The Cleveland Cavaliers will return to action tonight, rolling into a battle with the San Antonio Spurs in Texas. This will be the fifth road game for the Cavs in six, and it is also the last game the Cavs will play against a Western Conference opponent. Things should ease up after this, with two games off before a road national TV game against the Bulls. The end of this stretch of the schedule cannot come soon enough for Cleveland. Here’s a recap since March 1:
- 11 road games to just four home ones, including a back-to-back in L.A. and the altitude game at Denver
- A three-game losing streak from March 4th-9th, featuring a blowout loss to the Heat in a resting game, Andrew Bogut signing and then getting hurt, and a 4th quarter comeback by the Pistons
- Another resting game against the Clippers, which happened to be on national TV and caused a lot of huffy yelling from people paid to have sports opinions
- A defensive rating of 115.0 since March 1st, which is rather poor
- An overall record of 6-8 that is a few key possessions against the Hawks and Lakers from being 4-10
March came extremely fast at the Cavs, that’s for certain. Does it matter as we near the playoffs? Can the Cavs “flip the switch” for a third straight year from autopilot to death machine? No one can say for sure. After all, the Cavs haven’t traded for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, or fired a coach this season, so it may be hopeless to motivate the squad at this juncture. Or, maybe it’s fine! Anyway, the Cavs play a team that’s 56-16 on their home court tonight, so expect more March Badness.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs
When: 8 p.m.
Where: AT&T Center - San Antonio, Texas
Where on the corneas? TNT
The last matchup between these two teams was one of the more fun battles the Cavs have been in this year, a 118-115 overtime victory on January 22nd for the Spurs in Cleveland. The Cavs played well, with Kyrie Irving leading the way with 29 points and nine assists, but they were eventually done in by the Spurs’ bench depth, as Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson played key roles in San Antonio runs to set up a dominant Kawhi Leonard performance (14 of 41 total points in the fourth quarter) to help San Antonio pick up an overtime win.
The Cavs can tangle with the Spurs’ starters, especially with Kevin Love healthy, as he demands the attention of either LaMarcus Aldridge or Dewayne Dedmon away from the basket. That opens up driving lanes for Irving and LeBron James, and to an extent J.R. Smith, who will likely get chances to burn a rapidly aging Tony Parker. It’s when the Spurs’ bench gets involved that things will go sideways - the two-man pairing of Pau Gasol and David Lee can play Channing Frye off the floor, Jonathan Simmons is a capable LeBron defender, and Patty Mills will create issues initiating against the Cavs’ lackadaisical perimeter D. The Spurs, by virtue of going 10 deep with crafty veterans and hustle guys, are going to be consistently fresh, something the Cavs probably aren’t going to be happy to have to deal with.
The continued strain on Tristan Thompson is going to be interesting to follow tonight. Thompson’s looked to be feeling the miles of his consecutive games streak lately, and he’ll get a steady diet of pick-and-roll defense and battles with Gasol and Lee on the glass tonight. The Spurs love to attack the basket, as this year’s iteration is slightly more drive and less kick than usual. They take only 23.4 threes per game, instead preferring to let Leonard and Aldridge initiate and try to create looks at the rim off drives and cuts. That creates constant stress for Thompson, who will be spending time defending LMA and Dedmon through these high PNRs.
But don’t worry - the Spurs are also the best three-point shooting team in the league, meaning the attempts they likely will get through drive-and-kick will probably be falling. Lovely.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction: There’s little about the recent play of both of these teams to inspire confidence in the Cavs. The Spurs are trying to catch the Warriors, while the Cavs are trying to define the real world meaning of simulating to the end of the season. This is the Cavs’ biggest opponent since the Rockets game, so maybe they show up a little more than usual? Or they could not. I’d bet on not. Cavs 104, Spurs 112, for the month and day of the last game of this charade called the Cavs’ 16-17 regular season.