The clock is running out on the 2018-19 Cleveland Cavaliers, but the team is finding itself getting healthy — and peaking — in time for one real audition. It’s an audition for next year. What type of team should Koby Altman and Dan Gilbert put together? How many players should stay? What roles should go to which players?
Is Tristan Thompson a starter in the NBA? A starter without LeBron James?
Will Thompson, Jordan Clarkson and Kevin Love build trade value? Are they available?
Is Collin Sexton a point guard? What if a top-prospect point guard is available with the second or third pick?
How comfortable are they with Ante Zizic having a big role again next year?
Do they need to tank again (or maybe, tank for the first time)?
It would not be smart for the Cavs to try and get answers to all these questions over the next 10 games or so, or even for the period of time since Love returned to action. But there’s data to be collected, contextual clues to be considered. Would you be surprised if this Cavs team was brought back pretty much as is, with a couple first-round draft picks thrown into the mix? Would you be surprised if Thompson and Love were moved?
Everything seems to be on the table.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (19-54) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (54-19)
When: 4:30 p.m. EST
Where: Fiserv Forum — Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
Cavs status updates: Matthew Dellavedova (OUT — concussion), John Henson (OUT — wrist), J.R. Smith (Not with team)
Bucks status updates: Malcolm Brogdon (OUT — foot), Giannis Antetokounmpo (QUESTIONABLE — ankle), Nikola Mirotic (OUT — thumb), Pau Gasol (OUT — foot soreness) Donte Divincenzo (OUT - hell)
Cavs expected starting lineup: Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Ante Zizic
Bucks expected starting lineup: Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez
Three keys to the game
- Giannis is back. He didn’t play when the Cavs beat the Bucks last week, and he’s expected to be in action Sunday. That’s good news for paying customers who want to see one of the league’s best players. It’s good for those worried about lottery odds. It’s not good for those who want to see Cavs wins. James Harden is having an insane year and might win the MVP award, but it’s worth appreciating just how spectacular Antetokounmpo has been. He’s good enough that I was able to spell his last name right without having to double check to be sure. He may never get his shooting the level LeBron James did, but he impacts the game like only a few other players in the league. David Nwaba, Cedi Osman, whoever tries to guard him will have their work cut out.
- How will the Cavs’ era of good feelings handle an elite team? Cleveland will likely come ready to play. The team is overmatched, so it might not matter. But I’m curious to see how they deal with adversity. Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman have shown frustration with each other a couple times this season, but everyone seems like they’re in a good place. We’ll see how it holds up if they’re getting blown out.
- How does the Cavs’ length hold up against the Bucks? With Thompson, Larry Nance, Jr. and David Nwaba, the Cavs have some guys who are theoretically built to hang with an athletic, long Bucks team. If these guys play well, protect the rim, seal off the board and get lucky with a tough shooting night for the Bucks, maybe we’ll have a game. You never know when Kevin Love will play like a superstar, and he can help the Cavs hang around. I wouldn’t bank on it, but the Cavs have some helpful players now. We’ll see how it goes.
Fear the Sword’s fearless prediction
Pain. I can’t imagine the Bucks want to lose to the Cavs again, and I think they’d like to get to 60 wins. Bucks 116, Cavs 99.