NBA Basketball

Jostling for playoff position, Clippers face improving Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers will be gunning for their third straight win when the Los Angeles Clippers pay a visit to the shores of Lake Erie on Friday.

In their past two wins, the Cavaliers have defeated two teams in playoff positions, Detroit and Milwaukee. Granted, neither Blake Griffin nor Giannis Antetokounmpo suited up for their teams, but for the young Cavaliers, those wins were confidence builders.

The Clippers should provide a good barometer of just how much progress the Cavaliers have made recently. Since the All-Star break, Cleveland is 6-2 at home.

Rookie Collin Sexton has been the catalyst. He's scored more than 23 in seven straight games, surpassing a mark that last was accomplished by Tim Duncan in 1998.

"It just shows that the kid is starting to turn the corner," Cavaliers coach Larry Drew told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He's really putting together some good games against some really good teams."

Sexton thought it was pretty "cool" to be mentioned in the same breath as Duncan, a certain Hall of Famer when he's eligible in 2020.

"He's a legend. We got the win against the No. 1 team, so that's even better," he said after the Cavaliers defeated the NBA-leading Bucks.

A constant for Cleveland this season has been injuries, and no sooner had Tristan Thompson seen his first action in 26 games following a foot injury and Larry Nance Jr. his first playing time in five games, Kevin Love went down with a possible concussion. No announcement has been made about Love's status for Friday's game.

"We've just been unfortunately plagued by injuries. But if we can get our whole ball club together, we are not what our record shows," Nance told reporters. "I think teams are starting to see that. Anybody that comes in and kind of takes us for what we were is going to be sorely mistaken."

The Clippers can't afford to take the Cavaliers lightly if they want to win their fourth straight game and ninth of their past 10. They haven't played since beating the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and are vying for playoff position with San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the final spots in the Western Conference.

With 10 games to play, Doc Rivers' team still has a chance to climb to the third seed as the Clippers trail the Houston Rockets by three games.

The Clippers have their own rookie guard who is making a name for himself. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 10.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists while his defense has improved, his coach said.

"Early in the year, he was getting over picks, he was using his length, blocking shots or changing shots," Rivers said. "And then he got into reaching, and maybe that was fatigue, you never know. Now he's back to sliding his feet again, standing in front of guys and making guys take tough shots over him. And that's what we need him to do."

It would be easy for the Clippers to be distracted with rumors about Rivers' future with the team growing. But before the win against Indiana on Tuesday, Rivers announced he has a verbal deal to remain with the team for "multiple years."

That should calm players' fears and bring them together as they make a run into the postseason.

"It's gonna be fun," Gilgeous-Alexander told the Daily News in Los Angeles. "The fact that he's committed to us the same way we're committed to him every night on the floor is cool."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 21, 2019

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