The Cavs will be without Donovan Mitchell and many others when they play Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Sunday.
After two strong wins in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers have to feel better about themselves after an uneven start to the season. With the Denver Nuggets looming, the Cavs need as many good vibes as possible to hang with an offensive juggernaut like Nikola Jokic and co. Well, the basketball gods seemingly felt otherwise as Cleveland, once again, will be undermanned as they take on the defending NBA Champions.
Heading into the matchup, the Cavs will be without Donovan Mitchell (hamstring), Isaac Okoro (knee), Ty Jerome (ankle), Ricky Rubio (personal) and Isaiah Mobley (NBA G League Assignment). As always, the absence of Rubio and Mobley shouldn’t come as a surprise. Cleveland is giving Rubio as much time as possible to address his mental well-being, while Mobley is currently on the road, fine-tuning his craft with the Cleveland Charge–the NBA G League affiliate of the Cavs.
The Mitchell news, meanwhile, is a little frustrating for Cleveland considering that it’s the second game in a row Mitchell has been sidelined due to his hamstring. It’s also the third game that Mitchell will miss due to this nagging issue, but the Cavs have no choice but to err on the side of caution due to how severe and uncertain the recovery process can be. Eventually, Cleveland will have Mitchell back in the starting lineup and it’ll be only the sixth time the Cavs have had their complete starting lineup together. But it won’t be for this game against the Nuggets.
Cavs injury woes
Again, at the moment, it’s frustrating not having Mitchell considering how much Cleveland could use his high-octane scoring prowess against Denver. But, more frustratingly, the Cavs not having Okoro against the Nuggets could be a killer on the perimeter.
Okoro has now missed six games in a row after posting five points and two assists in an early November loss to the Indiana Pacers. Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared the team has yet to place a concrete timetable on Okoro’s recovery, but they’re hoping he will return sooner rather than later.
Sure, it helps that Denver will be without superstar guard Jamal Murray, who is dealing with a strained right hamstring. Murray’s absence will limit some of the pressure the Nuggets can apply on the perimeter. But it still doesn’t negate the pressure Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Reggie Jackson, Peyton Watson and Christian Braun can provide. Caris LeVert, Max Strus, Dean Wade, Craig Porter Jr. and even Evan Mobley will have their hands full trying to slow down Denver from the outside. But, considering the threat that Jokic, the best player in the world, poses, Mobley could have his hands full all over the court.
Healthy or not, it would always be tough sledding for Cleveland against the Nuggets considering the pedigree Denver carries themselves with. The Nuggets are what the Cavs aspire to be, especially with an otherworldly big man like Jokic leading the charge. This matchup could be a learning experience for how Cleveland can better utilize Mobley as their otherworldly big man.
More importantly, however, this matchup serves as a litmus test after how last season ended for the Cavs. Can Cleveland hang with the very best the NBA has to offer? Or are they still a few steps away from reaching those heights? The lack of Mitchell dampens the answer the Cavs are searching for. But, when the game begins, it’ll be do-or-die time for Cleveland.