Normally, being able to say you're going to watch a game featuring LeBron James and Kevin Durant that also features Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook holds more than enough intrigue. Today's matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, has a bit more.
Today marks Dion Waiters' first game back in Cleveland since the Cavaliers traded him as part of a deal that netted them J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Waiters, whom the Cavaliers selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, spent two and a half enigmatic years with the Cavs before being traded to the Thunder. More on him in a bit.
What: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
Television Information: ABC
Music: Dreams and Nightmares (Intro) - Meek Mill
Waiters has been sort of a mixed bag with Oklahoma City. Before the trade, Waiters played 33 games with the Cavaliers - three of which were starts - and averaged 10.5 points per game while shooting just a little over 40 percent from the field. In his eight games with the Thunder, Waiters is averaging 11.4 points per game in 28 minutes per game off the bench, but he's only shooting 39.8 percent from the field. Overall, his shooting stats are down across the board, but he's also had some really strong games with the Thunder, including an 8-16 performance vs. the Golden State Warriors.
His return comes at an interesting time as well. The Cavs have won five straight and Smith, a player not all that dissimilar from Waiters, has been a big part of that. At the same time, Waiters is saying all the right things in his return and odds are his play isn't really the deciding factor in the game. But when he checks into the game for the first time, it'll be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to Waiters and how Waiters handles what will surely be a somewhat awkward moment.
The first game between these teams doesn't matter all that much in analyzing this game. For one, the Cavaliers are using a different rotation than the last times these two teams met. As noted above, Waiters was with the Cavs and Cleveland also didn't have Timofey Mozgov in the middle. Oh and a certain guy by the name of LeBron James didn't play.
If these two teams did ultimately did meet in the Finals - which looks far less likely than it did at the start of the year mind you - this game figures to be a far better representation of how these two teams match up. Some improvements could be made on both sides, but both teams are relatively healthy and relatively complete roster wise. That could mean a high level, back and forth game that goes down to the wire.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
The Thunder are still sorting some things out with Durant back while the Cavs are really clicking. But the Thunder have some ways to sort of nullify the things the Cavs do well and, paired with the elite talents on both sides, make this game close. I'll take the Cavs 101, Thunder 97 in a game decided in the last two minutes.