Beating the Hawks is one thing. But for the Cavaliers, beating the Nuggets — one of the best teams in the NBA so far this year — would be another. But maybe helps that Denver is on the second half of a back-to-back in this game that it won in the closing seconds against the Bulls.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (1-6) vs. Denver Nuggets (6-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena — Cleveland, Ohio
Enemy Blog: Denver Stiffs
TV: Fox Sports Ohio
Online: Fox Sports Go, NBA League Pass
Cavs injuries: Kevin Love (OUT — toe),
Nuggets injuries: Isaiah Thomas (OUT — right hip surgery), Jarred Vanderbilt (OUT - right foot surgery), Michael Porter Jr. (OUT — lower back surgery), Will Barton (OUT — right hip/core muscle surgery)
Three keys to the game
- Nikola Jokic is the heart of what the Nuggets do, and slowing him even a little bit would help. Be it Tristan Thompson or Larry Nance Jr., the Cavs’ bigs have to battle with Jokic in every facet of the game if they want any chance of winning. Thompson’s offensive rebounding should be particularly useful against Jokic, if only to make Jokic use extra energy on the second half of a back-to-back. It would also help if the Cavs stick to the more conservative defensive strategy they used in the second half against the Hawks instead of trying to switch almost everything. Miscommunication is death against precise and effective Nuggets offense built around Jokic’s passing.
- Rodney Hood has to keep taking, and making, three-pointers. Hood scored 26 points — his best total as a Cavalier — on Tuesday and made more than one three-pointer for the first time this season. A key change was his willingness to take catch-and-shoot three-pointers, as he has normally driven to the rim or pulled up for mid-range shots this season instead of pulling up when the ball is swung his way; three of his four makes against Atlanta came on catch-and-shoot looks. Considering the Cavs don’t have many capable shooters on the roster, especially with Kevin Love out, J.R. Smith in purgatory and Kyle Korver marginalized. Hood can be one, but only if he looks for the right shots.
- Protecting the rim is essential. Per Cleaning The Glass, the Nuggets are third in the league in percentage of shots taken at the rim and ninth in field goal percentage at the rim. So much of their offense comes on sets like this where Jokic passes and players cut all around him:
This is going to be a test for the Cavs and one they haven’t seen yet, at least at this level. So far this year, Cleveland has looked completely out of sorts of defense and have the second worst defensive rating in the league as of Wednesday night, per nba.com. In short: The Cavs are going to have to be better than they’ve indicated they are on defense if they want a shot at winning. And they cannot afford to look confused about where to be on the floor or communicate poorly.
Jokic vs. Thompson and Nance Jr. is essential. But what the Cavs do with Cedi Osman in this game also is going to be worth watching. It seems likely that he’ll be tracking Gary Harris, so it’ll be a good test for where he’s at as an aware, ball-denying defender at this point in his career. And on the other end, if Harris guards, Osman is going to have a shot at proving he can create with a high-level defender up in his grill. It likely won’t be Osman’s best game of the same, but it’ll be useful to see how Osman fairs against a player of Harris’ caliber for a large chunk of this game.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
Denver did play an overtime game against Chicago on Wednesday, so that should help the Cleveland some. But the Nuggets are really, really good and the Cavs just aren’t. Nuggets 120, Cavs 105.