The Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling, dealing with some turmoil and heading west to face some of the top teams in the Western Conference.
In other words, it’s a perfect trap game for the Denver Nuggets.
The Cavaliers ended a five-game losing streak at Detroit on Thursday night, but it will be tough to build on that if Denver has learned lessons from the recent past. The Nuggets have four home losses, and two of them have come against the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans, who combined have fewer wins than Denver’s 26.
Cleveland sits at 11-27, so it would be natural for the Nuggets to overlook Saturday night’s opponent. It would also be foolish, considering Denver isn’t at full strength.
Power forward Paul Millsap will miss the game with swelling in his left knee. Millsap has been in and out of the lineup since hurting the knee against Minnesota on Dec. 20 and the Nuggets are using caution in hopes he can get right for what they hope is a deep playoff run.
“He and Jamal (Murray) collided in the Minnesota game and it’s just not going away,” Denver coach Michael Malone said after practice on Friday. “There’s some swelling in there, some discomfort, so the rational, patient approach is what’s the rush? Let’s get it right. We’re a team that can make the playoffs and play deep into the playoffs and we’re going to need Paul to do that.”
Millsap played in the first four games of the recent road trip but sat out the Nuggets’ 107-106 win at Dallas on Wednesday night.
Denver will try to make it three straight against a Cleveland team that has dealt with some controversy over the last week. Forward Kevin Love showed frustration during a loss to Oklahoma City on Saturday night and later said he was upset with a play, not his teammate.
He later apologized, calling his actions “childish” and said he let his “emotions get the best of him.” He also added that “I love my teammates and have to be better.”
Thursday, first-year coach John Beilein also felt the need to apologize to his players for calling them “a bunch of thugs” during a film session a day before. Beilein said he meant to use slugs instead of thugs and addressed the team before the game in Detroit.
His Cavaliers beat the Pistons in overtime and Beilein downplayed the events leading up to the game as making the win more gratifying.
“The past couple days are part of today’s world,” Beilein said after the game. “It is great to get a win for these guys right there, and that’s all it’s really about.”
While Denver is dealing with an injury at power forward. Cleveland added depth at the position before the Detroit game, signing Alfonzo McKinnie to a 10-day contract.
McKinnie might get a longer look if the Cavaliers decide to deal Love before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. He has been the subject of several trade rumors.
–Field Level Media