Bulls-Cavaliers Preview

The Chicago Bulls’ gauntlet of an upcoming schedule began with a loss and doesn’t look to ease up anytime soon.

That includes a matchup with the resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers.

Chicago tries to avoid its fourth loss in five games Monday night when it faces the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Bulls (27-15) fell victim to red-hot Atlanta on Saturday, falling 107-99 at home despite 23 points and 10 assists from Derrick Rose.

The road from there only gets more challenging with Chicago’s upcoming slate featuring contests against reigning champion San Antonio, 28-win Dallas and NBA-leading Golden State.

A fully functional roster would certainly help matters for the Bulls, who have lost five of seven. Rose has averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 assists over his last four games, but Jimmy Butler has topped the 20-point mark just once since Jan. 7 and Joakim Noah remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

"If I had the answer, I swear I wish I could tell you," Rose told Chicago’s official site. "Once again, communication, trusting, and just the effort. It’s frustrating, very frustrating. We’ve got to get it together if we want to go far.

"We definitely got to learn how to get stops. We’re going to score enough points to win games, but our defense isn’t up to par."

The Bulls ranked in the upper half of the NBA with 98.8 points allowed per game through the season’s first 35 contests. In the last seven, however, Chicago has surrendered 103.1 points on a league-worst 49.6 field goal percentage.

Cleveland (21-20) meets Chicago at an opportune time considering the Cavaliers’ upward trend. After falling below .500 with a six-game losing streak, they made the most of a two-game stint in Los Angeles, beating the Lakers and Clippers on consecutive nights. The Cavaliers shot better than 46 percent in each win – something they had not accomplished since Dec. 23.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined for 69 points in Friday’s 126-121 win over the Clippers, leading Cleveland to its highest offensive output since Nov. 15.

"Communication between us and the coaches is getting a lot better," Irving said. "Just being out there and the coaches calling plays and me and LeBron seeing something out there and calling plays, and then we just got to go execute."

James has averaged 33.7 points on 52.3 percent shooting and 7.7 rebounds since returning from injury on Jan. 13. He experienced a similar level of success in Cleveland’s previous game with the Bulls this season, scoring 36 points in the Cavaliers’ 114-108 overtime road win on Oct. 31.

Chicago, however, has given James more trouble than most any other NBA team, defeating the four-time MVP in eight of their last 14 regular season meetings.

"They’ve put in a system over the years," James said of Chicago. "We have our system in place, but we’ve added a few new guys. We’ve had some injuries as well. We’re starting to pick it up and guys are starting to get healthy, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can become."

Kevin Love expects to return for Cleveland after he missed Friday’s contest with back spasms. Tristan Thompson filled in nicely for Love, scoring a season-high 24 points on 10 of 12 from the field with 12 rebounds in a rare start for the fourth-year forward.

The Bulls have won seven of eight in Cleveland.