The 28-8 Cleveland Cavaliers travel to the 23-16 Utah Jazz in a matchup between the defending champions and an under-the-radar powerhouse (9pm ET Tuesday).
LeBron James (pictured), Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have led the Cavaliers to a gaudy record, while the Jazz are stingy defensively and should only get stronger as some of their core players recover from injury.
Cleveland only got scarier when it traded for Kyle Korver on Saturday. He hasn’t yet joined the team, because of Mike Dunleavy’s refusal to report to the Hawks, but he gives LeBron James another lethal spot-up three-point shooter to space the floor and take advantage when defenses collapse on penetration.
The Jazz aren’t as talented as the Cavaliers, but they are extremely deep, especially now that they are finally healthy. We will see if Utah’s depth plays any part in tonight’s contest.
Our preview highlights the main storylines that could dictate how this game goes and then concludes with our betting predictions and picks.
Can the Jazz’s Banged-Up Players Find a Groove?
The Jazz have been one of the most injured teams in the NBA this year. Rotation players Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Alec Burks have combined to miss 96 games so far. The injuries have definitely prevented the team from truly taking off.
Utah played its first game with everyone healthy in more than two years last Saturday, winning 94-92 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team then lost the next night to the Memphis Grizzlies by a score of 88-79.
It’s not exactly surprising that the team didn’t magically start dominating once it got everyone back. It takes time for players returning from injury to return to form, and for them to build chemistry with teammates.
All eyes should be on Derrick Favors, George Hill and Alec Burks as they continue to find their grooves back in a game situation.
Who Wins the Kyrie Irving-George Hill Matchup?
One of those injured Jazz players, point guard George Hill, will have his hands full against his counterpart, Kyrie Irving. Irving is having a career year, boasting averages of 24.3 points and 5.9 assists per game on a 47.7/42.1/88.7 shooting slash.
However, Irving is not exactly a standout on defense. His defensive real plus-minus of negative-1.77 ranks No. 68 of the 84 point guards in the league this season, and opposing point guards accumulate a 20.0 player efficiency rating against him (15 is the league average).
If Hill feels up to it, this could be a game where he really shows that he is back from his toe injury and concussion. He has been a beast on both ends, when healthy, and Irving is someone who will challenge his defensive chops.
Can Gordon Hayward Find the Energy to Defend LeBron James and Initiate the Jazz Offense?
To be fair, the flip side of this is also a factor. James will likely have to check the dangerous Hayward much of the game, and the Jazz swingman is not an easy cover. However, James does have the athleticism and skill edge over Hayward, and DeAndre Liggins and Iman Shumpert also have the defensive chops to take turns on Hayward, easing LeBron’s defensive load.
Hayward, however, is pretty much the only one on the Jazz roster who has a chance at containing James. He is playing at an All-Star level this season thanks to strong contributions at both ends, but he’ll be stretched to the edge of his limits here.
This is why it would be very helpful if George Hill or Rodney Hood could take on bigger offensive responsibilities than normal tonight. Hayward would appreciate having the extra energy to stay with James on the other end.
Our Preview’s Cleveland Cavaliers vs Utah Jazz Betting Picks & Predictions
While the Cavaliers have had a few head-scratching losses throughout the season, they haven’t lost since December 2 when the entire Big Three plays, which they should in this game. The combination of LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin on offense is so devastating and can make up for the team’s sometimes lackadaisical defense.
Utah is going to depend on some banged-up players, which could be costly against explosive, well-oiled offensive players. At the moment, the Jazz don’t have enough offensive firepower to stay with the Cavs.
- Most of the American friendly betting sites have the Cavaliers winning by three points, but I think they will win by more than that on the road. So bet on the Cavs -3pts @ -110 betting odds with either BetOnline or MyBookie sportsbooks. It is -115 for the same spread with Bovada.
- The over-under for this contest’s total points scored is most commonly posted at 202. The best move here is to take the over @ -110 with MyBookie or BetOnline (there are no total points odds from Bovada at time of writing). Even the Jazz’ great defense and slow pace won’t completely shut down the Cavs. Expect Cleveland to somewhat conserve energy on the defensive side because of Utah’s middling offense.