1. Bucks at Cavaliers – Jan. 17 – ESPN
Last season, the series between these two ended in a split, but the Greek Freak only had one visit to Cleveland. That night, he scored 45 points in 40 minutes, but the rest of Milwaukee’s starters shot 42.4 percent from the field. Fortunately for the Cavs, Mitchell, Garland and Allen erupted, scoring 78 points combined and saving the night.
At full power, Milwaukee’s frontline is another difficult cover for Cleveland. Brook Lopez can hit threes and bully smaller players near the basket. Bobby Portis is a double-double machine off the bench. And there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, an option that devours double teams. Without serious strength added this offseason, Mobley and Allen could struggle in this battle.
Perhaps the Cavaliers can throw out a zone if there’s a moment Giannis and Khris Middleton are sitting because the two greatest threats to the middle will be off the floor, but the Bucks still have decent options to hurt this scheme.
To win this game, the guards can’t get contained by Holiday, Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton because they are the key to unlocking Mobley. Cleveland will have to attack Milwaukee’s bigs in drop coverage to force the help-side defense to abandon a Cavalier on the court or sit Portis or Lopez.
Caris LeVert could turn into an X-factor in this game, setting up his teammates to potentially attract Holiday’s attention to leave Spida or DG alone. This would also help the backcourt get loose with off-ball curls and split action.
In 2023-24, the Cavaliers have a lot to prove. Two of these matches will likely be played before Fan Voting for the next All-Star Game ends (ended on Jan. 21 last season), allowing some Cavs to make their case against the league’s best.