Chicago at Cleveland
Time: 7:30 PM CT (ABC/ESPN)
Spread: CLE -11
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Chicago Bulls have won three-straight games, and the team made some major changes at the trade deadline in dealing Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to Oklahoma City in exchange for second-year guard Cameron Payne. Payne will be available tonight despite battling the flu, but the Bulls are 11-point underdogs against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Worthy of noting, however, is that Dwyane Wade has won 5 of the past 7 meetings against James. The game will air at 7:30 (Central) on ABC and ESPN, and it has an over/under of 215.5 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Chicago changes its look with the addition of Payne. It is expected that Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams initially still see the bulk of the minutes at point guard, but Payne is a major injection of talent that cost the Bulls heavily. He was a lottery pick out of mid-major NCAA program Murray State and brings finally a sharpshooter to the position for Chicago who already has a 6’6” versatile floor general in Carter-Williams.
One thing the Bulls have done is get younger and McDermott had been too inconsistent to be called a major loss. Nikola Mirotic, similarly, will hit free agency this offseason and the Bulls may look to move past him, as well. One caveat in all of this is that with the exodus of Gibson, young forward Bobby Portis is now receiving the starter’s minutes, and he has had high billing as a second-year year big man from Arkansas. Portis had nine points and even rebounds in 16 minutes in the win over Phoenix, but against Boston he shined with 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and a block.
Over his past five, Portis is averaging 10.8 points, 5/2 rebounds and 0.6 block/steals in just 17.6 minutes a night, a role which is sure to grow for the remainder of the season. The Bulls do not have a wealth of shooting and the roster problems are easily identifiable, but Wade will keep this team competitive aged though he is, and the younger players do play hard for whatsoever they may lack accordingly in experience. Carter-Williams was once a Rookie of the Year, and while the Bulls did sign Rondo on for a one-year rental, it will not be exceedingly long until the keys to the engine are handed off to the younger Bulls guards. Jerian Grant and Denzel Valentine also both factor into this as guys who could make strides with inevitable increases in playing time to come.
Cleveland has won four straight games to improve to 40-16 on the season, and it is doing it without starting power forward Kevin Love. Love missed the All-Star game due to the scoping of his knee and is expected to be out at least another month. It has required James to make even more herculean efforts, but the biggest benefactor has certainly been fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving. Irving is averaging 23.7 points and 6.7 assists over his past 10 games and he has had 22 or more in all five of the last Cavalier games while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor over that stretch. On the season, he is good for 24.4 points and six assists per game while posting a PER of 21.87.
James has seemingly been coasting, and even so, is putting up great numbers: 25.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.9 assists to go with 2.00 blocks/steals per game. The loss of Love hurts, as James is now seeing an average of 37.5 minutes per game. Will it take a toll on the 32-year-old’s body? Maybe. James played 37 minutes in the win over New York, but he is averaging just 15 field goal attempts per game and has been playing a huge role as a facilitator this season. The Cavaliers do not really need to worry so much about securing the East’s top seed, it will likely happen anyway, and if it does not, most would still favor Cleveland in a seven game series without homecourt advantage, over any other team in the Eastern Conference.