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Bulls vs. Cavaliers game preview, injury report lineups

date with a king

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks Paul for today’s game preview. There are spots available this month if you wish to sign up and do one -yfbb]

Chicago Bulls (10-7 ) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-4)

United Center: Chicago, Ill.

7:00 p.m. CDT

Television Coverage: ESPN, Fox Sports Ohio, Comcast SportsNet Chicago

Projected Starting Lineups:

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Head Coach

Fred Hoiberg

Tyronn Lue

Point Guard

Rajon Rondo

Kyrie Irving

Shooting Guard

Dwyane Wade

J.R. Smith

Small Forward

Jimmy Butler

LeBron James

Power Forward

Taj Gibson

Kevin Love


Robin Lopez

Tristan Thompson

Injury Report:

Bull small forward Doug McDermott continues to miss time after sustaining a concussion three weeks ago against the Washington Wizards. Here is the latest report on McDermott courtesy of ESPN writer Nick Friedell.

Bulls are hopeful Doug McDermott will be cleared for contact later today. Fred Hoiberg wants to see him get a couple workouts in before being cleared for a game. McDermott has been ruled out of Saturday's game in Dallas.

Michael Carter-Williams continues to miss time due to a bone chip in his left wrist. He still needs 3-5 weeks of recovery before he can play again.

Paul Zipser will be out until at least Dec. 15 with a back injury

Cavaliers sharpshooter and former Bull Mike Dunleavy is a game-time decision tonight after sustaining a concussion on Tuesday.


LeBron James will have to show up at the United Center tonight in a Chicago Cubs jersey after losing a World Series bet with close friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade.

For once, Chicago Bulls fans get to see LeBron lose at something....

Just kidding. Well, kind of. The Bulls are 23-25 against LeBron James during the regular season and 5-16 against him in the playoffs. The Bulls have lost four playoff series against him since he entered the league in 2003.

The complexion of the Chicago Bulls/ Lebron James rivalry has changed in the past six months due to all the roster moves the Bulls made over the summer.

Perhaps some of the nastiness and hate that defined the rivalry for so many years dissipated when former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah decided to sign with the New York Knicks last summer. After all, he was instrumental in setting the tone for what the rivalry would eventually become. He ignited the mutual dislike between the Bulls and LeBron after trash talking LeBron from the bench in 2009 and then uttering the now infamous "Cleveland really sucks" line in the playoffs later that season. Since then, the rivalry has enjoyed its fair share of iconic moments from the Eastern Conference finals showdown in 2011 to that time the Bulls broke the Miami Heat's 27-game win streak in 2013 to Derrick Rose's game-winning 3-point shot against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference semifinal.

However, all this is now in the past, and the rivalry feels different with guys like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah out of Chicago and one of LeBron's best friends Dwyane Wade now in a Bulls uniform.

Regardless of the current state of the rivalry, the Cavaliers and LeBron own the Eastern Conference right now, and if the Bulls don't bring their 'A' game, they risk getting blown out at their own arena. This is a big game, and energy levels shouldn't be an issue tonight like it was against the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers in an ugly loss on Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers come into town trying to snap a two-game losing streak. On Tuesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34-points to help lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 118-101 victory. J.R. Smith's defense probably didn't help the cause either. Last night, the Cavaliers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 113-94.

LeBron coming to town is always one of the most anticipated games of the year for Chicago Bulls fans. What do the Bulls need to do to spoil his trip to Chicago?

Keys to the Game:

Defensive Matchups against the Cavaliers "Big 3"

The Bulls players tasked with defending the Cavaliers "Big 3" need to have solid games defensively. "The Big 3" have combined for 69.2 points per game this season which is 63 percent of the Cavaliers total offense. Only one other player on the Cavaliers (Channing Frye) averages more than ten points per game. If the Bulls can limit the "Big 3" as much as possible, that would give them a good chance to win this game.

Let's take a closer look at the three key individual matchups in this game.

Jimmy Butler is about as good as you can get in terms of a defender who can slow down LeBron James. The caveat here is that LeBron is nearly impossible to stop. He has scored 20 plus points in 11 of the 16 games he has played this season and in games where he failed to score 20 points he has averaged 9.2 assists. The trick is to limit him enough so he can't take over games. This is hard but not impossible.

