Cleveland (41-29) have opened a 1.5-game lead over Indiana atop the Central Division in the race for the No. 3 seed with the Pacers and Philadelphia as they look to push their winning streak to five games. The Cavaliers overwhelmed the Phoenix Suns with a huge second quarter en route to a 120-95 rout of Phoenix on Friday night.
LeBron James had 27 points and nine assists in three quarters of work as the Cavaliers also took a huge step towards being fully healthy. Larry Nance Jr. had 15 points and ten rebounds off the bench after missing four games with a sore hamstring, and Rodney Hood chipped in nine points after missing six of the last seven games with a lower back injury. Tristan Thompson, who was sidelined for nine games with a sprained ankle, had four points and nine boards.
The only regulars from the rotation who missed the win were Kyle Korver, who is on bereavement leave and Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a strained hip flexor. Coach Tyronn Lue is also absent as he deals with health issues, but he has been in constant contact with the acting coach Larry Drew.
The Nets (23-50) have slipped to last in the Atlantic Division, three games behind the New York Knicks with ten games remaining. Brooklyn hit the 50-loss mark for the third straight season after a 116-112 loss at Toronto on Friday night, blowing a double-digit lead for the second consecutive contest.
D’Angelo Russell had 18 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds for his first career triple-double, and six players were in double figures for the Nets, but they were the latest team to be shut down in the fourth quarter by the East-leading Raptors. Toronto limited Brooklyn to one basket in an 8:08 span as the Nets squandered an eight-point lead.
Three keys to the game
Cavs look to extend home dominance of Nets - Cleveland carry a ten-game home winning streak over Brooklyn into this contest since a 113-95 loss April 3, 2013. The Cavaliers have averaged 111.2 points during their winning streak, outscoring the Nets by 12.8 points per game while hitting 37.2 percent of their 3-pointers and 47.7 percent of their overall shots.
A Brooklyn rarity - Russell's triple-double was the first for the Nets franchise since the team crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey to Brooklyn in the 2012/13 season. The last Nets player to accomplish the feat before Russell did so Friday night was Terrence Williams against Chicago on April 9, 2010. That was also Williams' lone triple-double of his career.
Your statistical reminders that LeBron James is good at basketball - James is 28 points shy of reaching 2,000 in a season for the tenth time in his career, which would move him ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third-most in NBA history. Only Karl Malone (12) and Michael Jordan (11) have done it more. James is also the only NBA player this season with at least 1,500 points, 600 rebounds, 600 assists, 100 steals and 100 3-pointers.
Matchup to watch
C Kevin Love vs C Jarrett Allen - Things are looking up for Allen, the rookie whose alma mater Texas Tech is one win away (albeit, as underdogs to Villanova) from the Final Four. He had a solid 13-point, seven-rebound effort against Toronto and has averaged 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds on 61.3 percent shooting in 22 games since being inserted into the starting lineup.
After getting banged around by Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, it will be a series of more finesse matchups for Allen, starting with counterpart Kevin Love. The veteran center has averaged 20.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in three games since returning from his lengthy layoff with a fractured hand and has hit ten of 21 from 3-point range in those contests.
Allen will also have to contend with both Larry Nance Jr and Tristan Thompson, two players who, like him, have plenty of bounce and are active on the glass. It should be another good learning experience for Allen, who has recorded three of his four double-doubles on the road.
Cleveland Cavaliers projected lineup
PG - Jose Calderon | SG - George Hill | C - Kevin Love | SF - LeBron James | PF - Jeff Green
Brooklyn Nets projected starting lineup
PG - D'Angelo Russell | SG - Allen Crabbe | C - Jarrett Allen | SF - DeMarre Carroll | PF - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
James has dominated the Nets to the tune of 31.0 points, 9.7 assists and 9.3 rebounds per game in three matchups this season, recording triple-doubles in two of them. He has been with the Cavaliers for eight victories during their current home winning streak over the Nets and averaged 25.3 points, 8.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 52.9 percent.
Overall, James has totaled 26.9 points, 7.5 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game in 51 matchups with the Nets while posting three triple-doubles.
Love sat out the most recent meeting but posted double-doubles in the first two contests, totaling 33 points and 20 rebounds, but shot just two of ten from beyond the arc. He is looking for his ninth consecutive double-double versus Brooklyn, having averaged 15.5 points and 13.0 rebounds during his streak.
Russell has averaged 17.0 points and 5.9 assists in 14 games since being restored to the starting lineup, showing solid ball distribution skills with five or more assists in ten of those games and compiling a 2.37 assist-to-turnover ratio. He missed the first two games between the teams due to a knee injury but had 25 points and six assists in Brooklyn's 129-123 loss to Cleveland on February 27.
Small forward DeMarre Carroll has played well of late, averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in his last five games while making 14 of 31 from 3-point range. He has reached double figures in all three contests versus Cleveland this season, averaging 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds. Carroll, whose 18-point effort in a 112-107 victory October 25 represents his high mark against the Cavaliers, has averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17 career matchups.
The Cavaliers have been established as eight-point favorites for this contest, yet they have not been good to bettors in this matchup. Cleveland have failed to cover in the last five meetings between the teams and are also 0-4-1 against the spread in their last five trips to Brooklyn.
Cleveland have also covered just once in their last five road games and are 4-9 against the spread in their last 13 games versus Atlantic Division opponents.
The Nets are 1-4 against the number in their last five home games, but they have covered in five of their last seven games against opponents with a winning record.
The over/under is 228.5 points, with the over posting a 3-1-1 record in the last five meetings. The over has trended with both teams of late, hitting five times in Cleveland's last seven overall and four times in their last five versus Atlantic Division teams. The over has also hit four times in Brooklyn's last five games, but the under has come through 21 times in Brooklyn's last 29 home games.
Friday's win marked just the sixth time this season James played less than 30 minutes, and a refreshed James is a good James. He has averaged 31.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.2 rebounds in the previous five games after logging less than 30 minutes, shooting a torrid 62.0 percent in those contests.
As the Cavaliers took a huge step closer to full strength, their rotation continues to be in a state of flux. With Korver likely absent again, Jose Calderon's spot in the starting lineup is secure for at least one more game, but with Thompson and Nance back, Ante Zizic got pushed closer to the end of the bench.
Drew's job until Lue returns is to figure out if there is a first five and second five, and how the two collaborate on that will go a long way in determining Cleveland's chances of a fourth straight conference title.
The Nets continue to play out the string, but they have been competitive while doing so. They are taking their lumps and absorbing learning lessons about protecting leads with these two most recent losses, but there are positives with Allen, Russell and Caris LeVert improving his offensive game without sacrificing much of his defense.
With Miami the only team with playoff aspirations on this three-game road swing for the Cavaliers, they have a chance to strengthen their hold on the No. 3 spot before a challenging four-game home stand that closes with games versus Toronto and Washington. Look for the Cavaliers to make it five in a row with a 117-107 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on NBATV and on NBATV Canada. It will also be televised locally on Fox Sports Ohio and YES Network. Tip-off time is 1 pm EDT.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?