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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks: game preview and how to watch

How good are the Cavs?

The Cleveland Cavaliers will play their 49th game of the season tonight as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavs were 14 games behind the Bucks 48 games into last season. Tonight, they are just a half game behind the reigning NBA champions.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (29-19) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (30-19)

Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse

When: 7:00 p.m.

TV: Bally Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass, Bally Sports App

Spread: Cavs +6.5

Opposing blog: Brew Hoop

Expected Cavs starting lineup: Darius Garland / Isaac Okoro / Dean Wade / Evan Mobley / Ed Davis

Cavs injury report: Jarrett Allen (QUESTIONABLE - illness), Lauri Markkanen (OUT - right ankle sprain), Ricky Rubio (OUT - ACL), Collin Sexton (OUT - meniscus), RJ Nembhard Jr. (OUT - G League)

Expected Bucks starting lineup: Jrue Holiday / George Hill / Khris Middleton / Giannis Antetokounmpo / Bobby Portis

Bucks injury report: Wesley Matthews (OUT - knee), Brook Lopez (OUT - back surgery), Grayson Allen (OUT - league suspension), Lindell Wigginton (OUT - health and safety), Giannis Antetokounmpo (PROBABLE - right knee soreness)

Three Things to Watch

Can Darius Garland get back on track? Garland has been in an outside shooting slump as he’s hit just 6 of his last 28 three point attempts (21.4%). This included going 1 for 6 from deep last game against the New York Knicks. Fortunately for the Cavs the one he did hit changed the outcome of the game.

The offense has looked rough throughout most of January and could look even worse tonight if Allen isn’t able to play. The Cavs will need the best version of Garland to keep the offense afloat. That best version includes taking and making off-the-dribble threes.

The Cavs have only played a healthy Bucks team once this season. They had a chance to win that game in the fourth but the offense sputtered down the stretch as Garland finished with 10 points on 3 of 12 shooting. Things could get ugly if they get that version of Garland again. Hopefully that late three-pointer against New York gets Garland out of his current slump.

Three-point shooting. The Bucks have given up the most three-point attempts in two of the last three seasons and are currently giving up a league high 41.4 attempts per game. Their defense is built around shutting down the paint, creating turnovers and forcing guys who you don’t want taking threes to take them.

The Cavs have plenty of guys who you don’t necessarily want to take threes but will take them in Isaac Okoro, Rajon Rondo and Lamar Stevens. The offense will need guys like that to be connecting on their outside shots if they want to keep pace with the Bucks.

A measuring stick game. You don’t want to play the reigning champs with potentially two starters out of the lineup. Unfortunately you don’t get to play who you want when you want.

The Cavs are a game and a half out of the top spot in the East, have the best point differential in the conference and have won 7 of their last 8. Cleveland is a contender on paper but there’s a big difference between being one on paper and being one on the court.

They aren’t a contender yet in my mind. I don’t think they have enough well rounded scoring and playmaking to make a legitimate run at the Conference Finals this season and that’s okay. They’re way ahead of schedule in many ways and have had terrible injury luck. But games like this are an opportunity for the Cavs to prove to themselves and others that they are for real. It’ll be interesting to see how they answer this kind of test tonight.

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