The Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off a trio of rough defensive showings, hope to snap their three-game losing streak on Saturday night when they visit the Chicago Bulls.
Cleveland is in the midst of its second-longest skid of the season and faces the possibility of Darius Garland sitting out due to a sprained right thumb. Garland was injured Thursday in the fourth quarter of the Cavaliers’ 135-126 loss at Indiana when he collided with Pacers forwards Oshae Brissett and Jalen Smith.
The Cavaliers won eight of their first nine games this season, when they were allowing 103.9 points per contest. Then came a five-game losing streak from Nov. 7-13 when the Cavaliers allowed 118.8 points per game and 51.1 percent from the field.
Cleveland followed up its five-game slide by winning 14 of 19 starting with a double-overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Nov. 18. During the 19-game run, the Cavaliers allowed 101 points per game and earned nine double-digit wins.
The final game of the hot streak was a 114-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 21. Since then, the Cavaliers dropped home games to the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets before allowing their highest point total of the season at Indiana.
During the past three games, Cleveland allowed 126 points on average as opponents shot 54.6 percent. The Pacers shot 56.5 percent from the floor vs. the Cavaliers after Brooklyn shot 57.3 percent. The Cavaliers also conceded a season-high-tying 19 3-pointers on Thursday, and they are allowing 57.1 percent shooting (56 of 98) from behind the arc in the past three contests.
“We kept giving up threes,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The 3-ball is the way back into the game. It’s personnel-driven, understanding the person you’re guarding, being on high alert that that’s what they are looking for. I just didn’t think we had the focus on the defensive end of the floor because we were scoring points. We have to be able to do both.”
The Bulls endured a stretch of 12 losses in 17 games, culminating with a disastrous defensive showing in a 150-126 road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 18. After that contest, Chicago coach Billy Donovan cited a severe lack of compete level.
Since allowing its highest point total in regulation since 1969, Chicago has improved. The Bulls are 5-1 in their past six games, a stretch that includes last-second road wins at Atlanta and New York along with a 119-113 overtime win at Milwaukee on Wednesday, when Chicago erased a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls continued its strong form Friday in a 132-118 win over the visiting Detroit Pistons.
Zach LaVine scored a season-high 43 points, including 18 in the first quarter and seven in Chicago’s 17-3 run over the final 4:10. DeMar DeRozan added 22 after scoring 42 against the Bucks and a week after he hit the game-winning shot in New York.
“On any given night, any one of us can go off for a game like that,” LaVine said. “You don’t want to count on it, but I think offensively we’re fine each and every game. One of us three or four are capable of having a good game, can carry the offense.”
While Chicago is 5-2 against the top four teams in the East (Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Cleveland), its biggest margin of defeat this year came in a 128-96 home loss to the Cavaliers on Dec. 22. Cleveland, with Garland out due to an eye injury, shot 56.5 percent from the floor. Donovan Mitchell paced the Cavaliers in that game with 32 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
–Field Level Media