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Monday’s East preview: Cavaliers try to topple Bulls

The Cleveland Cavaliers host the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, hoping to keep their mini two-game winning streak in tact. Cleveland is back over .500 at 21-20 after finishing a West Coast trip with victories against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Chicago has been struggling recently, losing three of its previous four including a 107-99 decision with the Eastern Conference-best Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Cavaliers are favored by 3.5 points over Chicago, with an over/under of 204. Cleveland has been poor against the spread at Quicken Loans Arena, sporting a 7-13 mark. Tom Thibodeau’s team is solid against the spread away from home with an 11-9 record.

The Bulls are playing shorthanded with center Joakim Noah out with an ankle injury. While Noah is progressing and could be back later in January, Chicago is relying heavily on point guard Derrick Rose, swingman Jimmy Butler and power forward Pau Gasol. Gasol has proven to be one of the best free-agent signings from this offseason, averaging 18.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Gasol has been terrific in January, notching 22.7 points and 12.4 rebounds/game in 10 contests.

The Bulls are one of the most balanced teams in basketball, giving Gasol plenty of help from the perimeter. Rose’s knee has remained stable this season, missing only 11 games. Rose has been ablaze over the past two contests, amassing double-doubles against the Boston Celtics and Hawks. Rose was two rebounds shy of a triple-double versus Atlanta with a statline of 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in the loss.

Cleveland is bolstered by its trio of stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, things have been rocky for Love under head coach David Blatt. The Cavaliers traded No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the All-Star power forward, but the deal has been regrettable to this point. Love’s numbers have been considerably down in 2014-15, totaling 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds/game, his lowest marks since the 2009-10 and 2008-09 seasons, respectively.

With James in the lineup, Cleveland still looks like a contender if it can clean up defensive lapses. The Cavaliers are 1-8 without James playing and 20-12 with him. While neither record is living up to expectations, it could be a sign of better days ahead provided James can stay healthy, avoiding the knee and back issues which have plagued him this year. Sitting third in the Central Division behind both Chicago and the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland hopes to make a large second-half push for better playoff positioning.

Below are the other Eastern Conference games on Monday, with lines:

  • New Orleans Hornets (-7) at New York Knicks
  • Minnesota Timberwolves at Charlotte Hornets (-5)
  • Philadelphia 76ers at Washington Wizards (-14)
  • Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks (-8)
  • Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers (-12)
  • Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets (-10)
  • Toronto Raptors (-1) at Milwaukee Bucks
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