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The Cavaliers’ longest homestand of the season rolls on, with the sledding getting somewhat more difficult on Friday night as the Greek Freak and his Central Division-leading Bucks roll into town for a Friday night showdown.
Friday’s matchup features a pair of teams going in different directions. The Bucks come in looking for their 10th straight win while the Wine and Gold are trying to avoid their ninth loss in the last 10 games. Making things that much more difficult, the Bucks recently welcomed Khris Middleton back from a seven-game absence with a bruised thigh.
On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers shot the ball pretty well and outrebounded the shorthanded Magic, but 25 turnovers that led to 25 Orlando points were too much to overcome. Cleveland went toe-to-toe with Steve Clifford’s squad through the first stanza, but a 13-0 run early in the third quarter gave the Magic just enough space to earn their second win of the season over the Cavs.
The Bucks used a big run of their own to get past Atlanta on Wednesday night – opening up a big early edge and holding on for the victory with Giannis outdueling Jabari Parker as Milwaukee improved to 15-3 - the best mark in the Eastern Conference.
In their lone matchup this season back in late October at Fiserv Forum, the Bucks had seven players notch double-figures to earn the 17-point win, overcoming double-doubles from Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love.
In the Cavaliers loss to Milwaukee earlier this season, Cleveland did an excellent job of containing the Greek Freak – holding him to a season-low 14 points and just 10 boards. Antetokounmpo still managed seven assists and two blocks, but was just 5-of-15 from the floor on the evening.
He still notched a double-double in that contest and has piled up 18 straight to start the season – the longest such streak since Bill Walton doubled-up in 34 consecutive contests to start the 1976-77 season. And he’s been even hotter over the past two games – following up his 50-point, 14-rebound outburst in a win over Utah with a 30-point showing – his 10th of the season – in Wednesday’s victory over the Hawks.
Friday will mark Antetokounmpo’s 22nd career meeting against the Wine and Gold and although he’s had some monster nights – including a pair of 40-point efforts over the past couple years – the Cavs have done as good a job against him as any Eastern Conference foe outside of Boston.
As most coaches do, John Beilein will throw everything he’s got at Giannis – who’ll match up against Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. at any given point on Friday.
Love struggled on Wednesday night, still battling a bad back that kept him out of the previous two games.
Thompson, on the other hand, netted his 10th double-double of the season – finishing with 13 points and 15 boards – while Nance doubled-up for the third straight game – chipping in with 11 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
If one could somehow extract the “T.O.” category from the final stat sheet on Cleveland’s starting guards on Wednesday night, they’d both have posted some very impressive lines.
In his 100th career game – (without a single miss) – Collin Sexton led the Wine and Gold with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, adding season-highs in both rebounds (7) and assists (6). The Young Bull has not tallied double-figure scoring in all 18 games this season and extends his stretch of 41 straight dating back to late last February.
Darius Garland notched 16 points on Wednesday and has now posted double-figure scoring in seven of his last eight games – hitting at least one three-pointer in all eight and shooting 42 percent (19-of-45) from deep over that stretch.
Unfortunately, both Garland and Sexton also combined for 13 of Cleveland’s 25 miscues in Wednesday’s loss, with Garland picking up eight of those himself.
On Friday night, both will have the opportunity to slow down the Bucks’ third-leading scorer, Eric Bledsoe, who led both squads with eight assists – to go with 14 points – in the first meeting of the season.
The ninth-year guard from Kentucky might be the Bucks’ third option, but he’s still a lethal threat in his own right – having posted seven games of at least 20 points this year, including a pair of 30-point efforts in the mix.