missing the presence of Derrick Rose from the lineup as he recovers from knee surgery, and Kirk Hinrich is also once again sidelined. However, this actually feels like a relatively healthy bunch. Crucially, Jimmy Butler is back in the lineup and he’s averaging 20.6 points per game in the five games since he returned. Butler’s impact cannot be under-stated, the team has unsurprisingly won four of five since his return and he’ll also be the key defensive matchup, along with Tony Snell, playing on LeBron James.
Chicago’s front court is what makes this team such an intriguing matchup against the Cavaliers and still a threat in the East. Joakim Noah is healthy and has been playing his best basketball of the year, Pau Gasol is a force offensively and Taj Gibson has also recently returned to the lineup and is averaging 11.3 points per game in his last three off the bench. Nikola Mirotic is the Bulls’ X-Factor, he led the team offensively when injuries hit and he is now an intriguing third offensive option for this team. Cleveland’s front court will be kept busy on the defensive end.
This might have a feel of being something of a “dead rubber”, but make no mistake that James and the Cavaliers are keen to hold onto the second seed in the Eastern conference. Toronto can barely stay out of their own way, but the Bulls are a legitimate threat over the final couple of weeks in the regular season. A win in this game would establish a four-game lead with just five left to play.
Winning six of their last seven has certainly helped that objective and they were ruthless when demolishing the Miami Heat 114-88 on Thursday night.
James has been nothing less than exceptional himself posting six consecutive 20+ point performances and seemingly turning it on offensively and defensively at will. His key partner-in-crime has been Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 21.9 PPG and 5.2 APG on the season. Kevin Love is expected to play tonight after missing the Miami game with back spasms, Love has generally been at his best coming off longer rest this season and it could be crucial for the team’s power forward to play well offensively against this Chicago front-line.
Betting Preview: Cleveland (-8) vs. Chicago
We’re going to take points on the road here. Not sure that an upset is necessarily the likely result, but we’ll pick for the Chicago Bulls to keep this game competitive and close.
The Pick: Chicago (+8) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 41-32