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After returning from their longest trip of the season, the Wine & Gold complete the second half of their Western Conference back-to-back, welcoming the Jazz to Cleveland on Tuesday.
The first half, last night’s matchup with Memphis, was a sluggish affair – with the shorthanded Cavaliers running out of gas down the stretch after overcoming a 16-point deficit. Still nursing a nagging ankle injury, Collin Sexton was a late scratch and J.B. Bickerstaff’s banged-up squad fell short of the century mark for the eighth straight occasion.
Though it all, Bickerstaff has talked about the need for the Cavaliers to win ugly. And that’s just what might have to happen against a road-weary Utah squad that might need to do the same thing – playing their sixth game of a seven-game roadie on Tuesday night.
Quin Snyder’s team has gone 3-2 on the trip so far, bouncing back from a tough loss in New York to drop 25 triples on the Bucks in a Friday night win before holding off the Pistons on Sunday – scoring the game’s first nine points and never looking back.
The Jazz have won four straight over the Cavs, including each of the last two at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Make no mistake, if the Cavaliers want to get their first win of 2021 on Tuesday, they’ll have to slow down Donovan Mitchell – who leads Utah in scoring again, with his fourth straight 20.0 point-plus scoring average (23.0ppg) since being taken 13th overall in 2017.
But the Jazz can beat you a lot of different ways – and aside from Mitchell’s attack, Utah has arguably the best defensive big man in the Association in Rudy Gobert.
Only Indiana’s Myles Turner (who’s averaging an insane 4.0bpg) ranks higher than Gobert (2.8) in blocked shots, and the league’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Defensive First Teamer trails only Cleveland’s Andre Drummond on the glass, averaging 13.8rpg so far this season.
Drummond – who leads the NBA at 15.1rpg – can tie his career-mark for consecutive double-doubles at 12 with one more on Tuesday night. On Monday, the 9th-year man from UConn led the Cavs in scoring – 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting – and rebounding – grabbing 14 boards, while adding three assists, a steal and a pair of blocks.
In 14 career meetings against the Jazz, Drummond’s averaged 12.9 points and 12.2 boards per.
You couldn’t find a person inside the Cavaliers organization who worked or played with Jordan Clarkson that doesn’t root for him to succeed in basketball and life.
The 7th-year guard from Mizzou only spent one full season in Cleveland – (although parts of three) – helping the Cavs reach the NBA Finals in 2018 after arriving along with Larry Nance Jr. in a Deadline deal with the Lakers.
Clarkson has flourished in Salt Lake City after a mid-season deal with the Jazz last year. The explosive sixth man is averaging a career-high-tying 16.8ppg this year after signing an offseason deal to remain in Utah – netting double-figures in nine of his first 10 games, shooting 49 percent from the floor, 42 percent from deep.
The Cavaliers best player off the bench will not match up with Clarkson on Tuesday – although it’ll be pretty entertaining if he does. That player, so far, has been JaVale McGee, the 13-year veteran (also) acquired from the Lakers.
McGee – who’ll also be instrumental in slowing down Rudy Gobert – has done a little of everything as Cleveland’s primary backup big man, notching double-figures in five of his first 11 games, averaging 6.5 boards per (including 13 in 13 minutes against Indiana) and providing veteran leadership. He’s even shooting 40 percent from three-point range.
With the Jazz playing their sixth road game of a seven-game trip and the Cavs playing the second half of a back-to-back after a six-gamer of their own, the benches might need to pick up the slack in Tuesday’s matchup.