Cleveland at Denver
Time: 9:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: DEN -3
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Cleveland Cavaliers have won six of its past 10 overall but still are situated No. 3 in the East behind both Boston and Toronto. Given that Cleveland is seven games behind No. 2 Boston, the remainder of the season becomes more about not slipping to a 4 or 5 seed than it does about moving up. Cleveland maintains just a half-game lead over No. 4 Indiana and just a two game lead over No. 6 Philadelphia.
Cleveland must play well to avoid losing homecourt advantage in the first round, and though the team has been better since parting ways with Isaiah Thomas, it finds itself as 3-point dogs on the road tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The Nuggets have won six of its past 10 games, and are currently No. 8 in the Western Conference at 35-29 overall.
Much ado about the fate of free agent to-be LeBron James: Teams are already posting billboards and beginning their recruiting campaigns, while this season wanes and it could possibly be LeBron’s last in his home state. James got his way at the trade deadline when the Cavs basically restructured its entire team, but the results have been mostly mediocre. It may be the time in James career when he finally realizes that he cannot win without two superstars (like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) by his side.
While that is no knock on Kevin Love, James’ Cavs this year are less talent than the teams he played with in Miami, and though he did win a title two years ago, few are expecting a return to the Finals, never mind an improbable win over the stacked Golden State Warriors.
It is no fault of James, though, really. He has played excellent basketball and is still arguably the most dominant offensive force in the league. His stats obviously support that, as he is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists per game while posting an extra-worldly PER of 28.0.
Love has been a solid second-fiddle with 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, but in order for Cleveland to really contend, he would nearly have to revert to the form he once showed as a Minnesota Timberwolf. The Cavs did make a couple nice additions at the trade deadline by adding former Cavalier legend Larry Nance’s son, Larry Jr. , as well as Jordan Clarkson.
The Cavs also parted ways with the declining Wade, sending him back to Miami to finish his career. Perhaps the most clutch additions were those of George Hill and Rodney Hood, but neither has been outstanding since coming to Cleveland. The Cavs now have the odd task of adding so many players and trying to gel and reach form in a matter of a month and a half before the postseason.
One-time MVP Derrick Rose is firmly out of the picture, and perhaps now Cleveland is done adding washed up veterans in hopes to keep LeBron afloat. Maybe the Cavs just let LBJ walk and rebuild their team around Hood and Nance, and whatever lottery picks they obtain with the pick it picked up at the deadline.
To be certain, it would require a near-miracle for James and company to usurp the Warriors’ title hopes, and few are picking Cleveland in any respective series against Toronto or Boston. The ship has simply sailed for the Cavs; most likely, anyway.
The Denver Nuggets have won six of its last 10 games but are just 11-20 on the road this season. Denver ultimately will face a team with that homeport disadvantage, in the first round, so that does not bode well if the Nuggets cannot find a way to win away from the Pepsi Center in Denver (where it has gone 24-9, conversely).
Denver is a team that many have suggested need a point guard, but the Nuggets rank No. 6 in offensive rating in the NBA, and they get it done through the sharp (and sometimes wizardly) passing of center Nikola Jokic. Jokic leads the Nuggets in assists per game with 5.5, which ultimately reduces the playmaking load of Denver’s bevy of shooting guards. The team really has no true point guard on its roster, though
The Nuggets as a team post 24.1 assists per game with 14.7 turnovers per night, so to criticize the team’s success on the base of its offense would be incorrect.
Defensively is where the Nuggets need the most improvement.
Denver ranks just No. 21 in defensive rating, and Jokic is part of the issue there, strangely. While the center is a demon with the ball in his hands, he is slow rotating and the Nuggets seem to prefer to almost never use Kenneth Faried, who is a defensive game changer at times. Denver has some tradeable pieces, and Mason
Plumlee leaves plenty to be desired defensively, too.
Even so, the Nuggets are a high scoring team that can play with the league’s dominant teams and steal occasional wins, it is just probably in need of a better secondary playmaker to play with Jokic—and also probably a defensive forward who can “quarterback” its defense to call it switches and better the defensive communication.