Not the same Cavaliers team coming to visit Thunder
The excitement around Cleveland’s long visit to Oklahoma City this weekend isn’t quite what it has been in recent years when the meetings between the teams featured two of the most explosive players in the game in LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
James left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers after last season and the Cavaliers are still looking to find their footing in their second post-James era.
But Cleveland enters Wednesday’s game in Oklahoma City having won two of the last three games, including wins over Philadelphia and Houston.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Cavaliers forward Kyle Korver told reporters after Monday’s loss to Minnesota. “We had a tough stretch. We’ve got to keep bringing the same juice, we’ve got to keep on getting better, keep on learning, keep on building our chemistry and all these things.”
Both teams are trying to keep things together despite a rash of injuries.
Oklahoma City has shooting guards Hamidou Diallo and Terrance Ferguson, who have started a combined 17 games this season, listed as out with left ankle sprains and center Nerlens Noel listed as questionable with a left calf contusion.
The injuries — not only to those three but the injury that has kept Andre Roberson out for the season to this point and forced Westbrook out for eight of 19 games so far, have opened up playing time for inexperienced players.
“I think the guys have done a good job,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s great for some of those younger guys to get some opportunities. They’ll get a chance to learn and grow and improve and get better. I think with some of the injuries, it’s presented some opportunities to other guys.”
Cleveland has been without Kevin Love, the top returnee after James’ absence, for all but four games this season after he underwent toe surgery in early November.
“That will be a nice little bump for us,” Korver said of Hill’s return. “You know, we’re trending in the right direction. We’re not there yet, but we’re going in the right direction.”
They need Hill back quickly, with games coming up against some of the top point guards in the league, including Westbrook. Rookie Collin Sexton has been manning the position in Hill’s absence.
“He’s played against those guys and he knows those guys and he knows those guys,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said. “It’s a big task to have to defend guys like that. A part of Collin’s growth process is to prepare himself to go out and play against those guys. Collins is not going to shy away.”
With all of the injuries, Tristan Thompson has been a focal part of the Cavaliers’ efforts on both ends, with four consecutive double-doubles and 10 total this season. In Monday’s loss, he had 16 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in 40 minutes.
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