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On Saturday night, the Wine & Gold finally close out their longest trip of the season’s first half – a six-game, 10-day trip that Cleveland can split with a win over the heavyweight Bucks in Milwaukee.
The Cavaliers pulled out an impressive win at the Grindhouse in Memphis on Thursday night, overtaking an equally-shorthanded Grizzlies squad in the final moments – with rookie Isaac Okoro coming up huge on both ends in the last minute of the victory. Again, the Cavaliers relied on their defense for the win, holding the Grizz to 90 points, 35 percent three-point shooting at eight total free throws.
The Bucks dropped their first home game of the season on Friday night, as the Utah Jazz – Cleveland’s home opponent on Tuesday night – splashed home 25 three-pointers in the win despite 66 combined points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Milwaukee took all three meetings with the Cavs last year and have won four of six overall. The Bucks in the second half of a back-to-back after a draining loss; the Cavaliers, looking to cap off the end of a long roadie. On Saturday night, something’s gotta give.
Larry Nance’s name is littered throughout the Wine & Gold’s record books and his mark for blocked shots in a game – 11, set in 1989, is one that might never be broken.
On Thursday night, his eldest son joined him – becoming the only Cavalier in team history to go at least 7-for-7 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from long-range – notching a season-high 18 points in Cleveland’s big road win over the Grizz. The squad’s most versatile player, Nance added three boards, four assists and three steals.
Nance’s offensive numbers are slightly down so far this season, but he’s been excellent on the defensive end and a big factor to the squad’s early success – leading the league both deflections in steals.
Nance and his frontcourt mates will need their A-game on Saturday night – taking on the league’s two-time MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last year, the Greek Freak was the only player in NBA history to average at least 29.0 points, 13.0 boards and 5.0 assists and he’s off to another smashing start this year, leading Milwaukee in two of those first three categories again this season.
Over the last three seasons against Cleveland, Antetokounmpo – who dropped 35 points on Utah last night and 43 against Detroit two games earlier – is averaging 31.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per.
The Cavaliers finished last season as one of the most porous defensive squads in the league. But this year – and specifically on this trip -- their defense has actually won them games.
A big reason for Cleveland’s defensive improvement has been rookie Isaac Okoro, who’s only played in four games but has been on the winning end in three of them – including Thursday’s big night, capping the Cavs win on both ends.
With 33.5 seconds to play, the 19-year-old Atlanta native chased down Memphis’ Tyus Jones at the basket, swatting away what looked to be an uncontested layup to preserve Cleveland’s one-point lead. On the next possession, Okoro took a beautiful feed from Andre Drummond to ice the game with a two-handed flush.
On Saturday night, his defensive prowess will get a serious test – taking on Milwaukee’s high-scoring Khris Middleton, who’s already off to an excellent start to the season.
The 39th overall pick in 2012 comes into tonight’s contest averaging a career-best 22.2ppg – having topped the 20-point mark in three games so far and the 30-point plateau twice, including a 31-point outburst on Friday night against Utah, going 11-for-19 from the floor to go with 10 boards and four assists.