The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost six straight games. Our Denver Nuggets have won four straight and are yet to lose to an Eastern Conference team this season. I don't like the Cavs' odds tonight, but the Nuggets shouldn't sleep on this up-and-coming squad, either.
Denver: 22-17 (110-8 at home)
Streak: Won 4
Cleveland: 13-22 (5-11 on the road)
Streak: Lost 6
Denver: Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is doubtful. Timofey Mozgov (left ankle sprain) is day-to-day. Kosta Koufos (knee tendinitis) is day-to-day.
Cleveland: Anderson Varejao (right wrist fracture) is out.
Season Series: 0-0.
Opposition's Take: Fear the Sword
Believe it or not, there was a time not too long ago when the Cleveland Cavaliers were within earshot of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff seed. But beginning in February the Cavaliers went into a free fall (sound familiar, Nuggets fans?), losing games left and right. And unlike our Nuggets, the Cavaliers haven't been able to right the ship in March as they've now lost 11 of 16 games dating back to February 3rd, including their last six in a row.
Making matters worse for Cleveland, they'll be playing a Nuggets team on a four-game winning streak that showed a lot of moxie in a Monday night overtime thriller against the Sacramento Kings. The Nuggets may have been lucky on several levels to win that game, but you have to give them credit for never giving up.
Oh, and the Nuggets haven't lost to an Eastern Conference team all season. It's doubtful that the Cavaliers will be the first to break that streak.
But the Nuggets and their fans shouldn't pencil in a W for tonight quite yet as this year's Cavaliers squad is much improved over last season's team that lost 26 straight and 36 out of 37 games during one historically horrifying stretch. Despite the Cavaliers' recent spate of losing, the Nuggets should be prepared for a team that has been able to beat the Pacers, Mavericks, Clippers and Celtics (in Boston) at various points this season. Hell, if the Sacramento Kings (playing the second of a back-to-back, no less) can almost beat the Nuggets at Pepsi Center, certainly the Cavaliers have a shot. At least a marginal shot.
Like many bad teams traveling through Denver this season, whether the Nuggets win or lose has more to do with the Nuggets than their inferior opponent on any given night. If the Nuggets play their style of basketball by attacking the rim, not settling for jump shots and spreading the minutes out equitably among their many able players (including tall ones!), a fifth-straight victory should be in hand by the sound of the final buzzer on Wednesday night.
Moreover, the Nuggets should own the Cavaliers on the interior due to their supreme height advantage (something the Nuggets should have used against the Kings but opted not to, almost costing them a would-be home court win against a truly dreadful opponent). With the Cavaliers' only decent big man - Anderson Varejao - out with a broken wrist, the Nuggets can give the guards the night off and get Timofey Mozgov, Nene, Danilo Gallinari and (yes) Chris Andersen ample touches inside. After all, there's no rule that the Nuggets have to run with the three-guard lineup all the time, right?
With the Nuggets guards - notably Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson and Andre Miler - ridden hard on Sunday and Monday night, it would be nice to see head coach George Karl get more minutes for Nene and Gallo as they work themselves back into shape coming off injuries. Tonight should provide the right combination of a tune up game and a victory.
SCOUTING THE CAVALIERS
-Kyrie Irving: Irving - the slam dunk winner for the 2012 Rookie of the Year - has been so good that he's made Cavaliers fans (almost) forget about LeBron James. Not only is Irving averaging over 18 points and 5 assists per game, but the rook is shooting 48.3% from the field ... an amazing stat considering he's a point guard and a rookie.
-Antawn Jamison: Traded to Cleveland to help James a few seasons ago, Jamison has quietly gone about his business despite the losing and is having yet another productive season at 35 years old, averaging 18 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
-Ryan Hollins: When Ryan Hollins is your starting center, you don't have a starting center.
-Luke Haragondy: The very epitome of the word "Stiff" is this bruiser out of Notre Dame.
Proving that things balance out in the NBA, the scheduling gods gifted the Nuggets this stretch in March and they must take full advantage of it. And while you can't expect your team to win every game, I do expect the Nuggets to win tonight and Friday against the lowly Hornets, bringing the Nuggets' win streak to six games to kickoff the weekend.