The revamped Cleveland Cavaliers (33-22) made quite a statement in their first game together as they rocked the East-leading Celtics in Boston, 121-99. LeBron James led the way with 24 points, eight rebounds, and ten assists in just 28 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the team’s new additions – George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance – all contributed in their own way to the win.
Clarkson and Hood combined for 32 of the team’s 52 bench points, while Hill was a plus-17 in his 21 minutes on the floor. Young Cedi Osman has also continued to impress. The rookie had 12 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes, and has provided some much-needed energy and effort each of his three starts.
The Cavs will now look to make it four wins in a row against the Oklahoma City Thunder (32-25), who managed to blow out the Memphis Grizzlies, 110-92, despite the continued absence of Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. As expected, Paul George once again picked up the slack with Russ and Melo out as he dropped 33 points and dished out eight assists.
But unlike their blowout loss to the Lakers, PG-13 got a lot of help this time around. Alex Abrines had 16 points and went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, while Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, and Jerami Grant all had 14 points apiece.
Three keys to the game
Westbrook and Anthony’s availability – The Thunder have revealed that there remains no update for the status of both Westbrook and Anthony as they continue to recover from respective ankle injuries. While beating the tanking Grizzlies short-handed is one thing, it’ll be a completely different proposition to overcome a LeBron James-led Cavs team that has a renewed sense of energy following their flurry of trade deadline deals.
Bench firepower – The Thunder finally got some much-needed production off their bench in the absence of Westbrook and Anthony. However, those performances have been too few and far between for them this season. It remains to be seen whether they can be able to replicate that against a Cavs team which has stocked up on bench scoring with the acquisitions of Clarkson and Hood.
Cavs defense – It was telling just how much more active the Cavs looked on the defensive end against the Celtics. Their new pieces provided the energy and effort they’ve been missing for most of the season. This Cavs team should have a significantly better defense than the one which let in a whopping 148 points at home in their first meeting against the Thunder. If they come out with that type of intensity against a Thunder team that’s still missing two of their three big stars, OKC could have a lot of problems offensively.
Matchup to watch
LeBron James vs Paul George – Rumors persist that James and George could eventually end up being teammates this offseason, but for tonight they’ll be the marquee matchup on the floor. George got the better of LeBron in their first matchup as he dropped 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting, and he’s still shooting the lights out all these weeks later. However, a reenergized LeBron will be tough to slow down in the rematch.
Cavaliers projected starting lineup
PG – George Hill | SG – JR Smith | SF – Cedi Osman | PF - LeBron James | C – Tristan Thompson
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Josh Huestis | SF – Paul George | PF – Patrick Patterson | C - Steven Adams
While LeBron is the obvious candidate to put up his usual gaudy fantasy stats, don’t look past the Cavs shooting guards. JR Smith has been shooting the lights out recently, scoring 12.7 points with 3.1 3-pointers on 50 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Rodney Hood has now scored at least 15 points in his last three games. The Thunder have struggled to contain shooting guards ever since Andre Roberson went down, so they should have a good chance to put together productive fantasy nights.
On the other side, George should continue to rack up the numbers as long as Westbrook and Anthony are gone. PG-13 is averaging close to 31 points on 49 percent shooting with five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and four 3-pointers through six games in February. It’s hard to know who among his supporting cast will show up from game to game, but Raymond Felton will at least continue to get minutes with Westbrook out. The veteran had a strong line of 14 points, six rebounds, and eight assists against the Grizzlies.
The Cavs should be significantly favored to bring down the Thunder if Westbrook and Anthony remain out of the lineup. The Cavs had a different energy about them against the Celtics, and they will be eager to keep that positive momentum going as long as possible. A double-digit win in OKC won't be out of the question.
The Cavs take care of the shorthanded Thunder as they get the 114-98 road win.
This game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.