Clippers @ Cavs
Friday @ 4:00pm PT
TV: FOX Sports San Diego / Prime Ticket
CLEVELAND — When the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland last season, it was the first time the Clippers ever defeated LeBron James on his own court.
The way things have gone for the Clippers lately, a second victory at Quicken Loans Arena seems unlikely. But if there’s a team capable of playing down to the level of its competition, it’s the Cavs.
Cleveland hosts Los Angeles at 7:30 on Friday in its return from a four-game road trip in which it won its last three.
The Cavs still have the worst defense in the NBA (110.6 points per 100 possessions), but during this winning streak they limited their opponents to 44.4 shooting and 28.2 shooting from 3-point range — both marked improvements.
But the Cavs (8-7) are 0-3 in home games following a road trip, and just 3-4 overall in Cleveland. They’ve been blown out at home by the Magic, Knicks and Pacers, losing those games by a combined 57 points.
Cleveland’s three-game winning streak is its first this season, and the club has won four out of five and five out of the last seven games.
“I’m seeing some great strides right now in the last five games, we’ve really been playing defensively, we’ve been playing better offensively, and just trying to figure it out,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re playing without a point guard and just doing what we can to make things work, so guys are doing a good job of putting in the extra work and it’s coming.”
After rallying from 23 points down with an impressive 43-point fourth quarter Monday in New York, Cleveland followed it up with a 115-107 win at Charlotte on Wednesday, getting 31 points from James.
Two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas has yet to play this season because of a right hip injury, and Derrick Rose missed the entire road trip because of recurring soreness in his left ankle.
Then there’s the Clippers.
They’ve lost six straight, and since opening the season 4-0 have lost eight of nine after allowing 49 percent shooting in a 109-105 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers Monday.
Patrick Beverly (sore right knee) is listed as doubtful, but coach Doc Rivers said he would make the trip to Cleveland. Danilo Galinari (strained left glute) and Milos Teodosic (sore left foot) are also out.
“My job is to make sure these guys know that we just can’t accept it. You may lose, but you can’t accept it,” Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You have got to keep wanting to find a way to win that game. We are clearly in that stage right now. We’ve just got to find a way to squeeze out a win somewhere and then get another one, get another one and then get a guy back and then get another one and then now you’re fixed.”
The game in Cleveland marks the start of a five-game road trip for Los Angeles, which lost to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans on the road last week.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can play basketball on this team. We’ve just got to figure out a way, man,” Clippers said DeAndre Jordan said, according to the Los Angeles Times. Jordan is third in the NBA with 13.4 rebounds per game.
“That’s why they did the job they did this summer trying to get guys to make us have some more depth just in case we have situations like this,” Jordan said. “Now we’ve got a situation where we?ve got a lot of guys out, a lot of guys who are the makeup of what we?ve been doing and are out. Other guys have got to step up.”
James is fourth in the NBA in scoring (28.3 points per game) and assists (8.7), and leads the league in minutes (38.1). Rival Draymond Green from the Golden State Warriors said that James’ heavy workload should concern Cavs fans more than the team’s slow start, and James agreed.
“Draymond’s right,” James said, according to cleveland.com. “We want to get those minutes down for sure. But as of right now, we’ve had two point guards out and we’ve had some different lineup changes, so, I’ve had to play more minutes than I would like, and more minutes than my teammates would like me to have.”