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The Cavaliers snapped their eight-game losing skid on Thursday night to start the trip and look to carry some momentum into the rest of the three-game roadie. They’ll need it on Saturday, as they take on the league’s hottest squad.
Cleveland played one of its best games of the season on Thursday night in San Antonio – scoring the final five points in the final 20 seconds of regulation – capped by Kevin Love’s three-pointer with 7.5 to play to send the contest into overtime. In the extra-session, Cleveland never trailed, getting its first win since November 23 and first road win since November 10.
The Bucks haven’t lost a single game since November 8 – a win streak that’s now reached 17 games, including their comeback victory over the Grizzlies in Memphis on Friday night. Milwaukee outscored the Grizz, 37-19, in the final period with Giannis outdueling Jaren Jackson, who poured in a career-best 43 points, 26 of those in the third quarter.
Two of Milwaukee’s 23 wins this season have come against the Cavaliers, including a nine-point victory back in late November at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Taking on the Milwaukee Bucks means taking on the league’s MVP – Giannis Antetokounmpo. And the bad news for the rest of the Association this year is that he’s actually gotten better.
After averaging 27.7ppg and 12.5rpg (+5.5apg) in his MVP season, the Greek Freak is up to 30.9 and 13.2 this year – looking to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor to averaged 30/13/5 for an entire campaign. This season, Antetokounmpo has posted 14 30-point, 10-rebound games, twice as many as his next-closest competitor (Luka Doncic).
The 15th overall pick of the 2013 Draft has had some huge nights against the Wine and Gold over his career, but Cleveland was able to slow him down in their first visit to Milwaukee this year – holding him to just 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting.
The Cavaliers will try to counter the Freak with various looks, but for much of the night he’ll tangle with Kevin Love – who’s coming off his best offensive night of the season on Thursday.
In Cleveland’s Thursday night victory over San Antonio, the former UCLA star finished with 30 points – going 11-for-24 from the floor, including 4-of-9 from long-range to go with a game-high 17 rebounds.
Cleveland was able to limit Antetokounmpo in that first meeting here in Milwaukee. Instead, it was the Bucks’ second unit that doomed the Wine and Gold – namely Pat Connaughton and former Cavalier, George Hill.
Connaughton scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half of that contest – going 4-of-5 from long-range, 6-of-8 from the floor overall on the night. Hill did most of his work after half – netting 11 of his 19 points over the final two quarters. This season, Hill – averaging just under 10.0ppg off the bench – is the league-leader in three-point shooting (.537) and is fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio.
But the Bucks aren’t limited to just those two reserves – getting nightly contributions from Donte DiVicenzo, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez and a player very familiar to Coach John Beilein, former Wolverine, D.J. Wilson.
The Cavaliers main scorer off the bench remains unchanged, with Jordan Clarkson heating up in a big way over his last four games.
On Thursday night, playing in front of friends and family, Clarkson finished with 25 points off bench – going 10-for-18 from the floor, including 4-of-11 from deep, adding four boards and three assists in 30 minutes of work.
Kevin Porter Jr. is a different player than the one Milwaukee has faced early this season. He struggled against the Spurs, but posted a career-best 24 points the previous night, going 9-of-15 overall, including 6-of-9 from deep, adding three assists, three steals and a pair of rebounds.