The Cleveland Cavaliers clinched a division title on Monday, eviscerating the Denver Nuggets 124-91 behind LeBron James's second triple-double of the season. I'd link to highlights, but you can just follow the Cavs on Twitter or Instagram to catch up, amirite?
The Cavs have now won nine of their last 12 and have their second consecutive Central Division title in hand. Having already clinched a top-4 seed, the Cavs now only have one obstacle remaining: home court in the East playoffs, something they need 12 wins or Raptors losses to clinch. The Cavs can continue the trek for that goal tonight against the 30-41 Milwaukee Bucks. Having gone through a very tough season already, the Bucks have lost three of four and are staring down games against the Cavs, Atlanta Hawks, and the red-hot Charlotte Hornets to end this week. But this won't necessarily be the easiest game for the Cavs, who have to answer to this man:
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 7:00 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio
TV Broadcast: Fox Sports Ohio
Enemy Blog: Brew Hoop
- The Cavs last played the Bucks on November 19th in a 115-100 win. That feels like a million years ago, so it's hard to really try to extrapolate any big time analysis from that game. However, one thing carries over: Giannis Antetokounmpo is terrifying, and he's going to be the hardest check for the Cavs tonight. Giannis had 33 points on 12-15 shooting in November, and he's been a monster lately, putting up 20.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game on 52.8 percent shooting in his last 10 contests. He's moved into more of the primary playmaking role with Michael Carter-Williams out with a hip injury, and while it hasn't led to more wins, he's been incredible, and could particularly present an issue for the Cavs' defense.
- Who the Cavs defend the three-headed monster of Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. All three have been pretty solid lately, and they will provide challenges for the Cavs' wings. I'd expect LeBron to take Middleton, as he's less likely to want to spend significant time on Giannis while he's at the point. J.R. Smith then is starting the game on Antetokounmpo, with Kyrie favorably matched up on Jerryd Bayless and Love guarding Jabari. It's not an ideal set up, even if it's what's expected, and that could burn the Cavs early, forcing them into an adjustment.
- We should stop for a second and talk about Bayless, who's been excellent as the shooting guard in the Bucks' new starting lineup, which has a net rating of +6.9 for the season. Bayless is kind of a punchline because he looks like baby Carlos Boozer and has never found a real home in the NBA. But he's been lightning this season for the Bucks, hitting 43.6 percent from three on nearly five attempts per game and supplying a near career-high 10.6 points per game. He may still be a complete loss defensively, but he's a legitimately effective player on one end of the floor, which is more than we can say about MCW this year. Kyrie might have a little more trouble than he anticipates dealing with Bayless.
- Expect Tristan Thompson to have a huge night. The Bucks are the worst team in the league at allowing opposing offensive rebounds, grabbing 72.6 percent of available rebounds on the defensive end. Part of this is because the Bucks run small a lot, with only Miles Plumlee, John Henson, or Greg Monroe to stay inside on defense. Tristan should eat all three alive, especially if the Cavs can create penetration with their guards to force one of the Bucks' bigs to step up to contest. If the Cavs go small, Thompson offers a huge advantage for the Cavs on the offensive end tonight.
- It'll be interesting to see if Timofey Mozgov can have another good game tonight, as well. He was actually not half bad against the Nuggets, posting nine points and four rebounds in a relatively mistake-free 21 minutes. The Bucks do what they can to attack the rim, and having Mozgov's presence there as a deterrent might be helpful. He has to offer some sort of pulse in the playoffs for the Cavs to have success, and getting going against a stretch of weak opponents would help. Hopefully,he can play well against Greg Monroe tonight.