CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (27-18)
at SAN ANTONIO SPURS (30-18)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
A trip to San Antonio isn't exactly an easy opportunity for the Cavs to get back on track.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have gone 2-6 in their last eight games, and each of those two wins have come against the lowly Orlando Magic—by a combined five points. Needless to say, January has not been kind to SF LeBron James and the Cavs, to the point where many think it’s more likely than not that they will make a significant trade before the deadline next month. Cleveland's most recent humiliation was perhaps its worst yet, a 148-124 home loss to the Thunder in which they tied the franchise record for most points allowed in a regulation game. Sadly, their next game will not be against Orlando, but rather a road tilt in San Antonio on Tuesday night against the Spurs. (Cleveland is 11-12 on the road this year.) San Antonio isn't exactly on fire itself, losing three of its last four and seven of its last 12. Now at 30-18, the Spurs find themselves at serious risk of losing the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference to Minnesota. But while Cleveland's 27-18 record is a pretty major disappointment in the weaker Eastern Conference, San Antonio's performance has been borderline inspiring out West, considering they've largely been without perennial MVP candidate SF Kawhi Leonard for the majority of the season. Keep an eye on injuries before putting money down on this one; PF Kevin Love and SG Iman Shumpert are questionable for Cleveland. Leonard and SF Rudy Gay are out indefinitely for the Spurs, while SG Manu Ginobili is questionable for Tuesday.
Family and friends of King James packed the stands on Saturday as he needed 25 points against Oklahoma City to reach the 30,000 mark for his (regular season) career. And while Cleveland put up 124 as a team, LeBron managed only 18 points, and he put up 16 against Orlando in the game immediately prior. Earlier in the month, in a blowout loss to the Wolves, he had a season-low 10 points and a career-worst plus/minus of minus-39. While LeBron has largely coasted through regular seasons during his current tenure with the Cavs, these types of performances feel different. Perhaps he could use another two-week break like the one he took in January of the 2014-15 season. He appears to have a weaker supporting cast than he's had since his first stretch in Cleveland, something that the introduction of PG Isaiah Thomas into the lineup ought to have helped. He scored a season-best 24 points in the loss to OKC. It didn't matter for the purposes of that game, but it was encouraging for his progress going forward as he continues to work his way back from injury. Love, who has had a solid year, only played three minutes against the Thunder due to a bout with what might be the flu. He didn't practice on Sunday. If he's out against San Antonio, the Cavs offense will be in dire straits indeed. C Tristan Thompson and SF Jeff Green would see increased minutes in that circumstance.
In a 94-86 loss to the Pacers on Sunday, Spurs PG Tony Parker came off the bench for the first time since the 2010 playoffs. Head coach Gregg Popovich, it turns out, has handed off the job to second-year PG Dejounte Murray. Parker is pretty far over the hill at this point, although adequate rest may prime him for another surprising postseason run like he had last season before getting injured in the second round. Murray still won't play 30 minutes most nights, but he's far sprier on the defensive end than Parker, and is an excellent rebounder for his position. Leonard's absence—the effect of which cannot be overstated—has been compounded by the absence of Gay, the team's next best shot creator on the wing. He figures to be out of the lineup for at least another week. All of this makes PF LaMarcus Aldridge the team's foremost option on offense by a mile. His increased usage has healed a rift in his relationship with Popovich, which bodes well for when (if?) he and Leonard are on the floor at the same time. LMA laid an egg in the Pacers loss with only 10 points, but had 34 in a win in Brooklyn the Wednesday prior. The loss in Indianapolis was San Antonio's second straight with 86 points or fewer, and right now there isn't much reason to believe they'll become a good offensive team any time soon.