Thunder, Cavaliers aim to stay hot

Two teams coming off impressive road wins meet in Cleveland on Friday night when the Cavaliers host an Oklahoma City Thunder squad seeking a historic achievement.

While the Cavaliers were taken to the final horn in a 114-113 triumph at Brooklyn in their opener Wednesday, the Thunder were so dominant in a 124-104 romp at Chicago, the Bulls called a team meeting following the game.

The opening win was the Thunder’s first since 2020, when they prevailed 109-107 at Charlotte. They followed that with a 110-109 home loss to the Utah Jazz two days later.

In fact, Oklahoma City hasn’t opened 2-0 since 2016, when it won at Philadelphia, then beat the Phoenix Suns at home.

The last time the Thunder came out of the gate with two straight road wins? They weren’t even known as the Thunder; the Seattle SuperSonics, led by Spencer Haywood, won at Buffalo, then at Portland in 1971.

It’s been just three years since the Cavaliers opened 2-0, with wins over Charlotte and Detroit in 2020. They went 0-2 in 2021 and 1-1 last year.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way for the Thunder in Chicago on Wednesday, putting up a 31-point, 10-assist double-double. He also found time for five rebounds and two blocks.

Perhaps the most encouraging performance by a Thunder team that had six players score in double figures came from Chet Holmgren, who was making his NBA debut a year late, having suffered a Lisfranc foot injury prior to the start of last season.

Holmgren contributed 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 25 minutes.

The best news of all, Thunder coach Mark Daigneault insisted, is the best is still to come.

“There’s a lot of good and a lot he can improve on,” Daigneault observed. “He’s a competitor. He’s also a learner. A junkie. So I have no doubt he’s gonna dive into every single game afterward and learn from it.

“We just have to start that process with him. Obviously we’re in the infant stages of his career.”

Another thing different about Oklahoma City in its 2023 debut was improved 3-point shooting. The Thunder went 19-for-39 from deep; they made more 3s in a game just twice all of last season.

In Brooklyn, the Cavaliers were recording their first road win on opening night since 2000 in, coincidentally, New Jersey. Donovan Mitchell provided the difference-making points with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds left.

Like the Thunder, the big news of the night came from a new member of the supporting cast. Max Strus, acquired from the Miami Heat in the offseason, exploded for 27 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, setting a franchise record with seven 3-pointers in a Cavaliers debut.

The Cavaliers connected on 17 3s overall.

“I got great looks,” Strus said. “Teammates did a great job of finding me early and getting some easy ones for me to get going. Then once I catch a rhythm, it’s usually a pretty good night. Can’t ask for a better way to start the year.”

Mitchell matched Strus’ 27 points to share team-high honors for the Cavaliers, who split last year’s season with the Thunder by nearly identical scores: a 110-102 Cavs win and a 112-100 Thunder win.