Finally, it’s here — the end of the longest road trip of the Cavaliers’ season. The highlight of the trip was clearly Cleveland’s win last Sunday against the LeBron James-less Lakers, but it’s largely been a disaster of a trip. In losses to the Pelicans, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Jazz, the Cavs have lost by an average of 19.25 points. Against a Nuggets team that is second in the Western Conference and has the league’s fifth-best offense, per nba.com/stats, that trend is likely to continue.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (9-37) at Denver Nuggets (30-14)
When: 10:00 p.m. EST
Where: Pepsi Center — Denver, Colorado
TV: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League pass
Cavs status updates: Kevin Love (OUT - foot), Larry Nance Jr. (OUT - ankle), Tristan Thompson (TBD), John Henson (OUT - wrist), David Nwaba (OUT - ankle)
Nuggets status updates: Isaiah Thomas (OUT - hip), Jarred Vanderbilt (OUT - foot), Michael Porter Jr. (OUT - back), Will Barton (TBD - hip/core)
3 keys to the game
- What will the Cavs’ energy level be? Cleveland has been away from home since their Jan. 8 game against the Pacers and just played last night in Utah. Now, they are playing at altitude against a Nuggets team that has been off since playing at home on Thursday and benefits from teams playing at a higher elevation than they are used to. In short: If the Cavs want a shot at winning, they have to at least show up and have energy. And that’s not a given.
- How to deal with Nikola Jokic? Defending Jokic would be a challenge for the Cavs even if Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. were healthy because he’s really, really good. With Ante Zizic likely to start at center again and Channing Frye backing him, it’s an even harder task for the Cavs. Who, as a reminder, are the worst defense in the league by a full four points per 100 possessions headed into Saturday’s game. If Larry Drew and Mike Longabardi have something up their sleeves to do something different with this team and defend Jokic better, now is the time to try it out.
- Can the Cavs’ guards make enough shots? Against the Jazz, Collin Sexton shot 4-12, Alec Burks shot 3-11 and Rodney Hood shot 1-6. Jordan Clarkson was 4-13 off the bench, although he was 3-6 on three-point attempts. Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Payne and Cedi Osman deserve some credit for not being as bad, but so much of Cleveland’s offense is generated through the first four players on that list through pretty basic actions or isolation attempts. So if they don’t make shots, what hope do the Cavs have? (On a side note: Kevin Love coming back will not save the season, but it can’t make it any less fun to watch!)
Collin Sexton is going to have his hands full with Jamal Murray, and this may be one of the games he learns a lot from when he gets a chance to watch the film. While Murray is taking more shots than ever in the mid-range, per Cleaning the Glass, he is excellent everywhere on offense. And with Denver running an offense predicated on screens and motion, Sexton is going to have be better than he typically is at knowing when screens are coming and moving the right way. It is not hard to imagine him losing Murray on a set like this, especially if Zizic is the big guarding Jokic:
Murray also has a strong pull-up game — 31.8 percent on the year on pull-up three-pointers, per nba.com/stats — and gets his shot off quickly. This is the exact type of play Sexton isn’t good at reading yet:
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
This is probably going to be ugly. Nuggets 121, Cavs 99.