The Cleveland Cavaliers have won six games in a row. It'd be really neat if they won seven. In their way stand the Brooklyn Nets, a team of crafty veterans and wily competitors with Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and Jarrett Jack thrown in the mix. They aren't a bad team, really, but that's pretty far from saying they are good.
The Cavs will be good. Sometimes, increasingly so, they are good right now. The team is fourth in offensive efficiency, and 15th in defensive efficiency. I'd guess that if you asked well-informed Cavs fans if they would take rankings like that on December 7th before the season, many would have taken them. LeBron James has been great but not transcendent, Kyrie Irving has been everything you'd hope, and Kevin Love is adjusting. The team is scoring, but there are obvious areas in which improvement can still come.
A date with the Nets provides another chance to take the temperature of this Cavs team, but it's also something a little more simple: an opportunity to enjoy a fun basketball team.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
When: 7:30 pm ET
Where: Barclays Center
Where on my eyeballs: Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass
The Brooklyn Nets have enjoyed relative health thus far this season, but that ends with Brook Lopez going down. A lower back injury will keep him out Monday night, and for the whole week. For a team in an interesting (charitable) spot moving forward due to a win-now mandate from their Russian oligarch owner that robbed them of short term financial flexibility and long-term draft assets, Lopez is a youngish, goodish basketball player that could hopefully help the Nets win, but perhaps bring back an asset or two should the team decide to blow it up.
So they need Lopez to be healthy and good. A back injury is less than ideal. Deron Williams has also struggled with health over the last couple years, but he's been fine this season. He's 30 and isn't the Chris Paul rival he once was, sadly, but he's strong and big and smart and still plays with an edge. He's paired in the backcourt with Joe Johnson, who might be one of the more underrated players in the league nowadays. Overpaid, you bet. But he adds real value as a two way player, and while I don't know how much of what it means to be clutch is based on silly narrative and how much is actually real, I don't want the ball in his hands in a late game situation where he has the chance to create and make a shot. I don't.
Jarrett Jack gets serious minutes, and it seems likely he will score 30 points because of course.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will continue to rely on their Big Three, and I have to believe David Blatt hopes the team can put this one away early. The Cavs have a brutal four games in five days stretch this week and managing minutes and finding productivity from the bench feels important. If the Cavs can put together a big lead heading into the game's final quarter, perhaps LeBron James and Kevin Love can get some rest.
And while we are on the subject of David Blatt, how about a word of praise. I've been critical of Blatt's rotations, both in their inconsistency and in their makeup. I've been critical of the choices he's made in terms of offensive focus. Anderson Varejao's offense is wonderful. I'd love to see it off the bench. Kevin Love's offense is wonderful. I want it accentuated from the high post and as a roll or pop man with James or Irving.
But Blatt is getting used to more games in more nights, and has never managed personalities and egos like this. We can't know how it's going yet, really, but the results have been fine. It seems like they are getting better and better. He's had a hand in that. He can probably get better and better as well. And that's good for the Cavs.
One more note: This is game 20, and it's the first game I've previewed. I just want to thank the staff for being awesome and getting us ready for these games. Go Cavs.
Fear the Sword's Fearless prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers 112, Brooklyn Nets 98.
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