It had to come down to this, didn't it? It had to come down to LeBron James knocking the Bulls out of the playoff race. James has knocked out the Bulls from the postseason multiple times and now he has the chance to do it in the regular season as well.
Thanks to the Pacers inexplicably losing to the Raptors, who were without both Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and others, the Bulls are not eliminated from the playoffs just yet. This is a do-or-die game against Cleveland and it will take some real magic for the Bulls to pull out a win.
The Cavaliers are coming into this game as the best team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 56-23 and looked to have locked up the top spot in the East. They have a three-game lead over the Raptors and look like they won't lose any ground to Toronto. Cleveland had its four-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday when they lost to the Pacers 123-109. But also keep in mind that LeBron James was resting that night. It's almost like he knew that he would have the chance to knock the Bulls out of the playoffs and wanted to be well rested:
Cavs practicing at UIC today. Good look at the difference between high school, college, NBA 3-point lines pic.twitter.com/5fOiqW1Kqx— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 8, 2016
The Bulls will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak after dropping games to the Grizzlies and the Heat, respectively. Although the loss to Memphis was downright embarrassing, credit should be given to the Chicago for showing some heart against the Heat. They stuck with Miami for the majority of the game before the Heat took over with a few minutes left. Many thought that would be the final straw that broke the back of the Bulls playoff hopes, but you can thank Indiana for giving Chicago a small glimmer of hope.
Cleveland will likely go with a lineup of Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith as the guards with LeBron at the small-forward spot with Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov as the bigs. The Cavaliers have some good bench players as Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert get a lot of minutes off the bench, and who can forget about Chicago villain Matthew Dellavedova.
The key matchup of this game will be Jimmy Butler vs. LeBron. They are the best players on their respective teams and Butler will likely guard James the whole night. Not many players can give LeBron trouble on the offensive end like Butler does and he will make James work to get baskets. Butler hasn't been as great defensively the past few games, but I expect him to show up against LeBron. This will be a fun matchup to watch:
The last time these two teams met it was a 106-95 victory for the Cavaliers on February 18th.
Chicago's injury issues remain the same as E'Twaun Moore and Taj Gibson will sit out this game and are likely done for the season. As for the Cavaliers, the team is relatively healthy, although Mo Williams is reportedly back in Cleveland to get an MRI on his knee.
Tip off is around 7:30 CT and will be televised on ABC.