In the past, the Bulls have had success in the regular season getting physical with LeBron. Although Jimmy Butler is smaller than LeBron, he is a tough, strong and physical defender which bodes well for his chances to at least limit LeBron enough to keep the Bulls in this game. Butler defends the oppositions' best player on a nightly basis, so guarding LeBron won't phase him.

Kyrie Irving has averaged career highs in scoring, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage this season. He is lightning quick, active on both ends, and can score in a variety of ways. He is the Cavaliers starting point guard so he matches up with Rajon Rondo which could be a problem.

Rondo can't continue his chronic reaching habit on defense. If he does that instead of focusing on moving his feet to stay in front, Irving will blow past him and break down the rest of the Bulls defense. Second, Rondo needs to put forth a consistent defensive effort for 48 minutes. He can't afford to take his foot off the accelerator at any moment because Irving is such a dynamic offensive player that can heat up quickly.

Jerian Grant may match up better against Irving.

One of Grant's strengths is his willingness to do the dirty work defensively. He pressures ball handlers on the perimeter much better than Rondo does. He is also quick and doesn't usually get beat off the dribble.

In a game earlier this season, Grant dominated Damian Lillard; a fast athletic point guard whose game patterns Irving's pretty closely. Plus, the Bulls are an overall better defense when Grant is on the floor. According to, the Bulls defensive rating is almost nine points better when Grant plays as opposed to when he sits.

Another key matchup is Taj Gibson against Kevin Love, who has shot a career-best 41.8 percent from the 3-point line this season. The 3-point shot makes up almost 39 percent of his total shot attempts. If Gibson can slow him down from long range, this eliminates an entire dimension of Love's game.

Although Gibson is a fantastic defender, a weakness is his perimeter defense. So far this season, opponents' 3-point field goal percentage rises by 2.1 percentage points when Gibson is defending their 3-point shot.

Stacey King talks about KYP (Know your Personnel) and this is a key for Gibson if he wants to win this matchup. He has to commit to guarding the whole floor because Love is going to do most of his damage from long range.

As the "Big 3" goes, so do the Cavaliers. If the Bulls can win these matchups they will have a really good shot to win the game.

The Lineup of Doom

By now, everybody knows the narrative. The Chicago Bulls get off to one of their signature fast starts in the first quarter (they have averaged 27.9 points per game which is seventh best in the NBA) only to see their lead vanish in a blink of an eye because of a certain lineup that Hoiberg runs out there at the beginning of the second quarter.

The culprits are Isaiah Canaan, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine. They have really struggled, especially recently.

The Lakers outscored the Bulls 30-19 in the second quarter on Wednesday. The Nuggets went on a 24-0 run to begin the second quarter last week. At the Staples Center two Sundays ago, the Lakers began the second quarter with a 14-4 run. The list goes on.

There are two possible ways to fix this problem. Hoiberg either needs to tweak this lineup, or these guys simply need to play better.

An effective tweak could look something like using Jerian Grant instead of Canaan and/or substituting Cristiano Felicio for Bobby Portis. This lineup has become so bad that any change could be an improvement and Hoiberg should experiment with different combinations of players.

The Bulls can't afford to have a second quarter meltdown like they had in these other games. It is one thing to give up a big run against bad teams like the Lakers or the Nuggets, but letting high-powered offenses like the Cavaliers go on runs could prove fatal.

One run may be all the Cavaliers need to put this game on ice early. The room for error against this Cavaliers team is small. The Bulls can't afford to play poorly at any point during this game, even if it is one lineup during a short stretch at the beginning of the second quarter.

Getting Defensive

The Bulls defense has been surprisingly good this season.

How is this possible? One reason is a team-wide [well, besides Rajon Rondo] commitment to play with effort on this side of the ball.

According to hustle stats, the Bulls are eighth in the NBA in contested shots per game, sixth best at recovering loose balls, fifth in defensive rebounds and first in offensive rebounds.

The Bulls have done all the little, effort-oriented things defensively this season, and it has equated to the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA.

Consistent effort doesn't take skill. You either do it or you don't and really, with the exception of Wednesday night against the Lakers, the Bulls have been doing it all season especially on the defensive side of the ball. They need to continue to do the little things defensively like contesting shots, recovering loose balls and grabbing rebounds to have a chance to win this game.