The Cavs are 3-point favorites on NBA odds for tonight's marquee matchup in what many believe will be an Eastern Conference Finals preview: Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cavs Starting to Turn Corner?
Cleveland finished off a five-game West Coast trip with back-to-back wins in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Thursday and Friday against the Lakers. The Cavs' offense was in full glory in Friday's 126-121 victory against the Clippers. Kyrie Irving had 37 points, LeBron James 32 and Tristan Thompson 24 points (10-for-12 from the field) and 12 rebounds. Thompson started in place of Kevin Love, who missed the game with a back injury suffered Thursday. He did practice Sunday and will be a game-time decision. It will depend on how Love feels after the shootaround.
James, meanwhile, says he feels physically as well as he has all season after missing eight straight games with various injuries. He has scored at least 30 points in a season-high three straight games. Overall, James' 49.2 shooting percentage is his lowest since the 2008-09 season and his 26.0 points per game his lowest since his rookie year in 2003-04. But he is averaging 33.7 points per game in the past three and shooting 52.3 percent.
Cleveland has gotten a major boost from recent trade acquisitions J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov. In his five starts as a Cavalier, Smith is averaging 16.4 points in 35.6 minutes, while Mozgov is averaging 8.2 points on .552 shooting and 7.8 rebounds in 25.0 minutes through his five games with Cleveland.
Cleveland is +250 on NBA odds to win the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers are 15-26 against the NBA betting spread and 14-26-1 'over/under.' This starts a solid home stretch for the Cavs as 10 of their next 13, including this one, are at home.
Bulls Struggling to Stop Teams
Chicago comes off a 107-99 home loss to Atlanta on Saturday, the Bulls' fifth defeat overall in seven games. Derrick Rose played well against the Hawks with 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 22 points and 15 rebounds, but Chicago's defense hasn't been up to par much of this season. The Bulls rank just 15th in points allowed at 99.5 points per game.
Part of the reason for the defensive struggles has been the play of Joakim Noah, last season's NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He had offseason knee surgery and really hasn't looked right yet. Noah has missed the past two games with an ankle injury and will not play Monday. That means Taj Gibson will start at center, thus weakening Chicago's bench. Starting swingman Mike Dunleavy, the team's past 3-point threat, has missed nine straight games with an ankle injury and he won't play Monday, either. Thus Kirk Hinrich will start. It's possible that rookie Doug McDermott plays Monday for the first time since late November after knee surgery, but McDermott isn't likely to be a major contributor.
Chicago is 8-2 in its past 10 trips to Cleveland, but obviously those Cavs teams didn't have James. The Bulls are 18-24 against the spread this season and 23-18-1 'over/under' on NBA odds.
These Central Division rivals haven't played since Halloween night. The Cavaliers were 4-point underdogs on NBA odds in Chicago but won 114-108 in overtime in the second of a back-to-back. LeBron had 36 points, including eight in the extra session. The 36 points were his most against the Bulls since November 2008. Cleveland rallied from five down in the closing minute of regulation after blowing a nine-point lead to start the fourth quarter. Rose had 20 points for Chicago but left in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle. The Bulls outscored the Cavaliers by eight points with Rose on the court and were outscored by 14 with Rose on the bench. Chicago turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 25 points for the Cavaliers; the Cavs gave it up 12 times, which led to 12 Chicago points.
NBA Betting Verdict
Chicago is 3-10 ATS in its past 13 games. The Cavs have failed to cover four straight at home. The 'under' is 8-2 in the Cavs' past 10. The 'over' is 4-0 in Chicago's past four.
NBA Free Picks: Cavaliers -3 at 5Dimes and 'over' 203 points.