Closing out this week’s review of the Central Division is the Detroit Pistons. Unlike the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, who are absolutely expected to make the playoffs, and unlike the Milwaukee Bucks, who probably got a whole lot worse by losing Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Pistons, like the Cavs, fall somewhere between bad and semi-relevent. What does all this mean? Welcome to your 2013-2014 7-8 seed competition!
Archive for the ‘Previews’ Category
Hi, Central Division. Haven’t seen you for a while. Looks like summer’s been treating you well. I mean, everyone except for you, Milwaukee. But for everyone else, yeah, summer lovin’ totally had us a blast.
As we slog steadily toward September, we here at Cavs: The Blog thought it might be good to check in on our mainly geographically linked rivals in the NBA’s Central Division. Just as Cavs’ fans are (mostly) all bonging the Bynum Kool-Aid, each of the other teams in our division, our de facto rivals, have done some thing(s) to give their own fan bases, to quote Bonnie Raitt on this blog for what I truly hope is the first time, something to talk about. Have the Cavs bettered or worsened their chances in the Central? We won’t know until the ball gets tossed, but let’s start by looking around The Division with the Pace Cars of Indianapolis, Indiana.
The NBA released the 2013-2014 schedule yesterday evening; only 84 days until the Cavs return!! Here is the Cavs slate.
A few items to note:
- The season kicks off October 30th in Cleveland, against Brooklyn. Looks like the Nets championship aspirations start poorly. A huge game, including Shaun Livingston’s return to Cleveland; Karasev vs Kirilenko…no wonder the game is nationally televised on NBA TV.
- November and December prove more tame this year than last. Thirty games in 63 days, half at home and half on the road, with zero four-in-five-nights. The first ten games feature Charlotte twice, Philadelphia twice, and Minnesota twice. The table is set for a strong early push towards the playoffs.
- Games eleven and twelve bring battles against Washington, an exciting early test of the Kyrie / Waiters versus Wall / Beal backcourts.
- No Christmas day game, with Cleveland playing home against Detroit on the 23rd and Atlanta on the 26th. Enjoy a nice holiday with your families, guys!
- In January, the team embarks on a 5 game, 8 day West Coast trip, traveling to Utah, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Portland, and Denver. Two wins from that voyage is easily realistic, probably one coming from Mike Brown, Andrew Bynum, and Earl Clark returning to face the Lakers..
- Immediately following that stretch is five at home: Dallas, Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix and New Orleans from January 20th to the 28th, with no back-to-backs. Nice stretch there to pick up momentum heading towards the All-Star break.
- After the All-Star break (February 13th – 18th), the schedule begins getting difficult. In late February, the Cavs face their first four-in-five-nights stretch: Toronto; at OKC; Utah; at Memphis. My opinion…much of the regular rotation should sit the Memphis game.
- The gauntlet of fifteen March games includes: Memphis, San Antonio, the Knicks twice, Golden State, the Clippers, Miami, Oklahoma City, Houston, the Nets, and Indiana. Whereas the month began with the completion of a four-in-five nights stretch, it ends similarly. Houston, New York, Toronto and Detroit from March 22rd to the 26th. This month will be a huge test for a young squad battling towards a playoff berth.
- If they survive March, April provides a nice tune-up for that inevitable first round series against the Heat. A seven games in 17-night stretch, with only one game against a contender, and that is the season finale against Brooklyn. Could be meaningless for the Nets.
There it is. Next season is almost here, and the schedule shapes up pretty well for a strong showing from the Wine and Gold. Clearly, league-wide interest in the young Cavs is picking up with nine nationally televised games this year: three on ESPN, one on TNT, and six on NBA TV. I’m ready.
…and is of little lasting consequence, but, kids, it is still technically competitive basketball.
Tomorrow, the Cavaliers kick off their 2013 NBA Summer League campaign in Las Vegas. In an attempt to manufacture some meaning beyond “player development”isms, this year’s games will culminate in tournament play between all the participating teams. So, yes, there is still the chance that Samardo Samuels will lead some team to a championship… of sorts.
