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Nets visit struggling Cavaliers

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Eek! The Brooklyn Nets played the Miami Heat and appeared to have things in hand. However, they couldn’t hold on to their 18 point lead and wound up losing

Waiting for the Nets will be the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are still atop the East, but they’ve been stuck in a rut as of late. They’ve lost three straight games and six out of their last eight, including Wednesday’s home game against Sacramento.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

No Jeremy Lin. Joe Harris missed the last game and will miss Friday’s game.

Jr Smith is still recovering from surgery and will be out tonight. Richard Jefferson missed Wednesday’s game to be with his wife Teresa as she gave birth to a son. Congratulations to them both.

The game

The Cavs won the first game in December and the second one earlier this month. This is the last meeting between the two teams this season.

It’s a long season and Bron appears to be in a cranky mood. The Cavs haven’t been as sharp lately and are in need of a backup point guard (sorry Kay Felder). It’s unlikely he’ll get what he’s looking for, so Cleveland will have to make due with what they have. In the meantime, he’s continued to be his usual amazing self, but he leads the league in minutes per game. He can carry that load, but it would be best for everybody if they kept his load light in this part of the season.

Speaking of Bron and his minutes, Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword has an idea on how to manage his minutes as well as improve the team’s rotations:

By starting Korver it allows for his defensive weaknesses to be somewhat helped by the presence of James and Thompson. Even Love’s presence gives the team a better safety net for Korver than he would have with Frye and the reserves. With the reserves many of the sets are being run for Korver, actions that feel forced and generally ineffective. With the starters he can play a spot up role, as the trio of James, Irving, and Love create too many matchup problems to focus on Korver. He can be placed in a role similar to Love under David Blatt. Stand ready at the three point line and receive open shots.

From there I would suggest that the team sub out both Irving and Love to close out the first and third quarters. Shumpert can come in to replace Irving, maintaining the presence of two playmakers. From there James can rest to start the second and fourth quarters, allowing him to be fresher to close out games. By having Irving and Love out there, it also gives the team two offensive hubs to initiate offense. For all the talk of the team falling apart without James, the team has performed well with Irving and Love running the show.

Even with their sloppy play, the Cavs are still the favorites to come out of the East. They just have to make sure they make it to the playoffs in one piece.

We’re on a Brook Lopez back-to-back watch. With Karl Anthony Towns waiting for the Nets tomorrow, the Nets might look into keeping his minutes short for this one. Lopez started off incredibly strong on Wednesday, but only scored seven points in the second half. Tristan Thompson is very good at what he does, and it’ll be up to him to corral Lopez in the post as well as keep the other Nets off the boards.

Player to watch: Kevin Love

As usual, Love’s name is being mentioned in trade rumors. This time, it involved Carmelo Anthony, but the Cavs quickly shut that down. In the meantime, they’ve worked to incorporate him more into the offense. His usage rate is up as well as as his post ups and shots within three feet. They like to feature him early in the game as the majority of his points and field goal attempts have come in the first quarter. In a round about way, we have the Nets to thank for Love’s success with Cleveland last postseason.

Trevor Booker will be the one assigned to Love. The Cavs might spend a little more time than usual feeding Love in the post. Booker is allowing opponents to shoot 58.5 percent on shots inside of six feet this season. And with Love having gone cold over his past seven games (only 14.7 points on 35.1 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from three point range), tonight could be a great opportunity for him to get back on track.

From the Vault

Vince Carter turned 40 yesterday. Celebrate the occasion with one of his games against Bron’s Cavs.

More reading: Fear the Sword