Key: Texas Twister
With just a dozen more games remaining after tonight, the Wine & Gold wrap up their three-game roadie on Saturday – traveling to the Big D to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
Both teams come into tonight’s contest looking for a good win after a tough stretch – with Cleveland dropping four of its previous five and the Mavs riding a seven-game skein that includes 12 of their last 13 outings.
The Cavaliers took one on the chin in the Magic Kingdom – with Orlando avenging a March 3 loss, jumping out to an early lead and barely looking back.
The Mavericks had a tougher pill to swallow in their latest loss, with Doncic giving Dallas a brief lead on a dunk with 5.8 to play in regulation, but Denver’s Nikola Jokic scored at the buzzer on the other end to keep Rick Carlisle’s squad reeling.
The Mavs and Cavs squared off at The Q back on Groundhog’s Day, with Dallas connecting on 16 triples while holding Cleveland to just 4-for-23 from beyond the arc.
Both teams are much different than they were then – with Harrison Barnes since being dealt to Sacramento and Kevin Love rejoining the Wine & Gold.
Key: His Name is Luka
Neither team in tonight’s matchup is Playoff-bound, but we will get a look at two of the three freshman who’ll be competing for Rookie of the Year award.
Luka Doncic looked like he had the honors wrapped up heading into the final six weeks, but Atlanta’s Trae Young has been making a strong push and Cleveland’s Collin Sexton comes into tonight’s contest on a four-game heater.
Doncic, who came into the league with a lot of advanced billing, has been as good as advertised – piling up eight games of 30+ points and 37 games of 20+, tallying 18 double-doubles and four triple-doubles along the way.
He went off for 24 points, 11 boards, nine assists and a pair of steals on Thursday night against Denver and one of those 30-point outings came against Cleveland – exploding for a game-high 35 points to go with 11 rebounds and six assists.
On Thursday night in Orlando, Collin Sexton notched a game-high 23 points, becoming just the fifth Cavs rookie to score at least 23 points in four straight contests.
Over his last 16 games, the Young Bull is averaging 20.3 points per and has 60 double-digit performances overall this season, tying him for tops in his rookie class.
Key: Hall of a Battle
Tonight’s power forward matchup features one certain Hall of Famer and another with a resume that’s shaping up for Springfield.
Saturday night’s meeting in Dallas is likely the last time Cleveland will ever face off against the great Dirk Nowitzki, who’s been re-inserted into the starting lineup and will likely get the nod again this evening.
Dirk comes into the game on cusp of history, but he’ll have to have a Dirk circa 2015 night to do it – needing just 18 points to pass Wilt Chamberlain for 6th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, having piled up 31,402 over the course of his prolific career.
Arguably the greatest Euro to ever lace ‘em up, Nowitzki has scored 634 of those points against the Wine & Gold, despite taking the collar in eight minutes of action in the early-February meeting in Cleveland. But he’s certainly tormented the Cavs in the past, posting 18 20-point games against them over his 21-year run.
Kevin Love still has a ways to go to catch Dirk, but he’s piled up some massive digits of his own over the years.
Like most of his mates, Love struggled in Orlando – finishing with 10 points and eight boards in just 24 minutes of work – but that’s been the exception to the rule.
Cleveland’s five-time All-Star has been outstanding since the All-Star Break, averaging 19.7 points and 11.4 boards – netting six double-doubles in those nine games, shooting 46 percent from deep and 93 percent from the stripe over that stretch.
Key: A to Z
According to Coach Larry Drew at Saturday’s shootaround in Dallas, both Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. are listed as questionable for tonight’s meeting with the Mavs.
Tristan got off to a strong start this season, but has battled the injury bug since – missing the previous 23 games with a foot injury, a span that saw him last suit up on January 16. Nance Jr. has been out since the first half of the Miami game eight days ago, suffering a chest injury that’s sidelined him for the previous three.
While both players have been on the mend, Ante Zizic has filled in admirably, tallying double-figure scoring in each of his last three games, part of 17 such outings so far this season.
Over that stretch, the sophomore from Croatia has shot .548 from the floor to go with 6.7 rebounds per.
If he gets another start on Saturday, Big Z will lock horns with fifth-year pro Dwight Powell.
The former Stanford standout has been excellent over his last 11 games and has moved into the starting lineup in the previous nine – averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds and posting five 20-point performances.
Key: Guys Behind the Guys
The Cavaliers bench doesn’t get outdone much, but that was the case on Thursday night in Orlando, with the Magic’s reserves outscoring Cleveland’s, 40-27.
Jordan Clarkson was the only Cavalier to net double-figures in the loss, something he’s done 60 times this campaign – tying Lou Williams for tops among all NBA bench players.
Despite keeping his double-digit streak alive, the fifth-year man has struggled shooting the ball over the past couple contests, going 11-of-38 from the floor, including 1-for-14 from beyond the arc.
With Matthew Dellavedova still under the NBA’s concussion protocol, the Cavaliers have turned to Nik Stauskas – and while the former Michigan star doesn’t play the same style, he’s had some solid floor games over the past three outings off the bench – averaging 8.3 points on 54 percent from long-range to go with 3.3 boards and 3.3 assists per.
The Mavs biggest threat off the bench might be Maxi Kleber, who’s doubled-up in a reserve role in two of Dallas’ last three outings, including an 11-point, 11-rebound effort on Thursday night in Denver.
Kleber got the start at center in the previous meeting against Cleveland, finishing with 10 points and nine boards in the win.