LAST TIME OUT
Despite ending the game surrendering a 12-0 run at the Moda Center, the Cleveland Cavaliers (14-25, 4-17 away) stayed toe to toe with the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night following a back-to-back, which started with a close win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The 108-96 loss stung, but it was a sign that the Wine & Gold can play (almost) 48 minutes of organized, team basketball. A lot of this has to do with the acquisition of Luol Deng, who joined the Cavaliers at the start of the five-game trip out West. With one more game left on Cleveland’s road excursion, the Cavs have a chance to head back to the Q with a 3-2 mark.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Denver Nuggets
Record: 20-18 (11-8 home)
Tipoff: Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. – Pepsi Center
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: 98-88 Cavaliers win at Quicken Loans Arena – Dec. 4, 2013
Opponent’s Blog: Nugg Love
Nuggets: PF Darrell Arthur (GAME-TIME DECISION, groin), SF Danilo Gallinari (OUT, ACL), JaVale McGee (OUT, leg), SF Anthony Randolph (DAY-TO-DAY, ankle)
Nuggets Hot After Eight-Game Losing Streak Dating Back to Mid-December
The Denver Nuggets weren’t in a very good place earlier this season, and this all started around the time that the Cavaliers handled Denver at the Q in a fairly strong showing by the Wine & Gold. The loss to the Cavaliers in early December started what was a stretch of 14 games in which the Nuggets went 3-11, falling from an 11-7 start to the season and ending up at 14-17 by Jan. 1. Now, with Denver winning six of their last seven—including a very impressive win against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday—the Nuggets are now 20-18 and stand at ninth in the Western Conference. Because of the current rising state of the team, Cleveland will have an incredibly hard time coming out of this trip with a winning record. The travel time and the high altitude in Denver doesn’t help out the Wine & Gold, either.
Winning Rebounding Battle Will be Key to Victory
Over the past four games and with Deng in the starting lineup, the Cavaliers have been a much better rebounding team. Gaining the advantage on the boards will prove to be key if Cleveland wants to cool off the hot Nuggets, as Denver ranks fourth overall in the NBA in rebounds per game (46.2 RPG). Because of the drubbing that Cleveland was handed by the Kings in the second game of the road trip, the Cavaliers have had a rebounding differential of zero over the past four games, while averaging 41.8 rebounds. Taking out the Sacramento debacle, Cleveland has recorded a rebounding differential of +18, while averaging 45 rebounds over three of the four recent away games. But last time around against the Nuggets, Cleveland outrebounded Denver by a mark of 58(!!!)-43. This extremely impressive effort was fueled by a 21-rebound effort by Tristan Thompson, while Anderson Varejao added 13 boards off of the bench. Even though J.J. Hickson is coming off of a season-high 24-rebound performance against the Warriors, the Cavaliers have been a much better rebounding team with Andy in the starting lineup. Wild Thing has averaged 13.4 rebounds over the past 11 games as a starter for the Wine & Gold, including a franchise-record 25-rebound game against the Magic during that streak. So, like in most cases with the Cavs, Cleveland can vastly increase their odds of winning by first winning the battle on the boards.
Don’t Count on Another 20-Point Game From Deng
Luol will be matching up against Wilson Chandler on Friday night, which he did for nine games when Chandler was a Knick and for four games since Chandler was traded to the Nuggets. In this sample size of 13 games, Deng has averaged just a hair under 18 points, and has actually logged quite a few 20-plus-point games against Chandler. But I think the days of Deng being a consistent scorer—not to be confused with shooter—are starting to dwindle down. If you look at his shooting statistics against Chandler, they’re not anything to write home about, which has me thinking that Luol will put in more of a defensively minded performance, especially on the boards, against the Nuggets.
Sadly, I think the Cavaliers will fall to the Nuggets, thus ending their road trip with a record of 2-3. Denver has hit a pretty nice stride recently, and if they come out fast enough at home, this game could be decided pretty early. I don’t think that Cleveland will get blown out, but I do think they’ll have a shaky start to this one, which will doom them in the end.