Cleveland (30-6) at Chicago (17-22)

Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 58° F
  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Thu Jan 15, 2009
  • TV: TNT
Preview | Box Score | Recap

LeBron James has torched the Chicago Bulls in recent years, including a pair of 41-point performances earlier this season.

In their latest meeting, the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar decided to let his teammates do the majority of the work.

James earned his second triple-double of the season in Cleveland’s latest win, and on Thursday he’ll face the team against which he compiled his first as the visiting Cavaliers look to complete a season sweep of the Bulls.

James chose his No. 23 because of his admiration for Michael Jordan growing up, and when he’s faced Chicago, he’s often done just what Jordan used to do to Cleveland - score at will.

The NBA’s reigning scoring champion had averaged 37.7 points in his last seven games against the Bulls heading into a meeting at Quicken Loans Arena earlier this month. He scored 41 points just four days apart in early November as the league-leading Cavaliers (30-6) beat Chicago twice.

In Cleveland’s first game of the new year, though, James didn’t need anywhere near the 29 shots he hoisted during a 106-97 win at the United Center on Nov. 8. Instead, he took just eight shots, finishing with 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds—his first triple-double of the season—in a 117-92 blowout.

“You have to put so much attention on LeBron,” Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said. “There’s probably nothing he hasn’t seen. When you double team him, he’s such a good passer, he gets everyone else involved.”

Four games later, he had another - the 19th of his illustrious career. This time, with starter Ben Wallace out in addition to injured center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James took a more offensive approach.

He had 30 points—17 in the third quarter—and added 11 rebounds and 10 assists as the Cavaliers won 102-87 at Memphis on Tuesday.

“I had no idea,” James said of his latest triple-double. “The first time I knew was when I got the stat sheet. I’m just out there playing. Two of our guys are out so everyone had to step up, including myself.”

Wallace, a former Bull, is questionable for Thursday’s game, and Ilgauskas is expected to miss another two weeks with a small fracture in his left ankle.

The Bulls (17-22), however, will need to pay closer attention to Ilgauskas’ replacement, Anderson Varejao. The fifth-year big man is averaging 14.2 points since Ilgauskas went down, and had a career-high 26 against Chicago on Jan. 2.

While Cleveland’s been dealing with a pair of injuries, the Bulls are getting back to full health. On Monday against Portland, Luol Deng returned after missing eight games and Kirk Hinrich was back after being out for more than two months, but neither made a difference in Chicago’s 109-95 loss.

Both made big contributions on Wednesday in Toronto, however. Deng, back in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 26, had 16 points and 14 rebounds, while Hinrich had 12 points and six assists in a 102-98 comeback win over the Raptors.

Derrick Rose, though, was the difference. The top overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft had 25 points - 17 in the come-from-behind fourth - and 10 assists, his sixth double-double.

“He was feeling it,” Deng said about Rose. “Just give him the ball and get out of the way.”

Rose will try to bounce back from a poor effort in his last game against Cleveland. He scored a season-low three points in the 25-point loss on Jan. 2.

Bulls leading scorer Ben Gordon is averaging 27.3 points on 54.9 percent shooting in the three losses to the Cavaliers.

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Thursday, Jan 15