Tomorrow night, to start off a fresh week, the Cavaliers will play host in Cleveland to the Denver Nuggets, and if they can pull off a win, they could be celebrating their ninth 50-win season in franchise history. They’ve done it in 1988-89, 1991-92, 1992-93, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2014-15.
Many think they have a great chance at 60 wins, but as the playoffs get closer, the rest of league nor the Eastern Conference should roll over and die.
The Toronto Raptors for instance, still have a chance to overtake them for first. But these days in Cleveland, many fans are enjoying a road to the playoffs that seems lined with sure-wins and games on home court that look like a slam dunk.
The Cavs though aren’t perfect and will want to bounce back from a recent lopsided loss to the Miami Heat, and so Monday night against the visiting Nuggets will be an important win to get back on track. Their upcoming stretch has weaker teams lined up so if they want to maintain their dwindling lead for the East’s top seed, they need to beat teams like Denver.
At this time of the season, when players are close to the end, many things like boredom, fatigue, and some inconsistent lineup patterns kick in, even just the occasional bout of bad basketball happens, and that’s what ot seems like has happened to Cleveland who is 49-20, but they haven’t really looked like a title contender in the recent weeks.
If you look back, they lost to the under-.500 Wizards a month ago where the Cavs trailed by as much as 30 points. There was also a strange loss 106-103 to Memphis, who is missing almost half its roster. Add the loss to Miami on Saturday which was a rout, has thrown some shade on a team that previously seemed destined for a championship final return.
“It is what it is,” LeBron James said after finishing with 26 points – one fewer than the rest of Cleveland’s starting five. “You would like to be playing extremely well in late February going into March, but if not then you just work your habits, continue to work what you’ve been doing over the season and then get ready for the postseason.”
The Raptors have almost caught the top-seeded Cavs. And they won’t stop. The Cavs who have allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions over their last 15 games stretch. When you look back to their first 54 games, that number was just 100.9.
“There’s a number of reasons why (Saturday’s loss) went down the way it went did,” Kevin Love said. “But more than anything we just want to get back home.”
Home is where Cleveland will get to play four of its next six games in what seems like a winable stretch of matchups. The only .500 team that the Cavs will face will be Houston, in the midst of visits from the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, divided by trips to Brooklyn and New York.
Denver will be first up who is 29-41, and they dropped the first three games of their five-game trip before being able to beat Charlotte on Saturday by 101-93. In that game, D.J. Augustin led seven other Nuggets players in double figures. He had 24 points in 23 minutes off the bench.
Augustin so far has averaged 14.8 points, shooting 48.7 percent, and posting a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the last 12 of 16 games while wearing a Denver uniform. When you compare with him on and off the court, Denver has a 114.4 offensive rating with him on, in that stretch and 104.4 with him off.
“Big plays, not afraid of the moment, makes open shots – makes the right play most times,” coach Michael Malone said. ”He’s been a great pickup. He’s had a big impact in a lot of the wins we’ve had since we’ve gotten him.”
Augustin is expected to carry the load, and he could have another big night if he finds himself fighting for points against Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith. Cleveland’s is giving up 113.3 points per 100 possessions with its starting backcourt on the floor since the All-Star break. So Denver has a chance to score.
The Coach, Tyronn Lue seems to be reworking the Cavs’ frontcourt before the playoffs begin to find the best combination. Love started the game in at center in Saturday’s loss, and that lineup also included Iman Shumpert while Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson who came off the bench while the stars rested.
“I like the small-ball lineup,” Lue said. “I like it probably more when we have a chance to go to it in the flow of the game rather than starting like that because offensively we can’t run what we want to run when we start small. We have to keep working on it, keep adjusting to it.”
Kenneth Faried could be back for the Nuggets, who is another big body the Nuggets could use. He missed two games with lower back soreness.
Both Irving and Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay missed the game where Cleveland won 93-87 win at Pepsi Center back on Dec. 29. Then Lebron led the way with 34 points, and Will Barton had 29 off the bench for the Nuggets, but it wasn’t enough.
And it probably won’t be enough tomorrow either. The Cavs need a game to gear up in to get ready for the finals, so this opportunity might be the golden nugget they’ve been looking for.
Cavaliers over Nuggets, 101-89