Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers (-10.5, 203.5 o/u)
The Chicago Bulls (27-25, 11-15 Away) were supposed to be biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers (38-14, 22-4 Home) in the Eastern Conference. But as we enter the post-All-Star stretch run, the Bulls are just two games above .500, and the Cavs only challenge for the East comes from Toronto. Chicago will try to keep Cleveland from running away with the conference while helping their own cause this Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena (8:00 PM Eastern).
Perhaps no other team needed the All-Star break like Chicago. They had lost four straight and six of seven before All-Star weekend, including setbacks against unimpressive teams like the Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Hornets.
The Bulls have been ambushed by injuries lately. Jimmy Butler (knee) and Nikola Mirotic (appendix) are out indefinitely; Taj Gibson (foot) is day-to-day; and Joakim Noah (shoulder) is done for the season.
“It’s been difficult,’’ said head coach Fred Hoiberg to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Nobody feels sorry for us. And we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. You do that and teams pounce all over you. And it gets ugly. When you’re struggling a little bit, it is human nature when you get off to a slow start is to put your head down. We can’t afford to do that.’’
Due to the injuries – coupled with the high expectations for the team – Chicago has been one of the worst squads against the spread this season, posting a 19-33 ATS record, including 10-16 ATS away from home.
Cleveland is 11 games above Chicago in the standings and won three straight entering the All-Star break (over the Pelicans, Kings, and Lakers), running their record to 8-3 under new head coach Tyronn Lue.
Former head coach David Blatt was let go shortly after the Cavs were routed by the Warriors at home (132-98). Lue now has the responsibility of turning Cleveland into a team that can compete with Western Conference powers like Golden State and San Antonio. It’s a tall order, but the new coach says he isn’t feeling the heat just yet.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Lue told the LA Times. “All I know is that I can control what I can control, being prepared, being organized, holding guys accountable, trying to change the culture of this team and doing what I know is best.”
Both of the teams’ earlier matchups this season saw the Bulls emerge as the winner. Still, you have to like the Cavs in this one: they’re 4-2 in the last six home games against the Bulls, and 4-1 ATS in their last five games playing on three or more days’ rest. The Bulls, on the other hand, are 1-5 ATS in their last six road games.
Pick: Cavaliers (-10).
(Photo Credit: Erik Drost (Originally uploaded to Flickr.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].)
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