The old saying “it’s darkest before the dawn” applies to the Denver Nuggets currently. After playing the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs on back to back nights two days ago, Denver now gets to welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Mile High City. The schedule is about to get much easier on Denver, but for now they have a tall task to face. While the Nuggets have performed admirably against far superior talent, they have nonetheless been unable to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Victim of a mounting injury report, the Nuggets will need to find the inner strength required to defeat one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.

On the other side, Cleveland is enjoying a return to health but has been subject to some brutal scheduling as well. Star point guard Kyrie Irving has returned to the lineup and his impact has been felt immediately. It was extremely prevalent just last night as he hit the game clinching shot and put up 22 points in just 24 minutes. Irving provides yet another dimension to a Cleveland team that is stacked with talent with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Love also on the roster, but luckily for Denver, he hasn’t been given a full bill of health which means he’s a no go for tonight. Even more lucky for Denver is James is reportedly sitting this one out as well. The true saving grace for the Nuggets may be that the Cavaliers are on the second night of a back to back and the fourth game in five nights and likely arrived in Denver late last night. In George Karl’s heyday this meant a virtually guaranteed victory for the Nuggets regardless of the opponent. However this season there has been anything but a guaranteed victory for the team.

Update (6:00PM): According to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post, James will in fact go tonight. God help Kostas Papanikolaou.

The Basics:

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (20-9) at Denver Nuggets (12-19)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to Watch: Altitude TV

Rival Blog: Fear the Sword

Cleveland Cavaliers Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Matthew Dellavedova Jameer Nelson Even
SG J.R. Smith Gary Harris Even
SF Iman Shumpert Kostas Papanikolaou Cavs
PF Kevin Love Kenneth Faried Cavs
C Tristan Thompson Joffrey Lauvergne Cavs
Bench Timofey Mozgov, Richard Jefferson, James Jones, Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams Will Barton, Randy Foye, Nikola Jokic, Mike Miller, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson Even

Injured Players: Danilo Gallinari – Out (ankle), Emmanuel Mudiay – Out (ankle), Jusuf Nurkic – Out (knee), Wilson Chandler – Out (hip), Kyrie Irving – Out (rest), LeBron James – Out (rest)

Key match up: Kenneth Faried vs. Kevin Love

By far the most intriguing match up tonight is Faried vs Love. Make no mistake, Love is the far superior player but Faried has been effective in more limited minutes this season. In the past though he has struggled with power forwards who can stretch the floor and Love is certainly capable of that. Still, Love generally brings out the best in the Manimal and Denver is going to need a big performance from Faried on the defensive side if they hope to have any chance to win. It may not show up on the stat sheet as Love will likely draw Faried away from the rim to prevent him from piling up rebounds, but if Love is kept in check it will be a win for the Manimal.

Key thing to watch for: Finishing out the game

The Nuggets have been abhorrent in the second half this season to say the least. Multiple times they have blown leads or just down right failed to show up (the 27pts in the second half against Orlando being possibly the worst). As stated earlier the Cavs are on the second night of a back to back and are finishing out a four games in five nights road swing. This should leave them fairly fatigued and some of their key players may play only limited minutes while Irving and James play not at all. The Nuggets will undoubtedly prepare for a Cavs team at full strength though and they need to be able to put together a complete game and run Cleveland out of the gym in the second half.

Can Nikola Jokic do damage against Mozzy?

The Cavaliers have relegated Timo to the bench but he still sees a decent amount of minutes. Meanwhile, Jokic’s promising rookie season hasn’t earned him the full time starting gig but Michael Malone has given him more and more action as the season has gone on. Jokic has made the most of his opportunity and will find himself with a good challenge taking on a center with the size and skill of Mozgov. Hopefully Nikola can continue his good play because , as our own Adam Mares pointed out, he’s been as good as any of the rookie big men this season.

Prediction: Just not enough talent on Denver's side despite facing a worn out Cleveland team. Give me the Cavs 95-84.