The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost their last two games, but are
feeling fairly good about themselves after taking two of the
league’s best teams down to the wire.
Cleveland won’t be feeling any positive vibes if it can’t beat
the NBA’s worst team, which it may have to do without Kyrie Irving
and Dion Waiters.
The Cavaliers hope to have Irving and Waiters available as they
begin a seemingly softer portion of their schedule looking for a
fifth victory in six home games Friday night against the Milwaukee
Cleveland (9-15) had won three straight and five of six before
heading to Miami on Saturday, where it led with four minutes
remaining before falling 114-107.
The Cavs returned home to face Portland on Tuesday and trailed
by 10 with two minutes left before tying the score with a 12-2 run.
But Damian Lillard hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds
left to send Cleveland to a 119-116 defeat.
“We’re making progress,” coach Mike Brown said. “I just want to
be a little bit better this month than we were last month. … When
it really counts, we’re going to be really good.”
Brown’s club, which begins a stretch with six of nine games
against sub-.500 teams, has certainly gotten better on the
offensive end. The Cavaliers have scored at least 107 points in
each of their last four games after cracking triple digits four
times in their first 20 contests.
Cleveland has shot 47.0 percent in that stretch after shooting
41.7 percent in its 7-13 start. Kyrie Irving, who shot 39.4 percent
and averaged 19.7 points in the first 20 games, has averaged 28.0
points and 48.2 percent from the field in his last four.
“They have gotten better at doing what we’re asking of them –
demanding of them – in terms of pushing the pace,” Brown said.
“Kyrie’s done a phenomenal job of getting that ball and going with
it and taking advantage of his speed and his skill set before the
defense even has a chance to get set.”
Irving, however, missed Thursday’s practice with an illness
while Waiters – averaging an East-high 15.5 points as a reserve
since he started coming off the bench Nov. 20 – sat out with
tendinitis in his right wrist. Both are considered
There wasn’t a whole lot of defense played when these teams met
at the Bradley Center on Nov. 6. Milwaukee (5-20) hit a season-high
13 3s – O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal were a combined 10 of 12 – in
holding off Cleveland 109-104 despite Irving’s 29 points.
The Bucks won without Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders and Brandon
Knight comes into this meeting off his most productive game in
the NBA, though it wasn’t enough to help Milwaukee avoid a fourth
straight defeat. He had a career-high 36 points but committed eight
of the Bucks’ 20 turnovers in a 107-101 double-overtime loss to New
York on Wednesday.
Milwaukee again was short-handed. Mayo missed the game to attend
his grandmother’s funeral while Neal sat out for the fourth time in
seven games due to plantar fasciitis and is out indefinitely. So is
Ilyasova, who has a lingering ankle issue.
Sanders and Zaza Pachulia remain out, but Caron Butler is
expected to return Friday after missing nearly a month.
”You have to try and manage and weather the storm,” Butler
said. ”We need to get the right groups out there and remain
positive. Adversity builds character.”
Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 11.0 points and 8.3
boards in his last four games and made his first start Wednesday,
although Mayo will return Friday.
Knight, who went seven picks after Irving in the 2011 draft,
seemed to play his best against Cleveland’s star while with
Detroit. His 20.6-point average and 54.5 percent shooting versus
the Cavs are his best numbers against any team.
Irving’s 27.0-point average against Milwaukee is also his best,
though this will be his first look at Knight in a Bucks