The Cavs play the Knicks Friday at 5 p.m. (8 p.m. EST) then play the Grizzlies on Sunday at 5 p.m. and the Pelicans on Monday at 3 p.m. Cavs: The Blog will be reporting live from the Grizzlies and Pelicans game and, from what I understand, there’s no telling who you might run into at Summer League.
The tournament starts on July 17 and will crown its winner on Monday, July 22. Dion, bring the trophy home, baby!
Summer League is a fickle mistress. She both gives (most of these guys we’re watching are/will be NBA players, after all) and takes away (viewers are constantly reminded how little success on the Summer League level means to the games that count). But, hey, we just spent months watching highlight reels for guys who got drafted by other teams so, really, Summer League gives us cause for two things: 1.) We now have a team with “Cleveland Cavaliers” on their jerseys. This is no small matter. Mid-July is the first opportunity we’ve had to cheer for such a collection in a while. There’s no reason not to enjoy that. 2.) Many of those guys we developed our draft-crushes on will be there as well. So, Vegas is our chance to say our good-byes to the Otto Porters and Ben McLemores of the world, to let them let us down easy with a slew of 3-17 shooting nights or to keep that fire going with some amazing displays of skill, athleticism or shooting touch. This is Summer League and Vegas; this basketball’s got “consequence free” written all over it. Lap it up!
So the Cavs played their first televised game of the season… In the Hall of Fame City.
The city of Canton acquitted itself well with a near sellout in pre-season, and it was a beautiful 60 degree fall evening in the hometown of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate, The Canton Charge. I took my daughter to her first Cavs game. Jackson High School’s Jacks and Jills choir sang the national anthem, and the boys in tuxes and the girls in gowns sat in my section and made it the social event of the season. I covered my daughter’s ears a lot.
There are no luxury boxes in Canton, and the Cavaliers Brain Trust was courtside, down with us littles, to take in the spectacle. They looked as bored as me by the late third quarter.
We were all reminded of why we love pre-season basketball for 7 minutes, and hate it for the next month. Cavs starters played well through most of the first half, though sloppy towards its end. Then the second half was a mess full of turnovers and bad bad offense, especially after the starters left. Midway through the 4th, the Cavs subs gave a token effort at coming back and did not succeed. My daughter was groaning to leave and I finally caved with a minute left. Let me know if I missed anything.
The best play in the game came early. Miles stole the ball on an entry pass, threw it ahead to Kyrie, who waited till the perfect moment to return it with a behind the back bounce pass right before getting fouled, leading to a Miles slam, and a freethrow for Kyrie.
CJ Miles looked every bit a starting NBA player with a really nice line: 22 minutes, 18 points, 4/7 from 3, 3 boards, 3 steals, and no turnovers. His three point shooting was impressive, especially because they came from the wing and the top of the key. He definitely had a nice matchup against Tobias Harris and the undersized Monta Ellis, and he took advantage of it. His movement without the ball was excellent. I’m hoping he was a steal.
Jon Leuer is a keeper, despite his game low -10 plus/minus, which was more a reflection of his many minutes on the floor without Kyrie. A 3/3 first quarter kept the Cavs in the game early, and he seemed to know where to be on the floor all the time. He had a couple decent moments putting the ball on the floor off the pump fake, and has a nice handle for a 6’ 10” power forward. His defensive rotations were solid, though he picked up some fouls that he shouldn’t have, and needs to work on keeping his arms straight up when he’s going after a shot. His six D-boards were the result of good positioning and strength. Given that defensive rebounding was a weakness of his last year, it was nice to see.
Kyrie was Kyrie. It looked like he played a pedestrian game, until I looked at the box score: 16, 5 boards, and 3 dimes on 5/11 and 6/7 from the line in 22 minutes. Sloppy with the ball, all 3 of his turnovers were due to dribbling errors. You know a guy’s elite when his ho-hum games beat everyone else’s best.
