Eventually, the losing will end. Right?
The Cleveland Cavaliers (10-21) will look to halt a 10-game losing streak Tuesday night as the middling Atlanta Hawks (13-17) come to town. Atlanta is fresh off a victory over the Denver Nuggets, who just a few nights ago downed the Cavs behind a 50-point barrage from Jamal Murray.
Cleveland is reeling, to say the least. After getting to a respectable 10-11, including back-to-back wins over the now mighty Brooklyn Nets, the Cavs have fallen to earth like a meteor. The defense, once the linchpin of a gritty Cleveland persona, has taken a 180-degree turn. The 117 points they gave up in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was the lowest amount surrendered on the losing streak – a dubious statistic that is somehow improvement.
The Hawks were a projected playoff team this season with the flurry of moves they made in the offseason. Trae Young is a budding star and there is a lot of offensive talent around him. The third-year man out of Oklahoma is eighth in the NBA in points per game at 26.9. Clint Capela is healthy and showing effectiveness in the paint. However, Atlanta will be without De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kris Young — two of the four major offseason acquisitions and one a second year forward. So, Atlanta is weathering the injury bug, too. Rajon Rondo is listed as questionable and may play tonight.
Once again, the Cavaliers will look to their young guards to lead the charge against a woeful Hawks defense. Darius Garland finished with 21 points and eight assists against the Thunder, while Collin Sexton poured in 27. Kevin Love has already been ruled out, further delaying a return to the court for the power forward-less Cavs. Which brings us to the one position that continues to confound – who plays the four? Can anyone? If Taurean Prince returns from injury, that would likely be the guy. If he can’t go, Cedi Osman will probably start as he did against the Thunder. Jarrett Allen will be starting at center and look to continue anchoring the middle.
Things to Watch for:
Guards and Defense
This matchup features two struggling defenses, with offenses powered by undersized guards. Trae Young is a maestro in the pick and roll and certainly has plenty of shooting range, but he is a turnstile defensively. Garland and Sexton are a little sounder defensively, but they are still going to have their hands full. That means Jarrett Allen and Clint Capela will have to be ready when their respective guard gets roasted and an opponent is hurtling toward the rim. This is what makes Isaac Okoro so important moving forward: he will be tasked with masking Garland and Sexton defensively.
Four is the Loneliest Number
Who will play the four for the Cavs? Can anyone? Cedi should definitely not be playing the four. Okoro should not either. Prince is undersized and not a great rebounder, in addition to coming off an ankle injury (if he is able to suit up). Dylan Windler figures to be able to play some minutes there, but he is shooting 30.4% from deep on the season and a paltry 22.2% from three in the last 10 games. He does have active hands and appears to put himself in good position, but his inability to stretch defenses right now is really hurting the Cavs. That leaves Lamar Stevens, who is actually useful, but not as a starter. Until Love comes back, and eventually Nance, it will be a revolving door of power forwards. Let’s hope someone steps up against Atlanta to keep the door from spinning quite as quickly.