(SportsNetwork.com) - The series everyone wants to see begins Monday night when LeBron James leads his Cleveland Cavaliers against the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavaliers and Bulls were expected to clash sometime during the playoffs. Before the season, most thought it would be in the conference finals, but the Atlanta Hawks ruined that.
Actually, the Boston Celtics did, too.
After the Cavaliers blew through the C's, Game 4 turned ugly and cost the Cavs big time. Kevin Love became tangled with Boston's Kelly Olynyk and with a sudden thrust, Love's left shoulder became dislocated and the All-Star forward underwent surgery. He will miss this series and four to six months.
"Really sad that we're going to be missing Kev for the playoffs," Cavs coach David Blatt said before practice Thursday. "Obviously he's a big part of our team. I'm sad for him because he was playing so well and so excited about his first playoff series, but at the same time, very determined for us to maintain our level and to continue to be ambitious about our goals."
Things actually got worse for Cleveland in Game 4. J.R. Smith took a wild, blind swing that connected with the face of Boston's Jae Crowder, which injured Crowder's knee. Smith has been suspended the first two games of this series.
The Cavs finished off the Celtics a week ago Sunday and got plenty of time to prepare for the Bulls.
"This is challenging for me," James said after practice Wednesday. "I have a lot of energy and I'm getting bored. I'm ready to play. I'm challenged for my patience."
The Bulls will present a bigger challenge than James' boredom.
Chicago needed six games to get past the upstart Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls closed out the Bucks in a 120-66 annihilation on Thursday night at the Bradley Center.
The close-out contest featured some ugliness as Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected for a very late flagrant foul on Mike Dunleavy. The Bulls forward wasn't a saint in Game 6 as he got tangled up twice with Michael Carter-Williams.
The Bulls survived and for the first time all season will have Dunleavy, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Jimmy Bradley in the starting lineup versus the Cavs.
Cleveland won the Central Division by three games over the Bulls, who missed every starter, except Gasol, for stretches this season. The Cavs won three of four regular-season meetings, including one in Chicago.
Rest could be an issue for the Bulls considering all the injuries they battled all season. They were up 3-0 on the Bucks, but gave away Game 4, then stumbled in Game 5 at home.
But Game 6 was an amazing performance, leading by over 50 points throughout the second half.
"The benefit is we understand what it takes to win playoff games better now," Gasol told the team's website. "We finally got off to a good start and set the tone really well. That's something we needed to do that didn't happen before throughout the series. Now we have to keep the same edge, the same intensity, the same mindset, the same approach we brought tonight to the next series."
Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Cleveland.