DALLAS –No one has to tell the Dallas Mavericks that they played a watered-down version of the Cleveland Cavaliers when the two clubs met on Jan. 4.
The Mavs won that game on the road with ease, 109-90.
But the Cavs were without LeBron James, who sat out with back and knee soreness. And in the third quarter of that game they lost point guard Kyrie Irving for the rest of the night with lower back tightness.
That night the Cavs started Kevin Love at power forward, Tristan Thompson at center, Irving at point guard, and Mike Miller and someone name Matthew Dellavedova at two shooting guard spots.
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Tonight at 7:30, when the Mavs (41-24) host the Cavs (40-25) at American Airlines Center, Cleveland will put a more formidable squad on the court. They’ll start James and Love at the forward spots, Irving at point guard, J.R. Smith at shooting guard and Timofey Mozgov at center.
In other words, this Cleveland lineup will pose some serious problems for the Mavs than the other lineup was incapable of doing.
"We were fortunate, we caught a break last time,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround. "LeBron James didn't play, but their whole team is different now.’’
For starters, the day after the Mavs ran all over the Cavs, Cleveland got J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a trade with the New York Knicks, and Timofey Mozgov was acquired from the Denver Nuggets.
"They have made some real strong trades, Mozgov has given them a whole new look on the inside. (Iman) Shumpert and Smith change the world for these guys, defensively and on the perimeter with their shot making. So we're going to see four or five different guys that we didn't see the first time around.’’
Shortly after James returned, the Cavs’ picked up their game. As of now, they have the best record in the NBA since Jan. 15 at 21-5 and appear to be peaking at the right time.
"It's a different animal tonight for sure,’’ Carlisle said. "We know what they've been doing, we've seen how they have been dominating and we know we're going to have to play well in all areas to win.’’