Donovan Mitchell has been the driving force of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hot start.
Without Mitchell on Friday night, a slow start and a disastrous finish doomed the Cavaliers in a home loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Cleveland gets a quick chance to bounce back as it closes out a three-game homestand with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
Mitchell missed the Friday contest due to right lower leg soreness that has been bothering him since he was initial hurt on Nov. 11. The three-time All-Star missed the Cavaliers’ next game but then played in 12 consecutive games before sitting out against the Kings.
He is expected to return for the Saturday game.
While Mitchell has been effective in plenty of situations, he has been particularly strong late in games. Without him vs. Sacramento, Cleveland got outscored 19-0 in the final 4:50, missing its final nine shots in a 106-95 defeat.
Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff felt as if his team turned down several open shots down the stretch.
Asked how he could fix that problem, Bickerstaff said, “Just continue to give guys belief. They know what they’re capable of. When they’re just put in those positions, you’ve just got to give them support. Keep encouraging them.”
Cleveland fell to 11-2 at home, which is tied for the best home record in the NBA.
The Cavaliers weren’t missing only Mitchell. Kevin Love was sidelined due to lower back soreness, while Dean Wade missed his third consecutive game because of a left shoulder sprain.
The Thunder are looking to bounce back after their three-game winning streak was snapped with a 123-102 road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
While Bickerstaff is looking for his team to take shots, Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault is comfortable with his players figuring out when to shoot, in particular when it comes to Tre Mann.
The second-year guard has struggled of late. Over the past nine games since returning from missing three contests due to a back ailment, he is averaging 6.8 points, shooting 34.7 percent from the field and 22 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
In 13 games before getting hurt, Mann averaged 11.1 points while shooting 40.1 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from long distance.
“Tre’s a rhythm player,” Daigneault said. “I’ve made this mistake with him: I think if you coach him too hard to shoot every ball, he’s shooting out of compliance instead of out of rhythm. I think you’ve got to give him space a little bit to shoot when he’s in rhythm and to keep a play moving when he’s not.
“He needs to at least be ready to shoot on the catch and then if he chooses to pass one up, I’m OK with that because you’ve gotta give players space to play their game and he’s obviously really good when he’s in rhythm and us giving him the space to do that is important.”
Oklahoma City is 2-1 so far on its season-high, five-game road trip, with wins over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Atlanta Hawks preceding the defeat against the Grizzlies.
The Thunder’s Kenrich Williams will miss his third game in a row due to a sprained right knee.
The Saturday game is the first of two this season between the teams, with the rematch set for Jan. 27 in Oklahoma City. Cleveland swept the two-game season series in 2021-22, giving the Cavaliers three consecutive wins over the Thunder.
–Field Level Media