Cavaliers-Mavericks Preview (Nov 11, 2017)

DALLAS — The Cleveland Cavaliers enter Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks dogged by what’s quickly becoming a repetitive question: What the heck is wrong?

After losing at the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, the Cavs, who have lost six of their last eight games, dropped to 5-7. The answer to what’s wrong really isn’t hard to find: Cleveland stinks on the defensive end.

The Rockets scored 117 points in their four-point win, making it 10 consecutive games in which the Cavs allowed at least 112 points. While LeBron James said he takes no moral victories out of a failed comeback attempt after falling behind by 13 points in the fourth quarter, coach Tyronn Lue seemed pleased to at least see a spark in his team.

“I thought our guys really scrapped and competed,” Lue told reporters after the game.

Cleveland, which was again without guard Derrick Rose due to continued soreness in his left ankle and continues to wait on Isaiah Thomas (hip) to get healthy, will try to shore up its defensive flaws against the slow-starting Mavericks (2-10), one of four teams in the league averaging fewer than 100 points at just 99.2.

Cleveland knows it will at least have James in the lineup Saturday. He told reporters following Thursday’s game that he expects to play against Dallas despite rolling his left ankle in the first half. He played through it and scored 33 points.

“What’s today, Thursday?” James told reporters. “I’ll be ready to go Saturday. It’s been the story of the early season for me kind of turning my ankles. Just lace them up tighter and get back out there.”

Dallas is just 1-5 on its home floor, including losses to Atlanta and Sacramento, and will be looking to string together consecutive victories for the first time this season coming off Tuesday’s impressive road win at Washington.

Rookie of the Year candidate Dennis Smith Jr., posted one of his finest performances with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, while Harrison Barnes, the team’s leading scorer, poured in 31 points.

However, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle knows Barnes and his squad will have their hands full trying to contain James.

“I don’t think there’s ever a great time to see LeBron James, unless you just love watching him play, and I do. But he’s just extremely difficult to play against and coach against,” Carlisle said. “Guys like LeBron that get to this stage of their career, he’s still in his prime and yet each year he becomes a little more knowledgeable of virtually every situation that happens in a game. His skill level is constantly raising. He’s shooting the ball more fluidly each year, and he’s got that great leadership quality that is an intrinsic thing with all-time great players.”

Meanwhile, the Mavs’ crafty veteran and former league and NBA Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, is reaching the end of his career. The 39-year-old, now in his 20th season with Dallas, is off to a disappointing start, averaging just 10.2 points a game on uncharacteristic 40.2 percent shooting.

Saturday’s matchup against James, who with the Miami Heat lost to Nowitzki and Dallas in the 2011 Finals, could be the second-to-last of their great careers if Nowitzki opts to retire after the season.

“He’s amazing,” James said of Nowitzki, according to Mavs.com. “One of my favorite players to ever play the game. Just his ability and what he’s able to do at his size, his ability to shoot the ball, his ability to sacrifice shots for other guys and being a part of this team and a part of this franchise over the years.”