The Cleveland Cavaliers have a few issues to resolve despite leading the Eastern Conference with a 21-6 mark heading into Friday’s clash with the downtrodden Brooklyn Nets.
They look a little short on depth, more so with JR Smith out for at least a month. Kyrie Irving, despite putting up a career-high in assists this week, has not reached his projected potential according to some well-reasoned analyses.
LeBron James is putting up ridiculous numbers but also ridiculous minutes.
A -10.5 handicap over Brooklyn should suffice. But beyond, where is the challenge from the Cavs going to come from in the East when, at 1.40, they are prohibitive favourites?
The Toronto Raptors, presently with the highest offensive rating in the entire NBA and with DeMar DeRozan maintaining a ferocious scoring rate, are good but not great at 10.00. Then it’s a drop to the Boston Celtics are who are only 6-8 against opponents with .500 records or better.
Really, it’s a one-horse race with no-one to confront Cleveland’s mix of size and talent.
But here’s a team to keep an eye on: the Milwaukee Bucks.
In what was a home-and-away series against the defending NBA champions this week, the Bucks lost in overtime first time out before a short-handed Cleveland saw them off 113-102 in the rematch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker look like the league’s next dynamic duo. And Milwaukee did what few East opponents accomplish, punch toe-to-toe with LeBron James and Company for long spells.
Take out Parker’s aberration of just eight points in a defeat to the Washington Wizards and he has averaged 23.8 point in his team’s other ten contests in December – and it is an upward trajectory that can continue.
Because, starting with another back-to-back series with the Washington, the Bucks have a very favourable schedule run that takes in Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Oklahoma City and then the Wizards again – nine games in a row where they will have solid opportunities to win and move into the East playoff standings.
There’s learning still to come for Milwaukee but they look ever-closer to becoming a reliable force, particularly if their scoring average increases from its current 103.9 behind the contribution of 22.9 points per from Antetokounmpo.
Their loss to Washington earlier this month was by 110-105 and a similar pattern should hold in the reunion with taking over 213.5 total points at 1.86 worth a punt. But a brighter future, with every passing night, looks on the cards for the Bucks.