The Cleveland Cavaliers (27-8) are lonely at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and it seems that’s going to be the story for the rest of the regular season. After resting Love and Irving in a loss to the Chicago Bulls, they returned against the Brooklyn Nets and the Cavs won the game, 116-108, maybe a bit harder than expected. LeBron James led Cleveland with 36 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and two steals, while Kyrie Irving followed him with 32 points, four dimes, three boards, and two thefts. Kevin Love recorded a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, Tristan Thompson had ten points, nine boards, three steals, and two blocks, while the rest of the players finished with single digits. J.R. Smith is still sidelined and will not feature tonight, but Kyle Korver could make his debut in the Cavs’ jersey after Cleveland officially announced a trade with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Phoenix Suns (12-25) seemed to be in a lot of trouble recently with some disastrous displays and results, and it looked that they will finish at the bottom of the West. However, the Suns bounced back with consecutive wins, which happened for the first time since the early November. First, they defeated Miami at home, and then they secured a win at Dallas, 102-95, thanks to the domination below the rims, 53-31 in rebounds. Eric Bledsoe led the Suns with 26 points and seven assists, while Devin Booker had 22 points. Brandon Knight contributed with 17 points off the bench, and Alex Len added 14 points and seven rebounds, while the rest of the team ended the game in single figures. One of them was Tyson Chandler, who scored only three points but had fantastic 18 boards, more than half of Dallas’ total. Earl Watson doesn’t have any new injury concerns and is happy to have every player ready for this tilt.
KEYS TO THE GAME
• Kevin Love’s favourable matchup with Marquese Chriss. Love is facing the rookie who still has a lot to learn, so Kevin could easily finish the game as the top scorer. He averages 20.7 points and 11.5 rebounds in last two weeks, but these numbers could even improve tonight.
• Scoring 110-plus points. The Suns are quite an efficient team, and they rarely score under 100 points, so this game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair, which means that the Cavs have to score over 110 points or they will be in all kind of trouble. However, with such talents as LeBron, Love, and Irving on the roster, this goal seem very reachable, so Cleveland has nothing to worry about, the points will come.
• P.J. Tucker’s defence on James. Tucker is known as a solid defender and not plenty of opposition forwards had a great time playing against him, so LeBron could find it tough to go past P.J. in this one. Still, James is the best player in the NBA, and he proved that he could be unstoppable on many occasions, so Tucker will have to entirely focus on guarding him if he wants to limit LeBron.
• Devin Booker’s favourable matchup against DeAndre Liggins. Booker is the second top scorer at Phoenix, and the second-year shooting guard is averaging 20.7 points in the last seven days so he could emerge as a leader in this match tonight. Liggins is not a very good defender, and Booker shouldn’t have problems to score some easy baskets against him.
Cleveland Cavaliers Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Irving / SG – Liggins / SF – James / PF – Love / C – Thompson
Love and Irving could lead the Cavs to the victory in case James is struggling from the field, while Tristan Thompson will battle with Tyson Chandler for every rebound in the paint.
Phoenix Suns Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Bledsoe / SG – Booker / SF – Warren / PF – Chriss / C – Chandler
Booker and Bledsoe will undoubtedly be among the top scorers in this game, while Brandon Knight could play a big role off the bench.
Although they won two straight matches, Phoenix is not good enough to cope with the champions, so I am backing the visitors in this one.
Tip-off is at 8:30 pm ET – Talking Stick Resort Arena – Phoenix, AZ.
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