Irving out (illness) as Celtics try to add to Cavaliers' woes
All signs point to an easy Boston victory when the Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
The Celtics have won four in a row overall and nine consecutive games at home. And Boston defeated Cleveland by 33 points on Nov. 30 -- the only time the teams have met this season.
But they'll have to add to that string without point guard Kyrie Irving, who was scratched Wednesday morning with flu-like symptoms. Terry Rozier is expected to start in Irving's place.
Cleveland (9-39) has the worst record in the league. The Cavaliers lost at home Monday by 16 points to Chicago, which has only 11 victories. Cleveland has lost nine of 10 games and continues to struggle with injuries in the post-LeBron James era.
Kevin Love has played in only four games this season. Tristan Thompson has missed three straight games with a sore left foot that kept him out of 10 games earlier in the season. Larry Nance Jr. is out for at least another two weeks with a sprained MCL.
Plus, before playing Chicago, Cleveland had just completed its longest West Coast trip of the season.
The quick turnaround spelled trouble for coach Larry Drew's weary squad.
"Well, I'm not going to use that as an excuse or as a crutch," Drew said.
"I could see that they did not have their legs (against Chicago); they were not able to get it going. I don't know how much I will attribute that to road fatigue, but clearly we didn't have the zap. We didn't have the energy throughout the game."
Chicago connected on 15 of 30 3-point attempts against the Cavs. That's good news for the Celtics, who trail only the Houston Rockets in 3-point field goals made. Boston has made 620 of 1,684 shots from long range -- a 36.8 percent clip.
Irving, two years removed from running the show in Cleveland alongside LeBron James, was leading the way, shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc (109 of 264). Irving also picked up his defense; he had eight steals to go along with 26 points and 10 assists in Boston's win over Miami on Monday.
"I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, being aggressive," Irving said after Monday's game. "That's really pretty much it. Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands, and I've just got to make the right plays."
Rozier more than holds his own defensively, but his presence takes some pressure off of Cleveland's defense. Take it from Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.
"We have to play perfectly offensively when you're dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end," Spoelstra said. "It seemed like he made every single play. When we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, he was just brilliant at the end."
Minus Irving, one problem remains for Cleveland: Firepower at both ends of the court.
David Nwaba, their best defender, is expected to be a game-time decision because of an ankle injury.
Boston center Al Horford, averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds, will take a rest day and not play Wednesday. The team likely will be cautious when it can with Horford, who missed nine games in a 13-game stretch in November and December due to a knee injury.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 23, 2019