With 13 games to play, the Cleveland Cavaliers hold onto a two-game lead over Boston for the one-seed in the Eastern Conference (that lead is three games in the loss column).
The last two have come on the road (1-1 in LA) and the next two do too. Overall, eight of the Cavs’ last 13 will come away from Cleveland and four of them are lose-able, including tonight’s tilt with the Denver Nuggets.
Denver had gone 7-2 over its last nine before running into the Houston Rockets in back-to-back games. Two straight losses by a combined five points – the last of which came two nights ago at the Pepsi Center when James Harden went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer – have trimmed the Nuggets’ lead for the eighth spot in the Western Conference to one game over the Trail Blazers. Portland is 7-3 over its last 10, which means it’s crunch time for Denver
Now Cleveland comes to town in the midst of a four-game road trip. The Cavs were beaten down by the Clippers over the weekend and then barely handled the Lakers on Monday night behind 46 points from Kyrie Irving.
Neither of the two stories around the team have to do with the way the Cavaliers are playing basketball. And in fact, both both center around LeBron James and recent responses he’s made to comments directed at him.
Lonzo Ball’s dad made a stupid comment that elicited a headline reply from James for not much of a reason other than that most everything LeBron says is a headline. Then there was Adam Silver’s league-wide memo about teams resting star players that LeBron has found himself in the middle of too.
Mr. Commissioner and esteemed owners, if you are going to water the league down to this 82-game slog to stuff your pockets that much more, you must expect such strategy. It’s to you that I say if teams are resting their best players, something is wrong with the system. And banning the tactic is not the answer. If the NBA and its owners focus on maintaining the highest quality product it can, things will fall into place.
Regardless, I don’t see how either story plays into tonight’s game. I simply like the Nuggets because they are playing at a level of a team that should be a pick or better at home against anyone other than the Warriors at full strength. You’ve heard of Nikola Jokic by now and Gary Harris is creeping back into our minds, now at the pro level. He is quietly developing into Denver’s second best player and one of those rock solid shooting guards who you can count on to get you close to 20 every night. On a roster as deep as Denver’s, that is no small feat. He scored 28 on just 16 shots in the last game against Houston.
LeBron will play. So will Kyrie. But the Pepsi Center draws this one even; and if there’s one team that will run away with this one, it’s Denver.
Free Pick: Denver +4