At long last, the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in The Land. At least, it feels like long last, what with a six-game road trip just ending, but somehow those six games were jam-packed into a nine-day sprint across the west and back. They may be home, but the only thing waiting for them is a Monday matinee against the third-place Brooklyn Nets.
One important note: Kevin Durant left the Nets’ game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night; he’s been diagnosed with a torn MCL and will likely miss several weeks. That’s a big swing, and it stings extra considering the Nets just got Kyrie Irving back.
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — Cleveland, Ohio
When: 3 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports App, NBA League Pass
Opposing blog: Nets Daily
Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland / Lamar Stevens / Lauri Markkanen / Evan Mobley / Jarrett Allen
Cavs injury report: Collin Sexton (OUT - meniscus), Ricky Rubio (OUT - torn ACL), Rajon Rondo (OUT - hamstring), Lamar Stevens (QUESTIONABLE - knee)
Expected Nets starting lineup: Patty Mills / Kyrie Irving / James Harden / Kessler Edwards / Day’Ron Sharpe
Nets injury report: Kevin Durant (OUT - MCL sprain), Joe Harris (OUT - ankle), Paul Millsap (OUT - personal), James Johnson (OUT - non-covid illness), Nic Claxton (QUESTIONABLE - ), LaMarcus Aldridge (PROBABLE - foot)
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
No foul play. One of the hallmarks of the Cavaliers’ defense is that they play clean. They commit the fewest personal fouls in the league (16.6 per game), which naturally breeds a top-two free throws against mark (17.8). (They’re also fifth in opponent free throw percentage—Moondog and Sir C.C. are every bit the defensive tandem Frobley is.) The Nets take the eighth-most free throws per game and top the league in percentage (82.5). Most of those attempts come either from Durant (7.2) or Harden (8.1). And even though the Nets just lost Durant, Harden is more than capable of picking up his foul-drawing slack. Allen and Mobley only average around 2 fouls apiece; they’ve proven they can keep it clean in the paint. Now the Cavs have to keep up on the perimeter.
A rising star vs. a familiar face. A few weeks ago, the Nets acquiesced to Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get the Covid vaccine and brought him on as a traveling part-timer. Irving’s numbers through three games won’t melt your mind, but there might not be a fanbase that knows how dangerous Irving can be than the Cavs’. But this year, a worthy adversary roams his old stomping grounds in Darius Garland—who, in case you missed it, might’ve played the best game of his career on Saturday night. These are two of the best ball handlers in the league, and both are liable to catch fire before they get out of bed in the morning. It should be a fun one.
Cardiac Cavs. Here’s the thing about Saturday night’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder: It is outrageous that the Cavs won. The Cavs were down by 18 midway through the third quarter, playing their sixth game in nine days, all of which came not only on the road but all the way across the country on the west coast, and the J.B. Bickerstaff only gave seven players more than 13 minutes of run. That’s incredible resilience, and the fact that they managed to eke out a win in such grim circumstances should keep you from changing the channel in the case of a blowout. If there’s a concern, it’s the short rotation: the Cavs had yesterday off, but with how few players have been seeing regular run this season, you have to hope that was enough to get their legs back under them.
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