Cleveland Cavaliers set to stare down Luka Doncic and Dallas Mavericks


Cleveland Cavaliers set to stare down Luka Doncic and Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic in action against the Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic in action against the Phoenix SunsReuters
The Cleveland Cavaliers seek their fifth win in the last six games Wednesday when they visit the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas returns home in pursuit of a three-game winning streak after a 128-114 win on Christmas Day at Phoenix. The victory was fueled by Luka Doncic's 50-point, 15-assist double-double.

It marked the sixth 50-plus-point game of Doncic's career, who surpassed 10,000 career points in the process. Doncic is the sixth-youngest player in NBA history to reach the milestone at 24 years, 300 days of age and seventh-fastest at 358 games played.

"I've never been on a team when somebody's scoring the ball like this at such a high rate, and also getting his teammates involved and making sure everybody feels comfortable on the floor," said Derrick Jones Jr., who added 23 points at Phoenix. "It's incredible."

Dereck Lively II finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Lively was upgraded from questionable shortly before tip-off after missing the previous four games with an ankle injury.

The double-double was Lively's fifth of his rookie season.

Lively's return bolstered a Dallas lineup that has faced a variety of injury issues of late, most recently losing Kyrie Irving to a right-heel contusion. Irving last played December 8th, missing the past nine games.

Dallas also has been without Maxi Kleber, who last appeared on November 8th and has been out with a toe injury. Josh Green has not played since Dec. 1 due to an elbow injury.

Doncic buoys Dallas amid the absences with the league's second-highest scoring output at 33.5 points per game, in addition to 9.4 assists and 8.5 rebounds per outing.

Another top scorer is Cleveland's Donovan Mitchell, who ranks ninth at 27.7 points per game after scoring 37 in his last outing on Dec. 18 vs. Houston. Mitchell has missed the last three games due to illness and is questionable heading into Wednesday.

Cleveland returns to action well rested after last playing Saturday in a 109-95 win at Chicago. The Cavaliers bounced back from a 123-104 loss at home to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, which ended a three-game winning streak.

Saturday's win was the Cavaliers' fourth while holding an opponent to fewer than 100 points scored this season.

Although Cleveland's per-game defensive yield is up from a season ago, when the Cavaliers led the NBA at 106.9 points allowed per game, Cleveland entered the day Tuesday ranked among the stingier defenses in the league at seventh with 111.9 surrendered a contest.

The win at Chicago was Cleveland's second this month when it limited an opponent to fewer than 100 points despite playing without interior defensive stopper Evan Mobley.

Mobley, who is averaging 16.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots per game, has missed the last nine games with a knee injury. He is expected to be out at least until the end of January.

Cleveland also has played its last five games without Darius Garland due to a fractured jaw. Garland is averaging 20.7 points and a team-leading 5.9 assists per game.

Amid the litany of absences, Cleveland has had key contributions in wins from Sam Merrill, who scored 19 and 27 points in wins over Houston and Utah on December 18th and 20th. Caris LeVert scored 23 points vs. Utah, Max Strus finished with 26 points vs. Chicago and Craig Porter Jr. had 19 points against Chicago.

"That's the enjoyable part about it, being in these moments with your back against the wall so to speak, and knowing it's not going to be one guy (who) picks up the slack for everybody," Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

The Cavaliers swept last season's two meetings.


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