Vacation is over. The Cleveland Cavaliers return home from the All-Star break with a dynamite matchup against the Denver Nuggets and reigning two-time MVP, Nikola Jokic. Denver sits atop the Western Conference standings and will serve as a formidable foe to start the homestretch of the season for Cleveland.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (38-23) versus Denver Nuggets (41-18)
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Altitude
Spread: Cavs -2
Opposing Blog: Denver Stiffs
Cavs’ expected starting lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs’ injury report: Ricky Rubio (OUT - injury management, ACL repair)
Nuggets’ expected starting lineup: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Vlatko Cancar, Bruce Brown, Nikola Jokic
Nuggets’ injury report: Collin Gillespie (OUT - right leg fracture), Aaron Gordon (OUT -left rib contusion), Jamal Murray (QUESTIONABLE- right knee inflammation), Zeke Nnaji (OUT - right shoulder sprain)
What to watch for
The Cavaliers aren’t just looking to be a playoff team this year – they hope to actually make some noise in the postseason. While the regular season only means so much in the grand scheme of things, a statement win against the best team in the West would give the Cavaliers additional credence.
In their last meeting, Jokic lifted the Nuggets to a 121-108 win over Cleveland. The Cavs battled hard but fell short on the road without Donovan Mitchell, their leading scorer. This time, Cleveland will be on their home floor with Mitchell back in the lineup.
Mitchell will be joined by Cleveland’s usual starters, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro. This group is posting the fourth-best net rating (9.3) in the NBA since January 1st cementing themselves as the Cavs’ starting lineup of the future.
An opportunity for revenge is enough to mark this game on the calendar. But a chance at making a statement to kick off the final weeks of the season? Even better.
Can Danny Green earn minutes?
The Cavaliers were not a busy team at the deadline but they did manage to sign a potentially high-reward asset in Danny Green.
Green has been one of the league’s premiere role players for the last decade and fits the mold of what Cleveland is looking for. At his best, he’s a veteran 3-and-D wing who can elevate this team to a deep playoff run.
But, his first game in Cleveland was not encouraging. Green, who is coming off an ACL injury from last May, was laboring up and down the court and it remains unclear if he could be an impactful defender. He finished 1-4 in 11 minutes against his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Green will be a big question mark hanging over the Cleveland bench as they enter the final stretch of the season. Can he prove he still has some gas left in the tank? Or will the Cavaliers have to trust players like Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert and Dean Wade to fill their wing depth?
First game without Kevin Love
While it has been a full month since Kevin Love was actually on the court for Cleveland, tonight marks the first game since 2014 that Love will not be a Cavalier. It has been a long, messy journey that will ultimately end with Love’s jersey hanging in the rafters.
But for tonight? All eyes are on how Cleveland’s young core responds. The abrupt departure of the team’s most beloved veteran is something that could be a morale killer. Considering head coach J.B. Bickerstaff held a team meeting earlier in the week, it’s clear the Cavs are aware of the elephant in the room.
Overcoming adversity is a part of every team’s development. With Love gone, the torch has officially been passed to a new era of Cavs basketball. It’s a bittersweet ending but now it’s up to the Cavs’ core to get the next chapter started with a bang.