Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:06 AM

Monday Night Essentials

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Game of the Night - Golden State at Cleveland, (TNT, 8:05 ET)

Stephen Curry returned on Saturday night and helped the Warriors post another victory, turning back the Raptors in Toronto.
Isaiah Thomas came back two weeks ago, helped the Cavs rout the Trail Blazers and has only tasted victory once since. Cleveland has dropped four out of five as Golden State comes calling for the final regular-season meeting between the teams that remain heavy favorites to meet in what would be a fourth consecutive Finals matchup. The latest Westgate odds have Cleveland at 4/9 to win the East. Boston is second at 9/2. Golden State is 1/3 to win the West. San Antonio and Houston are even as the next likeliest options at 19/4. >

Only one of these teams is looking the part of conference heavyweight at the moment, which is why the Warriors are a 5 to 5.5-point favorite as they take the floor on the road for the premier game on Martin Luther King Day card.

The Cavs have covered only once in the last 11 games and have gone 3-8 outright. Indiana erased a 22-point deficit to nip Cleveland 97-95 on Friday night in strange game where Lance Stephenson again rose up and made big plays against LeBron James. There’s very little that irks James more than people who aren’t on his level feeling like they got over on him. Having someone who once blew in his ear yap that he was trying to get in his head and succeeded guarantees you can count on him being on the war path for this one.

The Warriors held him to 7-for-18 shooting in the first matchup and will have Andre Iguodala available to add to the number of bodies Steve Kerr deploys against him. Between Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Iguodala, Golden State offers varying looks and makes life difficult on him, but he was tremendous in last year’s NBA Finals, shooting 56 percent and averaging a triple-double (33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 10 assists).

James scored 31 points and grabbed 13 boards in last season’s home win at Quicken Loans Arena, but his Cavs have lost six of seven games in this series since then, winning only when they busted out for a 137-116 Game 3 rout at home in a must-win.

By no stretch of the imagination can this be labeled anything other than the latest regular-season meeting due to Thomas still finding his way, but it will be interesting to see how much pressure he can take off James and how much of a liability he ends up being a defense against the gifted Warriors. They’ll look to exploit him. It’s what great offenses do.

Tristan Thompson is also under pressure to make an impact given the rumors surrounding the team’s willingness to make him available via trade, while J.R. Smith has made just 1 of his last 12 3-point shots, putting a serious strain on the starting five. He was 0-for-7 from the field and a minus-37 on the floor in last Monday’s 127-99 loss in Minnesota. The Cavs lost in Toronto 133-99 despite two days between games and looked like they were going to break through for an easy win in Indiana after leading 34-12 to the end the first quarter.

They’ll again have two days between games before taking the floor against the Warriors, who will be playing their third game in four days. It will only be the second for Curry, who was solid in helping defeat the Raptors, scoring 24 points and dishing out nine assists despite shooting just 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.

The total for this game has been set at 231, which is the highest total placed on the Cavs this season. They pushed in a 119-109 win on Nov. 22 on their largest number to date (228). The over is 6-2 in Warriors games where the total closes at 230-plus.

L.A. Lakers at Memphis, 5:35 p.m. ET

The availability of Lonzo Ball is in question since he’s dealing with a sore left knee. L.A. is 4-1 since his return from a shoulder sprain, winning the last four in succession. The last two have come as an underdog, which is their role here with Ball and Brandon Ingram’s status in doubt. He suffered an ankle sprain in Dallas on Saturday afternoon. The Lakers will have newly signed Gary Payton II and rookie Alex Caruso meet them in town in case they’re needed, but Jordan Clarkson would likely see an increased role if Ball can’t go. He scored 19 points in 30 minutes against Dallas on Friday and is averaging just under 20 in the six games where he’s played that much. L.A. had been 0-5 in the first five before beating the Mavs in OT.

Julius Randle has struggled with turnovers, but has five double-doubles over his last eight games and will be a major factor.

Marc Gasol has averaged just 13.0 points on less than 36 percent shooting against the Lakers in their two meetings to date. Memphis won most recent meeting on Dec. 27 to gain a split at Staples. The teams play again at Fed-Ex Forum on March 24. The first two games went over the posted total but the under is 4-1 in L.A.’s last five since Ball’s return. The Grizzlies come off scoring a season-low 78 points in Friday’s loss in Denver and have seen the under prevail in three straight. Memphis remains without point guard Mike Conley and likely won’t have forward Chandler Parsons available again. The Griz are 6-22 since losing their point guard.

Sacramento at Oklahoma City, 8:05 p.m. ET

The Kings have dropped nine of 11 and fell 126-105 against the Clippers on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise to see they’re the lone double-digit underdog on MLK Day. There have been some bright spots, but consistency has largely eluded Sacramento, which sets up well for Oklahoma City to exact some revenge for a bad loss suffered back on Nov. 7. The Thunder scored just 86 points, still their second-lowest output of the season, in an ugly eight-point loss, but have scored over 100 in 11 of 13, their most effective stretch yet.

Despite finding a better groove, the Thunder have lost their last three home starts and haven’t won at Chesapeake Energy Arena since beating the Raptors on Dec. 27.

Indiana at Utah, 9:05 p.m. ET

Word out of Jazz camp is that Rudy Gobert will miss a few more games before he’s able to make it back from an ankle injury, so with Thabo Sefolosha having been lost to an MCL tear this weekend, they’re very short-handed as the Pacers visit. Jonas Jerebko will start, and more minutes figure to be out there for Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson, so Utah has the pieces to put together a solid week and stay afloat without one of the league’s top defensive players. The Jazz have dropped 14 of 18.

Indiana is playing the second of a back-to-back but rolled so decisively against short-handed Phoenix that its starters were able to rest, giving them a better shot to win a third straight and fifth game in six outings. The Pacers are 11-5 in the last 16 games where Victor Oladipo plays, as he looks extremely deserving of an All-Star spot this season. Myles Turner will miss his third straight game with an elbow injury. Domantas Sabonis grabbed 14 rebounds but is playing through a sore left shoulder.

Houston at L.A. Clippers, 10:35 p.m. ET

The night cap on an 11-game day won’t feature the return of James Harden, though reports are that he could be back as soon as Thursday. His absence has allowed Chris Paul to get a little more comfortable, posting 28.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists during the team’s current three-game winning streak. After losses in seven of nine, the Rockets look to be back on track and would love to pick up a road win here since they have a difficult homestand ahead with the sizzling Timberwolves, Warriors and Heat coming to town. Only the Celtics and these Clippers rank among the teams with the best records thus far in 2018, but L.A. is vulnerable.

DeAndre Jordan is questionable with an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Clippers’ 126-105 win against Sacramento on Saturday. L.A. is still without Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari and has been without valuable fill-in C.J. Willliams to an ankle issue for the past few games. They’ve been getting by due to a collective approach that has seen the likes of Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Tyrone Wallace and Jawun Evans.

Lou Williams is averaging 31.7 points per game in ’18 and has topped the 30-point mark in 10 of his last 23 games, scoring 50 to help upset the Clippers on Wednesday. He scored 32 points and drained 7-of-11 3-pointers in a 128-118 upset on Dec. 22 in the first meeting between these teams, helping overcome Harden’s 51 points. Paul wasn’t out there in that game due to an adductor strain, so he’ll be facing former team Blake Griffin and ex-coach Chris Paul for the first time. Hopefully, Jordan is also part of the reunion, but there was no line placed on this game entering Monday due to his uncertain status. The Rockets are likely to get forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Tarik Black back from extended absences.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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