Cavaliers-Thunder Preview

BY foxsports • February 20, 2016

Cleveland could be without its best perimeter defender, and its trade deadline acquisition has yet to join the team. Even so, the status of the Cavaliers' roster for a visit to Oklahoma City might be considered a net positive.

That's because Iman Shumpert missed the Cavaliers' first meeting with the Thunder and Channing Frye was still in Orlando, the difference Sunday being Kyrie Irving has long since been back and found his form.

Shumpert has missed practice time while dealing with a sprained left shoulder sustained in Thursday's 106-95 home win over Chicago, and his status hasn't yet been determined. He would typically spend plenty of time on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, while Frye is awaiting medical clearance. Frye, who was acquired Thursday, missed the 2012-13 season with a heart condition, but Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said there's "no concern at all" he won't be cleared to play.

The piece Oklahoma City (40-15) is likely most concerned with is Irving, whose 24-game absence to start the season while recovering from a knee injury ended one game after the Cavs' 104-100 home win over the Thunder on Dec. 17. There's also the matter of Lue having taken over for David Blatt.

"They're a different team now so we have to be prepared to play the right way defensively," Westbrook told the team's official website.

He's likely referring to Cleveland's 12-of-29 mark from 3-point range, an area where Irving can do some damage. The point guard has averaged 26.0 points on 53.5 percent shooting in his last nine games, including 9 of 17 from long range in the last three.

It's helped Cleveland (39-14) to a four-game winning streak, over which LeBron James has also been strong with 25.5 points on 54.5 percent with 9.5 assists, 7.2 rebounds and a triple-double while flirting with two more.

Cleveland has won four of the last six meetings and both with James on the floor since his return to Cleveland, though he missed the one played in Oklahoma City - a 103-94 Thunder win on Dec. 11, 2014. James had 33 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in this season's meeting and has scored at least 33 in his last five against Oklahoma City.

"It's just a lot of the little things," coach Billy Donovan said. "They got us in transition for several points with the floor not being balanced. They got us on some different actions. Their ability to move LeBron to the four gives you a different look. We'll try to take things from that game and try to utilize them and do things better."

Friday's 101-98 home loss to Indiana provided little encouragement, though the Thunder have won nine of their last 10 home games and haven't lost consecutive contests of any kind since Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, going 29-7 since.

They acquired Randy Foye in a trade from Denver at the deadline in an attempt to add scoring from the shooting guard spot, but for James, it unsurprisingly still comes down to two names.

"I know they got two dynamic, great basketball players in Westbrook and KD, and they have a great core behind those guys that's been there for a while," James said.

Like Irving and James, the duo has been plenty efficient lately with Westbrook averaging 24.8 points on 50.3 percent shooting with 12.4 assists and 9.0 rebounds over the last nine games, including two triple-doubles. Durant has averaged 32.8 points on 51.0 percent over the same period.

"They're a matchup problem," James said. "Like I said, when you have two guys that can give you 40 or 50 on any given night, it's a matchup problem. For our team, we just have to defend the best way we can, try to make it tough on those guys and live with the result."

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