LeBron James
Thunder-Cavaliers Preview
LeBron James

Thunder-Cavaliers Preview

Published Dec. 17, 2015 1:47 p.m. ET

Signs were pointing to Cleveland's star point guard making his season debut against the hottest team in basketball. Now, not only will he remain sidelined, but the Cavaliers will be without another guard who was two games into his return.

Kyrie Irving won't suit up Thursday night at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Iman Shumpert will join him on the bench in street clothes.

It's also possible that the man who has been starting in Irving's place, Mo Williams, will miss the game with a sprained right thumb.

Irving's return seemed imminent after joining Cleveland (16-7) on a road trip to Orlando and Boston, but he didn't play despite coach David Blatt saying last week there was a possibility he would be back after missing the start of the season while recovering from broken kneecap. Irving then said Wednesday via Twitter that reports of him facing Oklahoma City were inaccurate.


"Sorry to dwindle the news, but I won't be returning tomorrow. It was wrongfully reported. When I do come back you'll hear it directly from me," he wrote.

Even with Irving, the Thunder (17-8) at present would make for a considerable challenge. Wednesday's 106-90 home win over Portland was their sixth straight and 10th in their last 12 after starting 7-6. With an 88-67 lead after the third quarter, no one played 30 minutes, so they could be fresh entering the more daunting end of this back-to-back.

"Definitely easy," said guard Russell Westbrook, who matched a season-low with 13 points and has shot 35 percent in the last two games. "Don't got to do much. Don't got to play the fourth quarter. Get a chance to rest."

Huge offensive efforts from Kevin Durant and Westbrook have defined such streaks from the Thunder for years, but it's been defense that's fueled this one. The Thunder have held seven straight opponents under 100 points, including an overtime game. On the winning streak, opponents have shot 40.5 percent.

That's not to say Durant hasn't been impressive. He's averaged 25.5 points on the streak, which is 1.8 under his season average, but he's done so while shooting 58.4 percent. His 112.2 offensive rating thus far this season is better than even his 109.7 mark from his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

A season after missing the playoffs in large part due to massive injury disruptions, Oklahoma City again has the Cavaliers' attention.

"It should be a great game," said Williams, who is listed as questionable to play. "Obviously, they're one of the better teams in our league."

The Cavs have also been impressive as they open a three-game homestand looking to improve on their 10-1 record there. They've won three straight, with the two road victories coming by an average of 23.5 points.

Tuesday's 89-77 win over the Celtics followed Friday's 111-76 victory over the Magic with the teams combining to shoot 35.2 percent, so they too have been doing it on the defensive end.

"We want to do this every single game, and it's just attention to detail. When our attention to detail is there, we're very good defensively," Williams said.

The road wins were Shumpert's first two games back from wrist surgery, but the shooting guard left Tuesday's win in the second half with a strained right groin and won't play in this game.

The teams split two games in each of the last three seasons. Cleveland's 108-98 home win on Jan. 25 was the latest meeting and is part of a 17-2 regular-season span against the Western Conference with 10 straight wins at home.

LeBron James had 34 points in that latest meeting after missing the loss in Oklahoma City on Dec. 11, 2014. He's averaged 33.8 points and shot 56.5 percent in his last six games against the Thunder and is at 27.3 on 57.6 percent on the current winning streak.


LeBron James
Get more from LeBron James Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more