Written by: Josh Gutbrod
While the Cavaliers retooled the roster to add some youth and athleticism to the mix, many have wondered how much better (or maybe even worse) the team actually got at the trade deadline. Heading into Wednesday night’s contest in Denver, the Cavaliers had played 9 games with the new crop of players and were an astoundingly average 5-4 during those games. There is something to be said for the absence of Kevin Love, now Cleveland’s outright second best player, but as it was before defense had been the problem for the new group and Love has never been a massive force at the defensive end.
The defensive woes did not end Wednesday night, but Cavs fans were able to see some promise at that end of the floor. While the team as a whole surrendered 108 points in the road win, new addition Larry Nance Jr. absolutely shined defensively throughout the game. The Revere Rocket was all over the floor defensively particularly in help side and off-ball instances on his way to wracking up four steals. Better yet for the Cavaliers, offensively Nance chipped in 13 points (3rd on the team) to go with the steals and his 13 boards in his third double double in the last five games.
Of course, the shining star of the Cavaliers victory was once again LeBron James. King James completely took over down the stretch, hitting not one but two nearly impossible off-balance jump shots in the final two minutes to break the Nuggets comeback efforts. James also was big on the defensive end during the final minutes as he switched onto star Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the final minutes to help seal the win. James finished with 39 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists, just 2 assists shy of recording his 14th triple double of the season, which would be a career high for the King.
The Cavaliers dug out a much needed road win against a team in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. While expectations have be tempered a bit with Kevin Love out, victories such as the one over the Nuggets are crucial in building confidence and camaraderie for a roster that was assembled just less than a month ago. With the victory Cleveland pulls to 1.5 games ahead of Indiana for first place in the division and 1.5 games ahead of both Washington and Indiana for third place in the Eastern Conference.
As for the Nuggets, the home less could not have come at a worse time. The loss dropped Denver into a virtual three-way tie for 8th in the West with the Clippers and division rival Jazz, with the Clips owning the tie breaker over Denver and currently holding the eighth seed. Denver will have a chance to make up some ground in the West with the team’s next five games coming against teams with losing records. The Western Conference playoff race is far from over, and if Paul Millsap can continue to come back strong for Denver the team could easily fall in the 6-8 range. Star Nuggets center Nikola Jokic tallied 36 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists on 12-14 shooting from the floor in the loss.