Cavaliers Preview: Darius Garland takes on De'Aaron Fox in star-studded battle

Darius Garland vs De'Aaron Fox
Darius Garland vs De'Aaron Fox / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

Tonight, Fox and the Kings take on Garland and the Cavaliers in a matchup of playoff hopefuls and young up-and-coming point guards.

Last season, the Sacramento Kings and the Cleveland Cavaliers were two of the biggest surprises in the league as they each shot up the standings to grab a top-five seed in their respective conferences.

Regardless of their regular season heroics, both teams were upset in round one. The Cavaliers lost to Jalen Brunson and the Knicks in five games, and the Kings lost in seven games to Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. As on-court leaders and facilitators, De'Aaron Fox and Darius Garland want to take the next step to get their respective teams back to the playoffs in hopes of making a deeper run.

The game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse is the second and final game of the intraconference series. On November 13, 2023, the Kings defeated the visiting Cavaliers 132-120 at the Golden 1 Center Sacramento. Garland had 16 points, and Donovan Mitchell was the Cavs' leading scorer with 22 points. Fox led everyone in scoring with 28 points. The Kings also got 23 points from Domantas Sabonis, 25 from Keegan Murray and 20 from Kevin Huerter. 

Amid their five-game win streak, the Cavaliers are looking to right the ship and tie the regular season series on their journey toward playoffs.

An up-and-down recent history between Cavaliers and Kings

Last season when the Kings came to RMFH, Sacramento came away with a 106-95 victory. The Cavaliers led 95-87 following a layup from Cedi Osman with 4:50 remaining. The Kings then went on a 19-0 run to help them close out the Cavaliers.

Sacramento swept the regular season series against Cleveland since the Kings also defeated the Cavaliers 127-120 in Sacramento on November 9. The last time the Cavs got a win against the Kings was back on January 10, 2022, 109-108 in Sacramento.

In the 2021-22 season, Cleveland swept the series against Sacramento with a 117-103 win in Cleveland on December 11, 2021 before the aforementioned January victory. Since they are in different conferences, they only play each other twice a season, halting either team from building serious rapport with the other.

Wins have been a bit of a rarity for the Cleveland Cavaliers when they have gone against the Kings over the past few seasons, even in the Kings' down years. Over their last 10 games, the Cavaliers are 9-1 and have won five in a row while the Kings are 6-4 with a two-game winstreak heading into Monday night’s night showdown.

Monday will also be the Cavs' first game at home following a quick two-game weekend road trip in Memphis and San Antonio. Even though it was only a two-game trip, the first home game following a road trip is always more challenging because teams have to reorient and readjust to the local time zone. The game in Cleveland will be the seventh and final game of a seven-game road trip for Sacramento that took them to Golden State, Dallas, Memphis, Miami, Indiana, Chicago and now Cleveland. The final game in an extended road trip tends to be one of the most challenging, making tonight's game more compelling.

The battle of star guards

Additonally, the two up-and-coming teams could turn into serious playoff contenders with a strong stretch in the latter half of the season. Also, the game will feature a battle of young hybrid guards who have the potential to be the difference makers in De'Aaron Fox and Darius Garland. 

Following a severe jaw injury suffered at the hands of Kristaps Porzingas in Boston on December 14, Darius Garland missed 19 games. Upon his return, the Cavs' core is finally healthy. Garland got relatively easy matchups in his first three games back from injury as he went against the Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies (without Ja Morant) and the San Antonio Spurs. But, the competition will get amped up when Fox and the Kings enter the FieldHouse. 

So far this season, Fox is averaging 27.5 points per game as his team’s leader while Garland is averaging 19.4 points per game, second only to All-Star Donovan Mitchell's 28.2.

In the Kings' November win over Cleveland, marking former Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown's 400th career victory. Fox made his return from an ankle injury that kept him out for two weeks and gave the Kings an efficient 28 points. Looking at Fox and Garland, they are extremely similar stylistically; it is almost like they are looking into a mirror at times. The similar qualities and skills of the two guards set the stage for a tremendous night.

They both can make a quick move and get to the basket for an easy layup or stop on a dime to hit the mid-range shot. They both can step beyond the three-point line with consistent production. They both love to work in the pick-and-roll with their respective big men, Domantas Sabonis and Jarrett Allen. Oftentimes, Fox and Garland get to the basket so easily through the usage of the pick-and-roll.

In Sacramento’s 133-122 victory against the Pacers in Indy on Friday night, Fox scored 25 points, and Sabonis had 26 points. In the next game in Chicago against the Bulls, the Kings walked out of the United Center with a 123-115 win behind Fox's 41 points. At the same time, the Cavaliers were down in San Antonio taking on Wemby and the Spurs. After the final buzzer sounded, the Cavs won against the Spurs 117-101. In the win, Garland had four points in his third game since his return.

Given the kind of performances Fox and Garland are capable of posting, it makes sense that they are the center of attention heading into what could be a sneaky NBA Finals preview if both squads can come together at the right time and prove themselves in the postseason.

Both teams are surging right now, having won a combined seven in a row as they both sit within striking distance of the top team in their respective divisions. The Cavs (31-16) are one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks (33-16) in the Central Division and the Kings (29-19) are three-and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers (32-15) in the Pacific Division. But, to make noise in the playoffs, both teams need sustained greatness from their young hybrid guards.

The matchup between De’Aaron Fox and Darius Garland will take center stage. The performances of each guard could be the deciding factor in the contest. The Cavs and Kings will tip off at 7:00 pm Eastern Time.

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