Despite the myriad injuries to key players, the Cleveland Cavaliers (23-16) keep finding ways to win. Their five-game winning streak, which has come against mostly non-playoff competition (Washington twice, San Antonio, Brooklyn, and Chicago), will be put to the test against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks (28-12). This matchup against the Bucks begins a difficult stretch of games to round out the month of January. Cleveland will play Milwaukee two more times before the month ends (both on the road) along with games against the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Clippers.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse - Cleveland, OH
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, Bally Sports Ohio, Ball Sports Wisconsin
Spread: MIL -3.5
Expected Cavs Starting Lineup: Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Max Strus, Dean Wade, Jarrett Allen
Cavs Injury Report: Caris LeVert (wrist, QUESTIONABLE), Darius Garland (jaw, OUT) Evan Mobley (knee, OUT), Ty Jerome (ankle, OUT), Isaiah Mobley (G League, OUT),
Expected Bucks Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Bucks Injury Report: TyTy Washington (G League, OUT)
What to watch for: Defending Giannis
Every team facing the Bucks has this dilemma, but the Cavs will be down one of their usual Giannis-stoppers in Evan Mobley. A combination of Dean Wade and Jarrett Allen down low will be tasked with bodying up the Greek Freak to minimize the damage. There is ample evidence that Allen is an adept defender, but Wade has flown under the radar this season in that regard. For the uninitiated, Wade has been pretty darn good defensively.
The top 10 Wing Stoppers in D-LEBRON— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) January 16, 2024
1. Dean Wade
2. Herbert Jones
3. Haywood Highsmith
4. Alex Caruso
5. Robert Covington
6. Keegan Murray
7. Scottie Barnes
8. Jalen Johnson
9. Franz Wagner
10. Josh Hart
Wing Stopper explainer⬇️ pic.twitter.com/0VVXF2o2vg
The 27-year-old was initially regarded as a Kevin Love light type of guy who stretches the floor and scoops up rebounds, but he has totally flipped that script. Wade’s defense has been the most compelling trait of his this season, while the shooting has taken a backseat. For the uninitiated, BBall Index’s D-LEBRON metric assesses a player’s defensive impact per 100 possessions. Wade ranks first so far this season, ahead of traditional defensive household names like Herbert Jones and Alex Caruso. The defensive prowess that Wade is able to provide is orders of magnitude higher than his offensive output this season, and the Cavs will need that on display against the Bucks’ elite offense.
One Stat to Watch for: Attacking the Bucks’ Defense
Unlike past seasons where the Bucks have been a dominant defensive team, this season has Milwaukee in the bottom half of the league. The Bucks are 19th in defensive rating (down from fourth in the league last season) and give up a lot of shots at the rim and between 5-9 feet per Cleaning the Glass. The Cavs attempt the eighth-most shots at the rim per the NBA’s stats page, though they are more in the middle of the pack in efficiency from there (in turn, Milwaukee has the best efficiency at the rim).
The Cavs attempted a franchise-record number of threes against the Bulls, but the Bucks have a stingy perimeter defense unlike Chicago (who allows the most three-point attempts per game). They allow the sixth-fewest three-point attempts per game and opponents hit only 34.5% of them, second-best in the league per Cleaning the Glass. Cleveland may want to try attacking the paint and the mid-range against Milwaukee, setting up quality three-point looks. Even with Darius Garland out, the Cavs still have three-point shooters to stretch the floor in Georges Niang, Max Strus, and Sam Merrill. Having that gravitational pull could open up looks in the paint as well, where Jarrett Allen has feasted for the last several weeks.