INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The Cleveland Cavaliers host the Golden State Warriors on Monday with the chance to improve upon their 0-2 mark this season against the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs -- the only two teams with better records than the Cavs.
“Well, look, you’re going to play these teams sooner or later,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said after practice Sunday, “and you definitely want to go into a series having known that you’ve played them well during the season and that you got what it takes to beat the team.”
The Cavs have lost their past four games against the Warriors, dating back to Game 4 through Game 6 of last season's NBA Finals and including an 89-83 defeat at Oracle Arena on Christmas Day. However, it would appear that the Cavs and Warriors have been on a pretty even playing field lately. Since Christmas, the Cavs are 9-2 while Warriors are 9-3, including two losses in their past three games.
“We’re not a totally different team, but we’re in a better space than we were on Christmas Day,” Kyrie Irving said.
As Cleveland’s star point guard has improved, so has his team. Irving was limited to just 26 minutes in the Cavs’ last meeting with the Warriors, as it was just his third game back after being sidelined for more than six months following surgery to repair a fractured left kneecap. Irving’s playing-time restriction has since been lifted (he’s averaging 33 minutes in his last four games) and Irving has several dominant performances under his belt since then -- 25 points and eight assists in a win over Toronto; 32 points and two steals in a win against Washington; 22 points and nine assists in an overtime win in Dallas; and 23 points and four rebounds in a win in Houston.
Also, Iman Shumpert had only recently returned from a right wrist injury in the last meeting between the Cavs and Warriors. In the weeks that have passed, Shumpert has returned to form as perhaps the Cavs’ second-best two-way player outside of LeBron James. In his last five games, Shumpert is averaging 8.8 points and 2.2 steals off the bench for Cleveland.
“We know Harrison. We played against him a number of times last year,” Blatt said. “And he’s an important part of their team as well, just like Shump. So they’re coming in a little bit stronger as well.”
While the Cavs have lost four straight to the Warriors overall, they beat Golden State pretty handily -- 110-99 -- last February in Cleveland the last time both teams were fully healthy for a matchup. And while Cleveland’s home-court advantage at Quicken Loans Arena might not be as pronounced as the one the Warriors or Spurs have (they are a combined 42-0 at home), the Cavs lead the Eastern Conference with a 15-1 mark at The Q.
“It’s just important for us to take care of home court,” Irving said. “Our fans are great. You know we’re going to expect a packed house no matter what team is coming in, but the next few teams that are coming in are great teams and we’ve got to make a statement.”
Coming off a 12-day, six-game road trip in which the Cavs went 5-1, Blatt admitted his team looked “a little slow” and suffered from a “post-trip malaise” at Sunday’s practice. “Hopefully we’ll be done with that by tomorrow and ready to go,” he said.
If Irving’s attitude is any indicator of the Cavs’ mindset as a whole, Monday will be a different story.
“It’s a great test,” Irving said. “You guys know what it is. I mean, it’s two great teams playing against each other. It’s what everybody wants to see. The media is going to continuously talk about it, and they should. It’s great players all the way around. Going to be a great game tomorrow night.”