Cavaliers-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The slumping Chicago Bulls are coming off the worst shooting display in the NBA this season, but they posted the best effort in the league in 2012-13 during an earlier matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Chicago tries to bounce back from a forgettable performance Tuesday night as it opens a three-game homestand seeking a 12th consecutive win over a Cleveland team that will be without Kyrie Irving.

The Bulls (32-24), averaging 92.5 points to rank near the bottom of the NBA, have been limited to 87.6 per game during a 3-6 stretch. Things got especially ugly for Chicago in a 102-72 loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday.

Nate Robinson had 13 points and shot 2 of 14 as the Bulls were held to 29.06 percent from the field - their lowest mark in nine seasons and slightly worse than Charlotte's 29.11 effort versus the Thunder in November.

"It was bad tonight," Joakim Noah told the team's official website after scoring eight points and going 2 of 9 from the field. "We took steps backward. That's what's frustrating. There's really no excuse. We've just got to bounce back ASAP.

" ... It's not the time to feel sorry for ourselves. We've got a home stretch coming up and things move fast in this league. We've got to bounce back fast."

Chicago, which continues to play without Derrick Rose, is now expected to be without Taj Gibson for the next two weeks because of a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Bulls, however, could have Rose's replacement, Kirk Hinrich, back. Hinrich has missed 10 of 11 games due to a sore right elbow.

"We've got enough. We have to do our jobs. We've shown when we do that, we're capable of beating anyone," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to be mentally tougher, we have to be stronger. When you face a little bit of adversity with whatever, when you're short-handed, you have to dig down and get the job done."

Chicago has certainly taken care of business against Cleveland (18-38) of late. The Bulls have shot 50.5 percent and outscored the Cavaliers by an average of 17.8 points during their 11-game winning streak in the series.

Included in that run is a 115-86 road victory Nov. 2. Chicago went 44 for 69 from the field for the highest field-goal percentage (63.8) by any team this season.

Making matters worse for the Cavaliers is Irving has been ruled out Tuesday because of a knee injury.

Irving, sixth in the league with 23.3 points per game, has been instrumental to Cleveland's success, averaging 16.1 in its last nine losses, compared to 30.2 points in its past 11 wins.

Irving has scored 15 points in each of his two matchups with Chicago this season, going a combined 10 for 26 (38.5 percent) from the floor.

Cleveland posted back-to-back wins over New Orleans and Orlando before coming up short 109-105 at Miami on Sunday. The Cavaliers, who trailed by 22 in the third quarter, led by eight with under five minutes to go but couldn't hold on.

"You can't give up easy baskets," coach Byron Scott said. "We had a very good chance against a very good basketball team, the world champions, and we lost the game because of mental mistakes. That's just something that we can't have happen again."

Rookie Dion Waiters, averaging 18.5 points and 51.7 percent shooting over the last four games, scored a team-high 26. C.J. Miles made five 3-pointers and finished with 19 points off the bench.

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