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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. New Orleans Pelicans: Game preview and how to watch

Spoiler alert: Zion is the story, as he should be.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers watched helplessly as Gary Trent Jr. and the Toronto Raptors put on one of the most spectacular and surreal shooting performances of the NBA season. It’s a good thing the New Orleans Pelicans don’t have a transcendent superstar who’s perfectly capable of replicating that, because they’re the Cavs’ opponent tonight, and it sure would suck for that to happen two nights in a row!

How to watch:

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go and NBA League Pass

Projected starters:

Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr. are still out, but with Kevin Love back in the lineup and Dean Wade shooting flames from deep, the Cavs have maintained some semblance of frontcourt stability in spite of extended bouts with injury/sickness.

Darius Garland came up limping during last night’s loss to the Raptors but is expected to play as of this writing. If that holds, the Cavs will run the starting five that has led them to two wins in the past three games.

On the Bayou side of the lineup card, Lonzo Ball is out with a hip injury. Naji Marshall will likely take his spot as he did in the Pels’ Friday-night win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cavaliers: Collin Sexton/Darius Garland/Isaac Okoro/Dean Wade/Kevin Love

Pelicans: Eric Bledsoe/Naji Marshall/Brandon Ingram/Zion Williamson/Steven Adams

Things to watch for:

  • A hole in the Pelicans’ backcourt. Sexton and Garland have combined for an average of 52 points over the Cavs’ last three games. New Orleans’ usual starting backcourt, comprised of two good, lengthy defenders in Lonzo Ball (6’9 wingspan) and Eric Bledsoe (6’8”) is tailor-made to put a muzzle on small, slippery guards like the Cavs’. But Ball is out, meaning either Sexton or Garland will have a mite more room to breathe than they might normally. Both, though, will have to limit turnovers — the last thing Zion Williamson needs is easy transition opportunities.
  • An opportunity for the rook. This year’s fifth-overall pick, Isaac Okoro, has said he enjoys the challenge of checking opponents’ best players. Here’s hoping he’s telling the truth, because Brandon Ingram can get buckets with the best of ‘em. But Ingram might not be completely himself; after missing a few games with injury, Ingram struggled in his return to action on Friday, scoring just 17 points on 5-21 shooting. There’s nothing really to be done against Williamson, but if Okoro can keep Ingram out of his rhythm for another game, the Cavs will have one fewer lethal scorer to worry about.
  • Zion Williamson...Zion Williamson. Before you proceed, be forewarned that this will not be a particularly analytical or insightful bullet point.

Zion Williamson is a monster. Zion can go over, around, and (emphasis on and, not or) through just about any Cavalier with ease. Zion is destroying defensive like no one else ever has. Zion was supposed to be in Space Jam: A New Legacy, but all the robot/monster/things they came up with were underwhelming compared to the real Zion. If Simone Biles and Cinderblock from Teen Titans had a kid, it would be about half as freakish as Zion. This is the second and final time these two teams will play this season. If Williamson throws down a 1080°-triple-backflip-between-the-legs dunk, be sure to soak in enough awe to last until next season.