The Cleveland Cavaliers (9-9) host the red-hot Phoenix Suns (14-3) tonight in a matchup that’ll likely prove difficult for the young, depleted home team. The defending Western Conference champions arrive in Cleveland toting an impressive 13-game winning streak, while the Cavs are coming off a tough loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The Cavs have not registered a win since losing rookie big Evan Mobley to an elbow sprain on November 13, dropping their last four.
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse — Cleveland, Ohio
When: 7 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
Spread: Cavs +6.5
Opposing blog: Bright Side of the Sun
Expected Cavs starting lineup:
Ricky Rubio, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, Lauri Markkanen, Jarrett Allen
Cavs injury report:
Evan Mobley (OUT - sprained elbow), Collin Sexton (OUT - meniscus), Lamar Stevens (OUT - right ankle sprain), Darius Garland (QUESTIONABLE - neck strain), Cedi Osman (PROBABLE - back)
Expected Suns starting lineup:
Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton
Suns injury report:
Frank Kaminsky (OUT - knee), Dario Saric (OUT - knee), Abdel Nader (QUESTIONABLE - knee)
Three Things to watch
Cutting off the Head of the Snake
Phoenix is averaging 111 points per game (4th in the league), while the Cavs are averaging just a touch over 102. The Cavs have the ability to defend, and it all starts with the head of the snake – his name is Chris Paul, or CP3 for short. The Sun’s veteran point guard and future hall of famer is currently leading the league in total assists with 175, at a clip of 10.3 dimes per game. Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade have shown promise on the defensive end, and it will take a near perfect effort to fluster Paul enough to disrupt the Sun’s offensive flow.
Deandre Ayton is a problem. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick is averaging 16 PPG while pulling down a whopping 12 rebounds per game. Mikal Bridges – with his 83% conversion at the rim, coupled with his ability to stretch the floor (42% from long range) – will certainly wreak havoc on the Cavs’ young core. The Suns pulled down 44 rebounds in their victory to the Spurs on Monday, while the Cavs came down with 53 vs. the Nets – this kept things close through 3 quarters. If Cleveland has any chance of survival, it will be delivered via second-chance opportunities – particularly Allen and Love’s ability to rebound and the team’s capacity to convert on those opportunities.
Down several key players, the Cavs are simply running out of fuel down the stretch. Star guard Darius Garland is carrying quite the load averaging 39 minutes over that past 3 games. After getting nailed in the head on Monday, the Cavs would be wise to rest him tonight — but, who can play? It’s tough to watch a team struggle due to a lack of healthy bodies, but it is what it is. Cedi Osman, who has missed the last two games with back spasms, will be a welcome return to the Cavs’ bench unit tonight. Will J.B. Bickerstaff take this opportunity to bring Ricky Rubio back to the starting line-up and rest his leading scorer, or will the Cavs try and grind it out? There’s no denying the team will need 39+ minutes from Garland to have a fighting chance, but is it worth it tonight?