Cavaliers look to avenge loss to Nuggets
The formula worked less than a week ago. Play a team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and then fly out after the game to face the Cleveland Cavaliers the next night.
The Denver Nuggets had that scenario last weekend, and the results were better than suspected. Denver beat the Grizzlies in Memphis on Friday night and then went to Cleveland and knocked off the struggling Cavaliers by hitting 19 3-pointers less than 24 hours later.
Cleveland will be looking for payback when the two meet in Denver on Wednesday night. The Cavaliers (37-26) are coming off a 112-90 win over Detroit on Monday night and, like Saturday's game against the Nuggets, have a day off while Denver is playing the second of back-to-back games.
But the young Nuggets seem to thrive in these situations. Earlier this season, they beat Golden State in Oakland on the second night of consecutive games and then repeated the feat against the Cavaliers. Denver (35-29) has played well against the better teams in the league -- Houston being the exception -- but has played down to the competition at times this season.
Tuesday night was a case in point. Facing a Dallas team headed for the lottery, the Nuggets looked uninterested in the second half and lost to the Mavericks, 118-107, which snapped their four-game road winning streak.
The silver lining is the return of Paul Millsap, the big offseason free-agent signing who is getting back in the fold after missing 42 games with left wrist surgery.
The road winning streak has helped Denver stay in playoff position with 18 games left. The Nuggets are tied with the L.A. Clippers for eighth in the West, a game ahead of the Clippers, but only three games behind Portland for the third seed.
"There's a great belief in our locker room," coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post over the weekend. "I love the chemistry. I love the vibe and I love the fact that we're doing it as one, collectively. That's the most important thing about our team right now."
While the Nuggets are finding their rhythm, Cleveland is struggling in that department. The Cavaliers have lost two of three and seem to have come back to earth after a three-game winning streak following a roster overhaul at the trade deadline.
Cleveland sits third in the Eastern Conference but got some potential good news when forward Kevin Love, out with a broken hand since Jan. 30, said he thinks he can return before the projected eight-week recovery time.
Love also made news when he publicly addressed his issues with panic attacks that affected him this season. In an essay he wrote for the Player's Tribune, he discussed the panic attacks, the first of which hit him during a game against Atlanta on Nov. 5.
"It came out of nowhere. I'd never had one before," Love wrote. "I didn't even know if they were real. But it was real -- as real a broken hand or a sprained ankle. Since that day, almost everything about the way I think about my mental health has changed."
Love has had conflict with his teammates this season, but after his admission he got support from LeBron James, who tweeted "You're even more powerful now than ever before kevinlove!!! Salute and respect brother."
Love's public admission is powerful, and his return could be inspirational when it does happen. For now, the Cavaliers are trying to find their footing -- and some revenge -- against the Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Updated March 6, 2018