Game 45: Thunder at Cavs
Quicken Loans Arena
Radio: WTAM-AM 1100, WMMS-FM 100.7, La Mega-FM 97.7
1. Dion Waiters' return was sort of a dud. He entered the game, there were a few boos, and that was that. He was traded by the Cavs on Jan. 5 in a three-team deal. It brought the Cavs J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, which is why Cavs fans seem a bit numb to Waiters leaving. Waiters was a talented player, but was often times misunderstood. LeBron James said Waiters wore the scapegoat tag very well. The latter always seemed to get blamed for what went wrong with the Cavs. He's being billed as a defensive stopper-type in OKC, which is a stark contrast to how he played in Cleveland. We know Dion can score. He always will. But until he understands how to play in a team game, he's always be cast as a me-first player. Perhaps, working with Coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder has helped him understand the game. He ended with 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
2. The Thunder finished 3-2 on their just-completed five-game East Coast trip. They really wanted to finish the trip with a bang. Unless they get their act together, they could be left out of the Western Conference playoff field. They would have to overtake some very good teams, such as Phoenix and New Orleans. It's not a lock they make the playoffs.
3. The Cavs have improved to 14-9 at The Q this season. That's really not where they want to be. Good teams normally win 75 percent of their home games and about 50 percent of their road games. The Cavs have won six in a row. They haven't lost since Jan. 13 in Phoenix - almost two weeks. They want to keep that train rolling.
4. The Cavs were outstanding on the defensive end. I thought that was the key to the game. They held the Thunder to 39.4 percent shooting from the field. The Thunder have so many weapons, starting with forward Kevin Durant, last year's MVP. He's a 25-point scorer, who can shoot from distance. He's so long, he's hard to defend. But let's not forget point guard Russell Westbrook. He's about the same size as Kyrie Irving, but he's a different player. He's so much more physical than Irving. Westbrook just attacks the basket, and there's not much one can do to prevent it. He's averaging 25 points, 6.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 2.3 steals (it would league the league is he had enough attempts).
5. In the first meeting with the Thunder, a 103-94 loss on Dec. 11 - Irving crumbled to the floor in what looked like a serious knee injury. Luckily for him, he was able to stay in the game and played in the second half. He ended with 20 points and six assists. He said later that he suffered a bone bruise.
6. The Cavs snapped a two-game losing streak to OKC. However, they've won seven of their last nine games against the Thunder at The Q. If the playoffs started today, the Thunder would be on the outside looking in. The Cavs would be the fifth seed in the East. They are four games behind No. 4 Chicago. I predict they will catch the Bulls.
7. Cavs power forward Kevin Love has 13 double-doubles in 18 career games against the Thunder, including 11 in a row. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds against OKC. More importantly, he made 5 of 7 from behind the arc.
8. James is averaging 29.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals in seven games since his return from his two-week layoff.
UP NEXT: at Detroit, The Palace of Auburn Hills, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
SF LeBron James (6-8, 250) vs. Kevin Durant (6-9, 240)
C Timofey Mozgov (7-1, 250) vs. Steven Adams (7-0, 255)
SG J.R. Smith (6-6, 220) vs. Andre Roberson (6-7, 210)
Thunder - F Grant Jerrett, F/C Mitch McGary