Pregame dribbles: Cavs, Bulls aim to fix issues on D

Tipoff: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, 7:30 p.m. EST.

Records: Cavaliers 21-20; Bulls 27-15.

TV: TNT. Radio: WTAM 1100, 100.7 WMMS, 87.7 FM La Mega, AM 1590 WAKR (Akron)

Projected Starters

Bulls: C Pau Gasol; PF Taj Gibson; SF Jimmy Butler; SG Kirk Hinrich; PG Derek Rose.

Cavaliers: C Timofey Mozgov; PF Kevin Love; SF LeBron James; SG J.R. Smith; PG Kyrie Irving.

Injury Report

Cavaliers: G Iman Shumpert (shoulder) out; C Anderson Varejao (Achilles) out.

Bulls: C Joakim Noah (ankle) out; G/F Mike Dunleavy (ankle) out.


1. The Bulls are my personal pick as the favorites to come out of the East, at the moment anyway. But they’ve really struggled defensively lately, and that’s shocking when consider the history of Tom Thibodeau-coached teams.

2. It probably won’t last. The Bulls will probably stabilize. But over the previous seven games, they’ve allowed opponents to score 103.1 points per game and shoot a sizzling 49.6 percent from the field. During that span, the Bulls are the worst defensive team in the league. And no, I can’t believe I typed that.

3. It’s a small sample size, and the reasons for the Bulls’ recent defensive struggles are many. There’s really no way to pinpoint what’s going on. It’s usually a collection of things — effort, intensity, and so on and so on.

4. Of course, the Cavs have had their own defensive issues all season. On the bright side for Cleveland fans, they’re able to score quite a bit, with no less than LeBron James leading the way. In the three games since returning from a knee/back strain, James is averaging a whopping 33.7 points per game. Now that, folks, is the LeBron everyone knows and loves.

5. Cavs coach David Blatt on the Cavs’ D: "We’re capable at that end. We just have to be consistent. We’re working on it. We put in some new looks defensively because of the new players. … Hopefully that will come to fruition now."

6. Actually, Blatt faults some of the issues on offense for the problems on defense. "The biggest issue for us has been points off turnovers," he said. "It speaks as much to the offensive side as the defensive side. Two things you gotta do: Turn the ball over less and scramble back defensively."

7. Help could be on the way in the form of defensive-minded swingman Iman Shumpert. The former Knicks guard is expected to make his Cavs debut by week’s end, according to Blatt. "It could be sooner," Blatt added.

8. Either way, as well as the Hawks, Raptors and Wizards are playing, most folks still expect the Cavs and Bulls to be the East’s Main Beasts once the playoffs roll around in April. "Both are teams everyone gets up for," Blatt said.

9. No matter, this is hardly a preview of what may be to come. Without Joakim Noah and even Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls aren’t quite the same. Side note: Rookie forward Doug McDermott (knee) has been activated. He has only appeared in 17 of the Bulls’ 42 games.