James, Cavaliers aim to keep guard up vs. Mavericks (Mar 31, 2018)

March 31, 2018

CLEVELAND -- With the week the Cleveland Cavaliers have coming up, they can't afford a trap game on Easter.

Cleveland is clinging to third place in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs by a half game. The Cavaliers host the going-nowhere Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, and then after that, well, they'll play three games that will serve as a test for whether or not they're ready to make another run to the NBA Finals.

On Tuesday, it's the East-leading Toronto Raptors.

On Thursday, it's the Washington Wizards, who the Cavaliers may very well see in an Eastern Conference first-round matchup.

On Friday, it's the Philadelphia 76ers, who they're battling for third place and lead by a half game.

"I think for our ballclub, to know that we're going against playoff contenders, playoff teams, teams that are in the playoffs, I think that kind of hypes up our attentiveness," superstar LeBron James said. "I think it's pretty cool. They're coming to our building. We also go to Philly, where they've played, obviously, some exceptional basketball as of late, so I think it's good."

The Cavaliers have won seven of the last eight games. James is averaging a triple double over his last 24 games (30.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 10.1 assists) and the team is 16-8 during that stretch.

Also, James scored 27 in a comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday for his 867th consecutive regular-season game with at least 10 points, setting an NBA record.

In the meantime, every chance the Cavaliers have to get healthy (they've yet to play with their full roster), someone else gets hurt.

Cleveland entered play Friday with Kevin Love back in the fold after skipping a game with a concussion. The Cavaliers were missing only Kyle Korver (sore right foot) and coach Tyronn Lue (personal health issues), though both are nearing a return.

But George Hill suffered a left ankle injury in the third quarter against the Pelicans and missed the rest of the game. Jose Calderon took his place, and the Cavaliers outscored New Orleans by 15 points in Calderon's 14 minutes.

Also, Jordan Clarkson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half, all with Hill out.

"It was really unfortunate, first of all that George, that he sustained the injury that he did," Cavaliers acting coach Larry Drew said. "I mean that's kind of been our story all year. Hopefully it's not too serious. At that point I made the decision to go with Jose. It was actually something I was thinking about at halftime because i was really concerned about, just, our energy in general."

The Mavericks have lost seven of eight. They woke up Saturday morning with the fifth-worst record in the NBA (23-53).

According to the Dallas Morning News, center Nerlens Noel is averaging 8.6 rebounds in 22 minutes per game over his last eight contests, which equals a rebound every 2.6 minutes.

Harrison Barnes is the Mavericks' leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. is averaging 15.2 points.

"I feel like the more I learn to play with (Barnes) that would be better for the future, so we're trying to build that chemistry as soon as possible," Smith said, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Barnes scored 19 in a 93-92 loss to the Timberwolves Friday, and Smith added 17 points.