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After winning the final contest of their three-game homestand – and before returning home for another three-gamer – the Wine & Gold head to Milwaukee for their first meeting ever in the new Fiserv Forum.
On Saturday night, the Cavaliers played one of their most complete games of the season, snapping the Wizards’ three-game win streak in convincing fashion – with Collin Sexton dominating John Wall, Tristan Thompson dominating Washington’s front line and Larry Drew’s shorthanded squad getting some unlikely production off the bench.
The Central Division-leading Bucks have gone 12-3 in their new arena, and they’re coming off one of their most impressive wins in an already-impressive season – dropping the East’s top squad on Sunday night in Toronto behind another big effort from the Greek Freak and Brook Lopez’ three-point barrage.
The Cavaliers went 3-1 against Milwaukee last year, their fourth straight year of taking the season series, and are 11-3 over their last 14 meetings, but both squads are currently heading in different directions. Still, the Wine & Gold would love to continue their progress, get their second straight win and enjoy their flight home from Fiserv Forum.
Any scouting report against Milwaukee begins with Giannis Antetokounmpo – whose meteoric ascension and the Bucks’ improved record should put him squarely into this year’s MVP discussion.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Greek Freak has improved his already-impressive all-around game – posting career numbers almost across the board.
So far this season, Giannis has posted 10 games of at least 20 points and 15 boards – good for tops in the league. He’s gone for at least 30 points in five of his previous nine outings and over his last two games against two of the league’s true heavyweights – Golden State and Toronto – he averaged 20.5 points and 17.0 boards per.
Kevin Love’s absence has forced Larry Drew to use situational starters at the 4, and on Saturday night he went with two-way player Jaron Blossomgame.
The former Clemson standout was actually solid in his 20-minute stint – finishing with six points on 3-of-5 shooting to go with six boards.
With Sam Dekker being dealt on Friday, Cleveland’s options are limited once again. But regardless of who gets the start, it’ll take a team effort to slow down the Freak on his home floor.
In Brook Lopez’ first five years in the league, the former Stanford star didn’t attempt a single three-pointer. In Sunday night’s victory over the Raptors, the Bucks’ center attempted eight triples, canning five of them.
That performance was not an anomaly. Lopez has already attempted a dozen triples in a game twice this season (going 0-for-12 from deep in one of them). But if you’re going to play for Mike Budenholzer, you’d better be ready to stretch the floor and Lopez’ long-range accuracy is ideal when you’ve got one of the game’s best slashers and finishers cutting through the lane.
And while Lopez can definitely hit the three-pointer – shooting 37 percent on 169 attempts this year – he’s one of the weaker rebounding big men in the league; he’s tied for fifth on the team (4.2rpg) with the Bucks’ starting point guard, Eric Bledsoe.
His opposite could care less about taking three-pointers but cares very deeply about crashing the boards – and he’s been excellent in that department all season long.
On Saturday night, Thompson posted another monster performance – netting his 15th double-double of the season, finishing with a season-high 23 points to go with a game-high 19 rebounds, going 11-for-18 from the floor, adding five assists and a game-high two blocks.
In his last 17 games dating back to November 5, Tristan has posted 13 double-doubles, averaging 14.1 points and 13.5 boards on 57 percent shooting over that stretch.
Despite the losing mark, Cavalier fans are lucky to watch the early development of their young star, Collin Sexton, who seems to improve with each passing game.
On Saturday night, the Young Bull decimated a disengaged John Wall – going off for a career-high 29 points on 13-for-23 shooing, adding a career-best six assists, three boards and a pair of steals while holding Washington’s five-time All-Star to a single point on 0-for-5 shooting in 26 uneventful minutes of action.
The former Alabama star has now notched double-figures in 22 games this season (good for 2nd among his rookie class) and has done so in all 16 starts. Sexton has also tallied at least 20 points in each of his last three games – the first Cavalier to do so since Dion Waiters back in 2013.
Over those 16 starts, he’s averaging 18.9ppg while shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc.
Eric Bledsoe struggled on Sunday night in Toronto, but he’s been rock-solid in his first full season with the Bucks – shooting a career-best 51 percent from the floor – and posted back-to-back 27-point performances last week.
Bledsoe has had some good success against the Wine & Gold of late as well – averaging an even 23.0 ppg and 6.8 apg over the last four meetings.
With the Cavaliers making trades in back-to-back weeks, the starting lineup has been a work in progress. But as it’s been all season long, the Wine & Gold’s bench has been a strong suit.
That bench gets a little better on Monday night when an old friend, Matthew Dellavedova, joins that second unit in his return to Milwaukee. How Delly will fit back in remains to be seen. But when he does, he’ll join a unit that’s been humming all year.
Even with Jordan Clarkson missing action on Saturday night with a sore back, the reserves came up big.
Larry Nance Jr. tallied 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including a devastating windmill dunk off an alley-oop from Collin Sexton in the fourth quarter. On the night, Nance went 2-of-3 from long-range, adding seven boards and a game-high seven assists.
Cleveland also got a nice boost from recently-signed two-way player Jalen Jones, who came off the bench ready to fire – canning all four triples he attempted to finish with 12 points and three boards in 14 extremely productive minutes in reserve.
Alec Burks, who’d come off the bench in his first four games as a Cavalier, was inserted into the starting lineup and responded well – finishing with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting to go with seven boards, four assists and a steal.