Prior to the All-Star break, the Cavs had recaptured some of their best form, winning four successive games. The most recent of these was a 120-112 victory in which LeBron James put up 37 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. The winning streak propelled them back into third place in the East, where they sit at 34-22, 1.5 games ahead of the fourth-placed Wizards, who will attempt to close the gap when they head to Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday.
Washington put on a two-game winning streak of their own prior to the break, with their most recent game yielding a 118-113 win over the Knicks. Bradley Beal was a sensation with 36 points and seven assists in the win, while Tomas Satoransky continued to impress in place of John Wall, dishing out 11 assists.
Three keys to the game
The new and improved Cleveland Cavaliers - It’s now been four games since Cleveland overhauled their roster, and since then they haven’t lost a game. Their defensive woes haven’t improved - in fact their defensive rating is four points worse in the past four games than it is for the season - but their offense has exploded. Since the change to their roster, they are scoring an incredible 125.9 points per 100 possessions, comfortably the most in the league. This is unsustainable, but the early signs are that the changes in personnel have improved their team.
Are the Wizards better without John Wall? - The simple answer to this is no, but they have done a great job in covering him since his knee surgery, going 7-2 during this stretch. Beal’s scoring has actually dropped off, but he has done a terrific job as a facilitator in the absence of his back-court partner, averaging 6.4 assists over the past nine games. Likewise, Satoransky has done a great job running the offense, averaging 5.9 assists a night since Wall went down.
LeBron’s return to form - Much was made of LeBron’s lacklustre February, but since Koby Altman flipped the Cavs roster on its head, it’s fair to say the King is back. In four games since the trade period he averages 30.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 13.5 assists, has hit a game-winner on the buzzer, and was MVP in the All-Star game.
Matchup to watch
LeBron James vs Otto Porter Jr - Porter Jr is a good defender and a relatively good matchup for James, and as a result will probably spend much of the game guarding him. James’ stats speak for themselves, and nobody in the league can stop him, so Porter’s role will simply be to make life as difficult as possible for the best player in the NBA. Porter can also cause problems on offense, and needs to be watched at that end of the floor - he is a knockdown 3-point shooter, and in his past ten games has averaged 18.3 points per game despite shooting the ball well below his season average.
Cleveland Cavaliers predicted starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - JR Smith | SF - LeBron James | PF - Cedi Osman | C - Tristan Thompson
Washington Wizards predicted starting lineup
PG - Tomas Satoransky | SG - Bradley Beal | SF - Otto Porter Jr | PF - Markieff Morris | C - Marcin Gortat
James has been breathtaking in the two games between these sides this season. In the first game he shot 23-34 on the way to 57 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks. Unsurprisingly, the Cavs won. The next time they met he scored just 20, but also had 11 rebounds and dished out 15 dimes. For his career, he averages 26.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.5 steals against the Wizards.
The Wizards have been given a five-point head start against Cleveland, and though they were playing good basketball prior to the break, this probably won’t be enough. The Cavs have a head of steam, and with LeBron’s current form and history against the Wizards, they should be able to cover this line.
The Cavaliers will make it five wins in a row in this game. Beal and Satoransky have proved to be a more than useful backcourt combination, and certainly have the edge over Hill and Smith, but Cleveland have a much better bench, and have LeBron James.
He appears to be back to his best, and after a week in which all he had to do was drag Team LeBron over the line in the All-Star game and take out the MVP, he will likely put in another big game. He will have 30 or more points and ten or more assists as he leads Cleveland to a 117-109 victory at home.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.