(SportsNetwork.com) - In what was supposed to be a foreshadowing of this season's Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers will do battle Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The two teams went into the season as favorites to meet for the right to go to the NBA Finals. However, as it often happens, things change.
The Bulls, for the most part, have done their part. They lead the Central Division by five games and would host a first-round playoff series if the season ended today.
The Cavs haven't quite done their part yet.
Cleveland has won two straight to get over .500. It's been a season of slow adjustments between LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, the rest of the roster, as well as head coach David Blatt.
There have been two major trades, and injuries as well, but James, who missed two weeks with knee and back ailments, is healthy. The Cavs are back home for four straight after a 2-3 western road trip.
After six consecutive losses, including three straight to start the trek, the Cavs swept their stay in Los Angeles. Cleveland first bested the Lakers by seven, then topped the Clippers by five.
Irving and James combined for 69 points and the Cavaliers went into Staples Center and beat the Clippers, 126-121, on Friday.
Irving scored a game-high 37 points, hitting 12-for-18 from the floor and five of his seven 3-point attempts. James continued his strong play since missing a career-high eight straight games, tallying 32 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Tristan Thompson filled in admirably for the injured Kevin Love, adding 24 points and 12 boards in the spot start. Love missed the game with back spasms and his status for Monday is to be determined.
"We're a good shooting team and tonight they went down for us," said Blatt. "We went through some tough times but we're staying together."
The Bulls have struggled a bit lately with losses in three of their last four and five of their last seven.
On Saturday, the Bulls fell at home to the Atlanta Hawks, 107-99.
Pau Gasol tallied 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Derrick Rose provided 23 points, 10 helpers and eight boards for Chicago. Jimmy Butler scored 15 points and Aaron Brooks chipped in 13 off the bench.
"Very frustrating, but got to get it together if we want to go far," Rose said.
The Hawks were up 48-39 at the break and 76-67 after three.
Taj Gibson's dunk pulled Chicago within 76-69 early in the fourth, but a Kyle Korver four-point play increased the cushion to 80-69 and the Bulls never got within less than five the rest of the way.
Center Joakim Noah will miss another game with a sprained ankle and Mike Dunleavy will also sit because of a foot injury. Rookie Doug McDermott is questionable after knee surgery.
The Cavs beat the Bulls by six in overtime on Halloween in Chicago, but the Bulls have taken three of the last five meetings. The Bulls have won seven of their last eight in Cleveland.