Coming off last night's impressive 113-93 win over the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers are on one of the best rolls we've seen from them in a long time. They've won 14 of 15, and on this streak do have some impressive wins: Over the Los Angeles Clippers twice, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Chicago Bulls. With the new extended All-Star Break rapidly approaching, the Cavs have ridden into it blazing hot, playing the best basketball we've seen from the team since at least 2010. They get a chance to tack on one more win before the break tonight in Chicago against the same Bulls that they beat 108-94 one month ago.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls
Where: United Center - Chicago, IL
When: 8:00PM ET
Where Can I Watch?: TNT
Music: Streetlight Manifesto - "Just"
The Bulls still employ Tom Thibodeau and wonder why they're disappointing and half the team is injured. You do it to yourself, it's true, and that's what really hurts.
So, who on Chicago is injured tonight? Officially? That'd be Jimmy Butler (shoulder), who's unlikely to play after injuring his shoulder against the Kings, and Kirk Hinrich, who will not play because he's still recovering from an injury that's almost as annoyingly nagging as he is (turf toe). Mike Dunleavy is still recovering from an ankle injury and is probable. Unofficially, they still have Doug McDermott recovering from knee surgery, and he hasn't made much of an impact since returning; likewise, Joakim Noah's season could best be described as "Questionable (Body)," even though he's not listed. One day the Bulls will just have a player disintegrate on the floor in the 2nd quarter, and Thibs will try to play the molecular remains 45 minutes against Orlando the next night.
Oh, and for the Cavs, Kevin Love is questionable after he suffered an eye injury last night, but we have to figure the lack of news we've gotten on him means it's nothing serious.
Keep the Bulls off the Free Throw Line. One of the strengths of the Cavs' defense this season has been consistently keeping opponents from getting free points with free throws. They're allowing just 19.7 free throw attempts per game, good for second in the league. This should become especially important tonight, as the Bulls are one of the best teams in the league at drawing contact. They average 26 free throw attempts per game (2nd in the league as well), and convert on 78.4 % of those free throw attempts, so they're very efficient at hitting them. Considering that the Bulls don't really get points efficiently from elsewhere on the floor (They're a good three-point shooting team but their overall field goal percentage is a rough 44.4 percent), keeping the Bulls off the line will really limit the effectiveness of their offense, especially because they can get a little Rockets-lite in fishing for contact when they aren't getting calls, and that can mean turnovers for Cleveland.
Run. The Bulls haven't played at their usual molasses pace this year, but they're by no means a transition team, and struggle to get out and run with teams if forced. Cleveland's one of the best at this when they decide they want to turn it into a track meet, as we saw in last night's game against the Heat. The message here is simple - Rebound well (The Bulls don't), let J.R. and Kyrie leak out when they can, and try to put this team away by running all over them. The Bulls allow 13.3 fast break points per game, and getting a few quick buckets on them can force the Bulls to rush their offense, a death knell for them. This is what the Cavs did on MLK day against the Bulls, and it's a recipe that even bad team like the Lakers and Jazz have used to finish off the Bulls this year. Cleveland can definitely do the same.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: The Cavs are riding an unholy hot streak into the All-Star Break. The Bulls are inconsistent, injured, and just trying to hit the break with no one dying. You tell me which team sounds more ready to play tonight. Cavs 103, Bulls 90.