Aside from his funny bits on “Access Cavaliers,” TT was forgettable, but he definitely looks thicker. 7 boards and 1-5 and 2 blocks, but defensively, he got burned by Ilyasova a couple times, and gave up some buckets that were way too easy, but his board work was nice. With a bigger bum and broader shoulders, he should definitely pick up more D-boards.
Andy looks the same, and it was nice to see him scrapping with Drew Gooden who looks ready to braid his goatee into another Johnny. Despite rumors of Andy having “lost a step,” he looks the same to me, and when the games start I think he’ll be fine.
For Milwaukee, 3rd year power forward Larry Sanders was beastly on the boards and around the basket. He had several memorable putbacks. Tobias Harris looked solid, though his defense on Miles wasn’t very good. Dunleavy and Marquis Daniels give Milwaukee a couple of very solid options off the bench. Between them, Gooden, and Mbah a Moute, they can easily go ten deep. They look hard to get past for the playoff race in the East.
Kelenna Azubuike looked like an NBA player, and didn’t seem to be showing any ill effects of the knee injury that kept him out of the last two seasons. He scored with nice elevation on pull up bank shot and jumped pretty high for few high rebounds to go along with a 6 point first half.
Justin Holiday played some decent defense, hit a nice shot, made a nice dish, and looked like he was worthy of more run. He certainly played exactly like the book on him: defensive wing stopper with a passable 3 point game and a good midrange game. But we already have an Alonzo Gee. Speaking of…
Alonzo Gee’s line in 2 games: 39 minutes, 6 points. That is not getting it done for a starting guard. He doesn’t seem to be looking for his shot at all, and why he’s not getting post up looks (or even trying to) against Monta Ellis is either a coaching error or a player error.
Dion Waiters did not look good, and that’s being nice. His one field goal was on a sweet alley oop feed from Miles that he almost blew. On the ball, Saint Weirdo was 0-6 and his 4 turnovers were ugly. His 2nd quarter contested 3 with 20 seconds left on the clock was the kind of play that loses games. Such is the life of a rookie.
The options at the backup guard spot in general don’t look good. The offense fell apart when Kyrie wasn’t on the floor, and there seemed to be a general inability to feed the bigs at all, or get any shots off the ball when Pargo, Waiters, or Anderson were running the point. 38.5% field goal percentage for the game was evidence of this. By the end of the game, Eddie Gill was pressing every guard in the back court, and the good guys couldn’t get into their offense at all. I guess it’s Sloan’s turn again.
Tyler Zeller looked like a rookie: some decent plays, some bad ones, but he really looks like he’s lost out there sometimes, and that he needs to add some weight. The second half was underwhelming for him.
Boobie had some shooting woes and missed several wide open looks.
Milwaukee’s guards combined for 55 points. Tobias Harris had 11. To say that the on the ball defense, screen defense, and perimeter rotations were bad would be polite.
Benoh Udrih took a nasty fall in the 2nd off of a Pargo charge, and probably got a concussion. Hope he’s ok.
No Lukes, Smardo, Sloan, or Casspi. DNPs happen on a 20 man roster.
Michael Eric is very tall. Kevin Anderson is not. That is all I could discern from watching them.
Kevin Jones has an NBA body with a decent frame and some long arms despite being 6’7”. He also pitched an o-fer: no stats in 5 minutes.
I counted four turnovers coming out of timeouts or to begin quarters. No es bueno.
This is of course one game: over-analyzed because it’s the first time we’ve seen these guys since summer league and tankapalooza 2012. It is a ridiculous word count for a preseason game recap. But it’s been eight months since we’ve seen real basketball, and we’ve another month to go. We are hungry. Boxes of “Your Pizza” will not satisfy us (they had no DiGiornos at the Memorial Civic center). Until then it’s pre-season. We must find succor in the first five minutes of games, watch “Access Cavaliers,” play NBA 2K13, and pine for the days when third string point guards Do Not Play.
