Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers have turned things around. Since limping out to a 9-31 start on January 16, the Cavs are 9-7 and the young players on this team are continuing to grow and mature.
The Bulls are going to make the playoffs while the Cavs almost assuredly will not, but for the moment these are two teams moving in opposite directions. Let's take a closer look at this Central Division clash.
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
When: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 8 p.m. ET
Streaming: NBA League Pass
Listen: WTAM 1100 (Cleveland); ESPN 1000/WRTO 1200 (Chicago)
Betting Line: N/A
Cavaliers Injuries (via ESPN)
F Omri Casspi, Appendix, Day-To-Day
Bulls Injuries (via ESPN)
C Taj Gibson, Knee, Day-To-Day
G Kirk Hinrich, Elbow, Day-To-Day
G Derrick Rose, Knee, Out
Despite being without star point guard Derrick Rose this year, the Bulls are chugging along, currently the sixth seed in the East with a 32-24 record.
In spite of young star Kyrie Irving's excellent year—he leads the team with 23.3 points, 5.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game—the Cavaliers are 18-38 on the season. That's somewhat to be expected given how young the Cavs are, but this is a team with a lot of talent that should continue to be competitive.
Both teams come into this game after losses to elite squads, the Bulls losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and the Cavs losing to the Miami Heat and that LeBron James guy the same day.
The Bulls are 3-0 against the Cavs this season.
Key Matchup: Tristan Thompson vs. Carlos Boozer
Once again the steady Boozer is having a solid season, second on the Bulls in scoring (15.2 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 per game). With Rose injured, Boozer has needed to play a bigger role for the Bulls, and he's stepped up.
But youngster Thompson has been solid this season as well, averaging 11.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He'll make Boozer work on both ends of the floor.
In general, this should be a good matchup down on the block, with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson banging the boards for the Bulls and Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao down low for the Cavs. Were Rose healthy, this game would be an intriguing battle of point guards.
Instead, this game is likely to be won in the paint.
X-Factor: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Bulls have a better record, more playoff experience and are playing on their home court. And none of it will matter if Irving goes off.
If there is one player in this game who can completely sway the outcome in his team's direction, it's Irving. Thus far, the Bulls have done well to contain him, and Irving has scored 15 points in both of the games he played against Chicago this season.
But the third time might be the charm for Irving. Twice in February he's posted 35-point games, and he's posted at least 20 points in six of the 10 games this month. Without question, Irving is this game's X-factor.
Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Alonzo Gee
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Tyler Zeller
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Richard Hamilton
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Joakim Noah
The Cavs are an up-and-coming team, but the Bulls are simply better. Expect the Bulls to once again neutralize Irving, play tight defense throughout and win the battle in the paint. Experience will trump young talent here. The Bulls win, 92-83.
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