THE DETAILS: Cavaliers at Bulls, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, United Center. Fred McLeod and Austin Carr have the call for Fox Sports Ohio.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Cavaliers have home home-court advantage clinched and are biding their time, but this one is interesting because the Bulls (37-40) enter the game just a half-game behind Toronto in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and the right to play the Cavaliers beginning next weekend in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls need to pass the Raptors to win the spot as Toronto would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.
THE SERIES: The Cavaliers are 2-1 against the Bulls this year and won in Chicago, 92-85, just three weeks ago as LeBron James had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. That game was played with Bulls leading scorer Derrick Rose as well as young forwards Luol Deng and Joakim Noah out injured, though, and all three are back. The Bulls won, 86-85, in Cleveland on Nov. 5. The Cavs won, 101-87, a month later.
HEALING UP: The Cavaliers will play without Delonte West (back) and Daniel Gibson (foot), leaving LeBron James and Mo Williams as the only two ballhandlers unless team doctors clear Sebastian Telfair (groin) to make his Cavaliers debut. Mike Brown probably intends to have his starters play fewer minutes than they usually would, but he likely won’t commit to any starting lineup changes or rotation changes until close to game time tonight.
FINAL COUNTDOWN: The Bulls’ remaining schedule after tonight is at New Jersey, at Toronto Sunday, vs. Boston and at Charlotte. The Cavaliers’ only other game of significance in building the playoff bracket is next Wednesday’s finale in Atlanta. The Hawks and Celtics are tied for the third spot.
GO-TO GUY: Rose is one of only four NBA players — James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul are the others — averaging 20 points, 6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. The Bulls are 6-3 since Rose, a first-time all-star, returned from missing four games due to a sprained left wrist.
NOTES: Kevin Durant moved in front of James by the slightest of margins, 29.9 per game to 29.7, in the race for the NBA scoring title with his performances the last two nights…The Bulls are the NBA’s best rebounding team at 44.4 per game. They’re 29-11 on the year when they win the battle on the boards…The Cavaliers don’t expect Shaquille O’Neal to be cleared to play until Wednesday’s finale at the earliest.