Dribbles: It’s Cavs vs. Defending Champions in Denver

A few pregame dribbles of the Cavaliers’ road matchup with the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. …Max Strus, Cleveland Cavaliers

1. The Nuggets are the defending champions and one of the best teams in the NBA again. They’re definitely one of the best since the All-Star break. They have the most dominant nonchalant player in history. By that, I mean you hardly notice Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and you hardly realize he’s killing you. But man, he does.

2. I am a big fan of the Nuggets because they are a non-traditional power and even though Denver’s a large city, they don’t have a major following. So they set a good example for the Cavs. I like how the Nuggets have stuck with coach Michael Malone, Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and others when all else seemed lost.

3. It’s a good example for the Cavs, who have really stabilized as an organization as well. I like the culture and camaraderie of the current group more than any team I’ve covered in Cleveland. I’m in about year No. 117 of doing this, so that’s really saying something.

4. But none of what I like and appreciate matters. The Cavs (45-29) are battling mightily for playoff positioning and are in the midst of their most grueling trip of the season. At the Nuggets, at Utah, at Phoenix, and at Los Angeles for back-to-backs against the Lakers and Clippers. Happy Easter, everybody!

5. Seriously, though, this is a tough time of year for a trip out West, but I don’t mind if I’m the Cavs. It’s good to face uphill climbs in April. Gets you ready for the playoffs in a couple of weeks. There will be no “backing in” to the postseason here. 

6. At this writing, the Cavs sit in third in the Eastern Conference, a half-game up on New York (44-29), two games up on Orlando (43-31) and 3.5 up on sixth-place Indiana (42-33).

7. I don’t think there’s any way the Cavs drop below fifth. I don’t think it matters all that much if they finish third or fourth. But hey, the dream for No. 2 is still alive — as the Cavs only trail Milwaukee (47-27) by two games.

8. I think it’d be cool if this organization passed the Bucks and won a Central Division title without LeBron James. That’s nothing against LeBron, but it would just provide further evidence that Koby Altman and the front office have gone about building things the right way.

9. Yeah, I know. I haven’t mentioned a single player on the actual team yet. Well, here we go. Donovan Mitchell is back. So Max Strus. That means the Cavs will have all five starters again. Hey, it’s not happened often. Feel free to pray and light some holy candles that it remains this way.

10. Finally, here’s a stat, courtesy of the team’s game notes — the Cavs have won five of their last seven on the road vs. the West. That’s just flat-out impressive. Talk to you later, likely a few hours after the game.

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