GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Tip-off: Monday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
Golden State and Cleveland meet up for the last time before June.You'd think the NBA schedulers would have left a little more space between the two matchups between the Warriors and Cavs this season, as the perennial NBA Finals opponents met less than a month ago on Christmas Day. However, there will be a compelling difference between that game and the one taking place in Cleveland on Monday night: Warriors PG Stephen Curry and Cavaliers PG Isaiah Thomas will likely both be on the court. Curry was in the final stages of recovering from a minor injury on the holiday, and Thomas was yet to make his debut as a Cav. The Warriors are back atop the Western Conference standings after spending some time trailing Houston, while and up-and-down season in Cleveland has the Cavs looking up at Toronto and Boston in the East. Golden State won-and-covered a four-point spread at home on Christmas, taking down Cleveland 99-92 thanks largely to a well-rounded performance from SF Kevin Durant.
Since re-entering the lineup at the end of 2017, Steph Curry has been Steph Curry—like, MVP-level Steph Curry. He torched the Grizzlies in his first game back with 38 points on 10-of-13 three-point shooting on December 30th, and hardly slowed down thereafter. He dropped 45 on the Clippers last Saturday in only 30 minutes, making the whole performance look disconcertingly effortless. He did, however, sprain his ankle last week and is not a sure thing to play in this one. Durant, of course, buoyed the offense in Steph's absence, and he remains its co-leader with Curry back. Entering Wednesday night against the Clippers, he was set to return from a three-game absence induced by a calf injury. He needed only 25 points to become the second-youngest player in league history to score 20,000 points, trailing only LeBron James. He's also further evolved as a defensive player this season, becoming a legitimate candidate for the All-Defensive team when the season ends. The rest of the core is exactly how you remember it: SG Klay Thompson launching treys, PF Draymond Green doing everything—including antagonizing opponents—and SF Andre Iguodala bringing elite defense off the bench (or in the starting lineup, when Durant's been out). C Zaza Pachulia gets the start at the five, but usually doesn't even play 15 minutes per game. PFs David West and Jordan Bell bring wily veteran tricks and youthful energy off the bench, respectively, while SF Omri Casspi, SG Patrick McCaw, PG Shaun Livingston and SG Nick Young all can make an impact on any given night. The Warriors may be the deepest team in the league, a fact that goes overlooked in any speculation that they may not win the title again this season.
It's been a slog lately for Cleveland, with a 127-99 loss in Minnesota on Monday and a listless effort in Boston the week before each providing its own kind of embarrassment. The team will take some time to gel with Thomas in the lineup, but early signs are encouraging after his return from injury. He scored 17 points in 19 minutes in his season debut, and scored 19 points in 21 minutes in his next outing—both wins. Things were less positive in his third game, when he was ejected for clotheslining Andrew Wiggins as the Cavs were being blown out in Minneapolis. Cleveland was missing a non-LeBron player who could create his own shot after trading Kyrie Irving, and Thomas's introduction into the lineup gives them that reliable second option once again. Speaking of LeBron, arguably the best basketball player of all-time had one of his worst games ever against the Wolves, posting a career-best -39 plus/minus and scoring a measly 10 points. It's hard to blame him for perhaps losing focus in the regular season when he makes the Finals every year, especially with a supporting cast that he's likely growing tired of. That said, PF Kevin Love has played some great basketball this season, although a bum right ankle has limited him lately. He had two points against the Celtics last week and three against Minnesota. How much of those performances can be attributed to the ankle is unclear. SG Dwyane Wade has a high PER relative to his fellow wings, but a low true shooting percentage. It's not a banner year for wings J.R. Smith, Jae Crowder or Iman Shumpert.