Two teams heading in opposite directions meet Friday when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Dallas Mavericks. The Cavaliers own the best record in the Eastern Conference and are coming off a historic performance Wednesday, while the Mavericks have lost seven straight for the first time since 1999 — Dirk Nowitzki's rookie season.
The Cavaliers set an area record for a regular-season game by scoring 137 points in Wednesday's win against the Portland Trail Blazers, the most points any Cleveland team has scored since dropping 141 on Charlotte in 1992.
Kevin Love was a big reason why. His 34 points in the first quarter Wednesday are the second-most points scored by one player in a quarter in NBA history, trailing only Klay Thompson's 37-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings during the 2014-15 season. Love only took six shots the rest of the night Wednesday, highlighting his recurring problem. No matter how well he plays, he rarely gets to touch the ball in the second half.
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Still, Love is more comfortable in this system now than he has ever been and a large reason for that is head coach Tyronn Lue, who made it a point of emphasis to get Love into his comfort zone earlier in games. The first play every game is designed to be a look for Love in the post, Lue revealed. Love kept reiterating throughout his first season in Cleveland that he is most effective when he gets a couple post touches early before working his way to the 3-point line. He was largely ignored, however, until Lue took over midway through last season and began listening to him.
“I didn't do anything magical,” Lue said. “He's playing great … Just try to get him the ball when he has matchups or just keep him involved, keep him engaged.”
The Cavaliers rank third in the league in scoring (110.8 points per game), they lead the league in 3-pointers per game (13.5) and they've made at least 10 3s in every game this season — an NBA record they continue to extend.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, have been reeling from injuries and are in the midst of a brutal stretch in the schedule.
Nowitzki is back after missing eight games with an Achilles injury, but he has played in four of Dallas' first 16 games. Deron Williams has missed the last four games with a calf injury that has limited him to just 10 minutes over the last eight games.
“As our health gets better, we're going to have a chance to make it better,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we're going to have to make it better.”
Williams should be back soon, but the fear now is that the Mavericks' hole is already to deep to escape. The game against the Cavaliers concludes a wicked 96 hours when they faced the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers and now Cleveland.
“We've been worried about that (record),” Williams told the Dallas Morning News. “We're, what, (2-12)? That's tough in the West. That's definitely a concern of ours, for sure. You'd be lying to say it wasn't. It's something we're definitely conscious of, and we got to turn around.”