Cavaliers vs. Bulls: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 15:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Team Shaq shoots the ball over Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards and Team Chuck in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge 2013 part of the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend at the Toyota Center on February 15, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

February has not been a kind month for the Chicago Bulls. The team has only managed a 4-7 mark, and Derrick Rose's return from injury has been marred by his brother's recent criticisms of the team.

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

Watch: NBATV

StreamingNBA 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

Key Storylines

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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