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Clutch Feed: Cavs have layover in Denver, look to improve defense

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STARTING LINEUP CHANGE: J.R. Smith returns to the starting lineup tonight, marking the first time he has started alongside Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love since December. In addition, Kyle Korver will make his return tonight off of the bench after missing seven games with a foot injury.

UPCOMING MILESTONES: Kyrie Irving needs three more three pointers to hit 700 total in his career. In addition, Kyrie Irving is 31 points away from becoming the eighth player in franchise history to reach 8,000. With four more threes, J.R. Smith will have hit 400 for the Cavaliers. With one more double-double, LeBron James ties his career most in a season – 36 in 2012-13.

After an intense 125-120 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday which saw the Big Three score a combined 101 points, the Cavaliers look to start up a win streak with a victory against the Nuggets in Denver. Sitting with the eighth seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets have a season record of 33-37. Before going starting their current two game losing streak, they had won four straight, including games over the Boston Celtics and the LA Clippers. With just a one game lead over the 9th seed Portland Trail Blazers, the Nuggets are still battling to keep their possible playoff spot. Most recently, they fell twice consecutively to the Houston Rockets, including a 124-125 matchup on Monday. Two possible lineup changes may come about tonight for the Cavaliers – Kyle Korver may finally make his return after missing seven straight games with a foot injury, and J.R. Smith may return to the starting lineup.

When the Cavaliers and Nuggets faced off earlier last month on February 11th, the Wine-and-Gold came out on top 125-109. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 27 points a piece, while Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 13 rebounds and 27 points as well. The Cavaliers have won three straight in Denver, with their last loss on the road against the Nuggets coming in 2013.

As a team, the Nuggets have put up some impressive numbers. They have the third most points per game (111.3), the most rebounds per game (46.3), and the third most assists per game (25.1). Offensively, the score a decent amount of their points inside, with a fourth-highest 44.1% of their 111.3 points per game coming inside the paint. One major source of these points has been their 30.5 drives per game, which is fifth most in the NBA. It isn’t enough to just guard the paint though, as the Nuggets also have the fifth highest three point percentage – 37.3%. Even when their starters aren’t on the floor, they are deadly – their bench average 41.2 points per game. The Cavaliers need to step up their defensive intensity if they want to contain this team. Fortunately, the Nuggets are weak on defense, allowing their opponents to shoot the second highest field goal percentages – a full 2.0% higher than their season averages – and the third highest three point percentage. Even if the Nuggets are able to find their groove while scoring, the Cavaliers themselves should be easily able to retaliate offensively.

Key players to watch for on the Nuggets will be Nikola Jokic (averaging 16.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game), Danilo Gallinari (doubtful to play, averaging 17.7 points per game), Wilson Chandler (questionable to play, averaging 16.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game), and Gary Harris (averaging 14.7 points per game).

Tipoff is set for 9:30 EST and will be broadcast on FOX Sports Ohio and NBATV.

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