The Denver Nuggets got off on their road trip with a rocky start. Three straight losses to the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks left the 5-2 homestand a distant memory. However, the Nuggets were able to bounce back over the weekend with a big victory in Charlotte against the scorching red hot Hornets. Tonight they’ll try to keep that momentum going but it will be a tall task as they are in Cleveland to face Lebron James and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers.

Cleveland boasts a veteran lineup laden with talent that has propelled them to the best record in the conference for virtually the entire season. Besides James, the team has all-star talents in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, though it should be noted that Irving has been having the worst season of his career. The Cavaliers, to the best of their efforts, have built a roster capable of competing for a championship and outside of their big three they have several solid role players like defensive ace Iman Shumpert and a pair of former Nuggets in volume scorer J.R. Smith and big man Timofey Mozgov.

The Cavs have seen their big lead in the conference dwindle away over the past few weeks and now the Toronto Raptors are merely a game back which means every game down the stretch is crucial for Cleveland. The Nugget’s certainly will have their hands full tonight but they may be bolstered by the return of Kenneth Faried (who Denver Stiffs has confirmed is in fact not suffering from lower sack soreness) who has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable. Otherwise it’ll be on Denver’s youth to get them through the tough match up. Tonight is truly a good measuring stick game for how this young nucleus has progressed over the season.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (29-41) at Cleveland Cavaliers (49-20)

When: 5PM MDT

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland OH

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE AM 950

Rival blog: Fear the Sword

Cleveland Cavaliers Denver Nuggets
PG Kyrie Irving Emmanuel Mudiay Cavs
SG J.R. Smith Gary Harris Even
SF Lebron James Jakarr Sampson Cavs
PF Kevin Love Kenneth Faried Cavs
C Timofey Mozgov Nikola Jokic Nuggets

Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavadova, Jordan McRae, James Jones, Sasha Kaun

Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Jusuf Nurkic,Jameer Nelson

Injured players: Kenneth Faried – questionable (back), Danilo Gallinari – out (ankle), Wilson Chandler – out (ankle), Mo Williams – out (knee)

Key match up: Emmanuel Mudiay vs Kyrie Irving

As I said, Irving has struggled this season which makes this a much more even matchup than it appears on its face. Meanwhile, Mudiay has struggled to keep putting up the same types of numbers he was putting up during the homestand. Each player will look to get off to a quick start against the other and Mudiay's size should help him to contain Irving who did not play in the the previous match up this season. Irving is not a good defender and when Mozgov is out (and the Cavs do like to play small) there is little rim protection offered by Cleveland so the Nuggets young point guard should look to score often.

Key thing to watch for: Contain the King

Clearly, when it comes to the Cavs, LeBron is the main focal point. In the previous meeting this season he was able to amass 34 points on 54% shooting. Granted, the Nuggets tried to defend the King with Kostas Papanikolaou at times in that game. Now with Jakarr Sampson in the fold the Nuggets have a little bit stronger perimeter defense but still no one near the caliber of James. The Nuggets contained Love and Irving was absent in the previous match up but James still powered Cleveland to a victory. The Nuggets will have to find some way to slow him down to get the win tonight.

Opening thought: Statement win

During the successful seven game home stand the Nuggets played some sub-standard competition. However, once the team got on the road they faltered and since Danilo Gallinari’s injury they really haven’t faced the upper crust of the NBA. Getting a win tonight would show that the home stand was not a fluke and more importantly that this young core is up to the task of facing the NBA’s best teams. It would be nice to get the W, but my gut tells me Denver loses, 112-103.