How the Cleveland Cavaliers' defense will propel them past the Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers
Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland Cavaliers / Ron Schwane/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers' red-hot start on offense may have played a key role in building a 19-point lead over the Chicago Bulls by the end of the first quarter. Still, it would ultimately be the Cavs' defense that kept Cleveland's recent winning streak alive with a 109-91 victory over Chicago at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Monday.

A stifling Cavs defense held the Bulls to 14 points and a 31.3 field-goal percentage in the fourth quarter. Cleveland continuously found ways to contain fast break opportunities and put plenty of pressure on Chicago's scoring options in the half-court, limiting guard Coby White and center Nikola Vucevic to one make of their four tries in the fourth quarter apiece. Cleveland must continue to get stops when the team needs it the most to prove the Cavs can roll with the best of them and continue their rise in the Eastern Conference.

"Right now, we're really getting timely stops when we need it," Cavs guard Caris LeVert said in a post-game media conference. "I think the really good teams do that."

Defense will be the catalyst to prolong Clevel win streak

The Cavs must continue to unlock their potential on the defensive end to take a much-needed win over a Milwaukee Bucks squad fresh off an overtime victory against the Sacramento Kings.

The Bucks defeated the Kings, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors on their way to recovering from a short cold streak to start the new year. Milwaukee currently ranks second in the East with a record of 28-12 and an away record of 9-8. It will be the Bucks' second matchup of the season in Cleveland before they face the Cavs twice on Milwaukee's home floor later this month.

Cleveland's defense will be tested by a potent Milwaukee offense. The Bucks are in second place in the NBA with an average of 125 points per game and in third with a 50.2 field-goal percentage this season. The Bucks have scored an average of almost 131 points per contest in their last four matchups, including a 135-point performance in a home win over the Celtics. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a Bucks-leading 31.2 points per game this season, is in ninth place in the league with a 60.8 field goal percentage. If Cleveland's defense is legit, this game will prove it.

Antetokounmpo and guard Damian Lillard headlined Milwaukee's late-December win over Cleveland in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The duo combined for 65 of the Bucks' 119 total points. They hit 23 of their 38 tries from the field and 17 of their 18 attempts from the free-throw line. Antetokounmpo continuously found ways to score in the paint as he drove inside and cut off the ball against Cleveland's interior defenders. The two-time MVP added 16 rebounds (two on offense) while dishing five assists and grabbing one steal.

""I think they were extremely physical to start with on both ends of the floor. They did a really good job at denying us all over the ball, over the floor and being physical with us. Offensively, you can see they had their mind made up that they were just going to attack our paint and put a ton of pressure on us. I think it took us just a minute to get our feet back.""

Cavs Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Bucks

Cleveland's versatility on defense has played a large part in nearly bringing the Cavs back to their defensive standards from last season. They sport a defensive rating of 111.7 this season, and it has only gotten better in recent games. The figure puts them ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat for sixth place in the league.

Cleveland leads the NBA with an average of 99.8 opponent points per game and is in third place with a 43.6 opponent field-goal percentage over their last five games. The Cavs have limited teams to 91 points or less in two games of their five-game win streak, including a 24-point win over the Washington Wizards that saw Cleveland limit Washington to 30 percent from the three-point line. LeVert, who ended Monday's win over Chicago with 16 points and seven assists, highlighted the team's versatile defenders in a January post-game conference.

"I think we just have bigger wing defenders," LeVert said. "We have the ability to switch. We have the ability to play zone if we need to. We're just very versatile."

The Cavs will tip off against the Bucks at 7:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and Bally Sports Ohio.

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