The Cleveland Cavaliers (18-13) are riding a strange wave at the moment. Despite being down their three best players Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, and Evan Mobley, they keep finding ways to win. Their previous game against the Dallas Mavericks proved that despite being injured, they are still a tough out. Tonight against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks (23-8), that mettle will be tested yet again.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Milwaukee Bucks
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland, OH
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Wisconsin, NBA TV
Expected Cavs Starting Lineup:
Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Max Strus, Dean Wade, Jarrett Allen
Cavs Injury Report: Donovan Mitchell (illness, QUESTIONABLE), Darius Garland (jaw, OUT) Evan Mobley (knee, OUT), Ricky Rubio (personal, OUT), Ty Jerome (ankle, OUT), Sam Merrill (wrist, DOUBTFUL)
Expected Bucks Starting Lineup:
Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Bucks Injury Report: Jae Crowder (adductor, OUT), TyTy Washington (G League, OUT), Marques Bolden (G League, OUT)
What to Watch for
Against the Dallas Mavericks in the first half, the Cavs appeared outmatched on the offensive end. Luka Doncic had his way with 29 points in the first half, finding open shooters in the corners and orchestrating the offense to near perfection. Cleveland put the clamps down in the second half by putting Jarrett Allen on Doncic, but the point remains that the Cavs appeared to not have enough horses to keep up. That was proven to be incorrect on their road to victory.
The mechanism to get Cleveland back into the game, however, was led by the defense. Doncic was mostly neutralized and the Cavs played forced turnovers and contested shots. That will be exceedingly more difficult to replicate against the Bucks who tout not one but two of the most dominant offensive players at their position in the league. Somehow clamp down Giannis Antetokounmpo in the paint? Good luck guarding Damian Lillard. Manage to force Lillard into bad shots? A pick-and-roll with him and Giannis is pretty tough to guard for even the best defenses in the league.
Even if Donovan Mitchell can play, the pathway to another improbable victory will fall on the shoulders of the bench. That means Caris LeVert, Craig Porter Jr, Georges Niang, and Max Strus will have to step up - especially on offense. Milwaukee has scored no less than 118 points in their last 12 games, going 10-2 in those contests. They average 125.2 points per game, second-best in the NBA, while Cleveland is 23rd in the league (112.1 points per game). Keeping up with the Bucks will be challenging for the injured Cavs.
Isaac Okoro’s Shooting
Don’t look now, but Isaac Okoro seems to have found a rhythm on the offensive end. He looks considerably more comfortable shooting, whether it be quickly or jab-stepping his way to a sliver of space. And what does that do? It makes defenders flinch, even for a second, and sometimes open up a lane to the rim - which Okoro did a few times against the Mavs.
More Craig Porter?
The Cavs having to rely on an undrafted rookie point guard to play meaningful minutes sounds scary, but they have not only survived but thrived in just that scenario. Even with Mitchell close to returning, CPJ will still need to have a considerable role on the offensive end. Even if that is nothing more than to take a bit of playmaking off the shoulders of Mitchell, it is clear that Porter is capable of not killing the offense. Against the Mavs, CPJ was all over the place with 12 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. It is hard to keep a player like him off the floor.
Offensively, while he isn't a shooter, he is a fearless rim-pressure guy who just absorbs contact and goes right back to it.
One Stat to Watch For
It isn't a stretch to say that the Cavs beat the Mavericks by slowing things down to their pace and forcing the issue on the defensive end. Cleveland will have to do that again if they want a chance to win, but there is another aspect of the game in Dallas that played an enormous impact: rebounding.
The Cavs destroyed Dallas on the glass. They had 20 more rebounds overall and 11 more offensive boards despite being down one of their starting big men in Mobley. Allen was a one-man wrecking crew with 23 rebounds, nine of which were of the offensive variety. Milwaukee is a better rebounding team (9th in the NBA) than Dallas (24th in the NBA), but they aren't a particularly good offensive rebounding team. The Cavs will have to be active on the glass, take advantage of second-chance opportunities, and slow things to a grinding halt to keep the Bucks at bay.