NBA Preview: Dion Waiters returns as Cleveland Cavaliers host San Antonio Spurs

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavaliers have faint playoff hopes still kindling. They get some help tonight.

The last time we saw Dion Waiters play basketball he was dunking on Spencer Hawes. Tonight, we hope to see them build some chemistry as teammates. Waiters has missed just over two weeks of action after he came down from the aforementioned dunk awkwardly. Fears of a torn ACL proved unfounded as Dion suffered a mere hyperextension.

He comes back not a moment too soon. The Cavaliers have gotten remarkable play from Kyrie Irving, remarkably competent play from Tristan Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and Tyler Zeller and ... not much else since Waiters went out. Jarrett Jack has had moments, and apparently isn't completely healthy, and Matthew Dellavedova is doing all he can, but the Cavaliers missing C.J. Miles and Waiters at the same time has been problematic.

Everyone knows the Cavaliers schedule gets tough, and everyone knows the playoffs are a tough goal. If Waiters is fresh and healthy, he helps the team.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (24-37)  vs. San Antonio Spurs (43-16)

When: 7:00 ET

Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio

Where can I watch? Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass

Music:

The Cavaliers continue to try and make their way back into the playoff race. They've played close to .500 ball since the new year, and injuries to Anderson Varejao, C.J. Miles and Dion Waiters couldn't keep them from finishing February with a winning record. A solid win at home against a Utah Jazz team playing decent basketball, and a tough loss against against a Memphis Grizzlies team playing great basketball on the road brings them to this crucial week. Home against the Spurs, traveling down to Charlotte to face the playoff hopeful Bobcats, and a trip back home against the reeling Knicks.

Go 2-1, and you stay hanging onto the playoff race by a thread. Find a way to go 3-0 and you have a really confident team looking to turn some heads for the rest of the year. But even if the Cavaliers don't make the playoffs this season, there are things to watch over the last 21 games heading into next season.

  • What is Tristan Thompson?

Does he come back with a more consistent jump shot next season? Is his passing something that is genuinely coming back, or is it still mostly a mirage? Will the Cavaliers invest in Spencer Hawes or another floor spacing center (Channing Frye?) over the summer to accommodate the fact that Tristan Thompson can't do it yet? The Cavaliers have the option to extend Thompson over the summer. They don't have to. They can let him play next year out and see what kind of market there is for him in restricted free agency. What might he be worth this summer?

Can he keep up his current play?

  • How will Dion Waiters look with Spencer Hawes? Waiters was already looking to pass a bit more heading into the All-Star break, it seemed. Hawes has seemed to help Irving, and there is no reason he can't do the same for Waiters.
  • Tyler Zeller! I'm genuinely a little alarmed that the Cavaliers apparently shopped him so hard at the deadline. He looks like a solid 3rd big and perhaps even a fringe starter. He can play with Hawes or Thompson. His rebounding has improved. It's been a really great year for a guy who started the year out of the rotation.
  • Can Anthony Bennett hold onto a rotation spot once Anderson Varejao comes back? I gotta admit, I love Varejao but don't like the idea of him taking minutes from any of our young bigs right now. Weird situation now that Hawes is on board.

The Spurs have had an up and down season by their standards, so of course they find themselves with a stranglehold on the 2nd seed of the loaded Western Conference. Seriously, everything I see on twitter about this team is negative. Kawhi Leonard didn't make a huge jump, Tony Parker has missed some time with injury. All they have to show for it is a team 4th in defensive efficiency and 8th in offensive efficiency. They are right in the thick of things to contend for another title with Tim Duncan. Amazing.

AND DON'T TELL ME IT'S BORING. Their offense moves with purpose and precision and they don't mess around. Everyone has a role and their culture is strong. The Cavaliers could use a little boring if that's what the Spurs are.

Fear the Sword's Fearless prediction: No clue. Cleveland have quietly been playing pretty well. I'm saying Cavs 96, Spurs 91.

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