When: 7:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM/1400 AM (Spanish)
Cavs: Collin Sexton, Brandon Knight, David Nwaba, Cedi Osman, Tristan Thompson
Suns: De’Anthony Melton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Dragan Bender, Richaun Holmes
107.8 ORtg (25th) - 117.4 DRtg (30th) = minus-9.6 netRtg (29th)
The biggest story when it comes to Cleveland is Kevin Love. He missed the Cavs’ last game with shoulder soreness but has been predictably solid all year. Love is consistent, plays smart and gives effort — the type of veteran who kills the Suns. If he plays, it’s hard to imagine Bender, Bridges, Josh Jackson or Ray Spalding putting up a fight down low.
It’s not just Love that poses a problem for Phoenix. Cleveland executes well despite their youth, and if Matthew Dellavedova can play, this becomes an even more veteran squad. Dellavedova sliced up the Suns’ pick-and-roll defense in the first game back from the All-Star break and could easily do so again with Tyler Johnson out of the lineup for Phoenix.
As we’ve seen against the Jazz all year as well as lesser teams like the Bulls and Pelicans, the Suns have no chance if they can’t muck up the game. Opponents who control the pace and win the fundamentals dominate the Suns. If Love and Dellavedova play, Cleveland could blow out the shorthanded Suns.
105.3 ORtg (28th) - 114.8 DRtg (28th) = minus-9.5 netRtg (28th)
However, the Suns have their own unguardable talent. Booker is on the best stretch of his career and one of the gaudiest individual scoring streaks in basketball history. He’s reached an echelon at which his achievements no longer need the disclaimer of age.
Cleveland doesn’t have a guard stopper to throw at Booker. He will see time matched up against Sexton, Knight and Jordan Clarkson, all of whom are genuinely bad defenders. Cleveland’s only chance may be to sic Nwaba on Booker, but it’s tough with the Cavs’ preference to play small to find lineups where Nwaba can spot one of the guards.
One change we could see between this game and the last time these teams met back in February is Bender spending the majority of the game on Love. Last time around, Jackson and Bridges split time on the All-Star big man and Love put up 16 and 11 in 22 minutes.
You know the recipe: A whole lot of Booker and 15 pairs of crossed fingers on the Suns bench, and maybe you walk away with a win. Deandre Ayton is out. Oubre and Johnson are out. It’s ugly out here.
Prediction: Cavs 120, Suns 105 if love plays; Cavs 110, Suns 100 if not.