The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks have contested and won titles over the past 10 years, but very rarely have they been good at both at the same time.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers to four consecutive NBA Finals between 2014-15 and 2017-18, enjoying an epic rivalry with the Golden State Warriors.
But Cleveland was tied for the second-worst record in the league the following year, with James in Los Angeles, when Central Division rivals Milwaukee rose to prominence with the best record in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first-year MVP.
The Bucks have since had control of the division and again led the Eastern Conference 30 games at 22-8.
Yet now there’s a challenge from the Cavs, who are competitive 21-11 and won four straight games before hosting the Bucks on Wednesday.
Having already shown real signs of progress last year in reaching the play-in tournament, the Cleveland are back on track after a trade for Donovan Mitchell who they hope will turn them into a serious player in the East.
So far, that appears to be the case, with Mitchell’s 29.3 points per game leading the team — and ranking eighth in the NBA — as he produced in big games against the Boston Celtics.
The Cavs are 2-0 against the second-placed Celtics this season; however, they are 0-2 against the Bucks, who will be looking to beat their division rivals before Christmas.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Jarrett Allen
The Cavaliers are hoping Allen’s physicality can be the missing piece against the Bucks. So far this season against Milwaukee he has played only 12 minutes, missing the first game and retiring injured in the second after scoring just one point.
Since returning from that hip injury earlier this month, Allen has averaged 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds, with 26 rebounds in his last two outings.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nobody likes playing against Antetokounmpo, but only against the Brooklyn Nets and Utah Jazz has he averaged more points per game in his career than against the Cavaliers.
Though the Cavs have talked about Evan Mobley having the potential to become a player in Giannis’ mold, neither he nor any of his teammates have a fix for the ‘Greek freak’ when he’s fit – as he was when he scored 38 points in their last meeting.
KEY BATTLE – Can the Cavs maintain focus after the break?
Two of the Cavaliers’ worst three quarters this season in terms of point difference have been the two third quarters they played against the Bucks. They accounted for two of Milwaukee’s four best quarters of the year.
The Cavs, still on a four-game hitting streak, had dominated the first half of the teams’ last meeting, up 11 before losing the third quarter 35-10 due to the intensity of the Bucks’ title.
Cleveland needs to prove they can take on that much opposition if they are to be a real threat this season.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Cavaliers may have struggled in Milwaukee this season, but they won their last two home games against the Bucks last year, providing hope for another win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where they lead the league 15-2 in the league. 2022-23.
The Bucks have a 130-97 all-time series lead, even though the Cavs have a 60-53 lead in Cleveland.