At this point, you’ve probably heard the talking heads on your favorite pundit show mention it at least five quadrillion times: the NBA schedule is going to be brutal this year. To put things in perspective, a normal NBA season—tumultuous in its own right—is 82 games over roughly six months. That’s about 13.5 games every thirty days. This season, NBA teams will cram 66 games into four months, which comes out to 16.5 games per month. This means more back-to-backs (which, especially when both games are on the road, are incredibly taxing), less practice time (many coaches will elect to rest guys over drilling them, especially during particularly hectic weeks), and, inevitably, more injuries. Here, we’ll take a look at the Cavaliers’ compact schedule, focusing on strings of games that will determine whether their record this season will be abysmal or something closer to .500 (baby steps, you guys).
The Cavs begin the season like this:
vs. Toronto (Dec 26th)
@ Detroit (Dec 28th)
@ Indiana (Dec 30th)
vs. New Jersey (Jan 1st)
vs. Charlotte (Jan 3rd)
@ Toronto (Jan 4th)
@ Minnesota (Jan 6th)
Last season, when the Cavaliers were at their fan-demoralizing worst, I would scan the schedule for bad teams that might help the Cavs snap their losing streak. Because the team was too horrible to entertain the idea that they could beat a championship contender like Boston or even an okay team like Atlanta. It just wasn’t happening. All I can say to about this opening slate of games is: where the hell was this stretch of schedule last season???
This swath of games—all winnable except for a tilt in Indianapolis against a Pacers team that I think is going to be quite good—is something of a double-edged sword. Yes, the Cavs have a chance to start the season 5-2 or 4-3 against some sub-par teams, and they only have one set of back-to-back games to deal with, but they need to come out of the gate strong because by the middle of January into February, the schedule becomes unrelenting. From January 20th to February 8th, the schedule looks like this:
vs. Chicago (Jan 20th)
@ Atlanta (Jan 21st)
@ Miami (Jan 24th)
vs. New York (Jan 25th)
vs. New Jersey (Jan 27th)
@ Boston (Jan 29th)
vs. Boston (Jan 31st)
@ Orlando (Feb 3rd)
vs. Dallas (Feb 4th)
@ Miami (Feb 7th)
vs. LA Clippers (Feb 8th)
All of those teams are either good or great with the exception of New Jersey, so it’s possible the Cavs will lose all of those games. Throughout the rest of February and March, the team plays a more balanced schedule, until this oasis of bad teams in the beginning of April:
@ Milwaukee (Apr 4th)
@ Toronto (Apr 6th)
@ New Jersey (Apr 8th)
vs. Charlotte (Apr 10th)
If the Cavaliers are going to establish any kind of winning momentum, it’s going to happen on these nights because the team concludes the season, starting with the Charlotte game on the 10th, with 12 games in 16 nights, a stretch of schedule that an exceptional team like the Thunder or Bulls would have problems with, let alone a rebuilding Cavs squad.
I mean, I’m not sure how much of an impact this condensed schedule will have the on the Cavaliers’ record at the end of the season. They’re a young, undermanned team that will likely finish with one of the league’s worst records. More importantly, the compact schedule might begin to wear on Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson by March. Cavs fans will want to keep an eye on how the rookies hold up against the grind of playing so many NBA games in a short amount of time. I think Byron Scott will limit their minutes later in the season if they start to break down. He knows (he has to know, right?) that this year is about improvement, not wins, and so there’s no point in running these guys into the ground just because they’re two of the best seven players on the team, and he’s hungry for a couple extra Ws.
Also, a caveat: I have no idea what’s going to happen on a game-to-game basis, which makes it difficult to figure out what the Cavaliers’ win total will be this season. That probably seems obvious, but the level of unpredictability in this season is going to be higher than in others. Games are going to be disjointed and sloppy for a few weeks as players knock the rust off and teams learn how to integrate rookies, free agents, and trade acquisitions. A couple of teams’ seasons are going to be completely murdered by injuries; other squads (the Spurs will probably do this) are going to take it easy, rest their starters as much as possible, and try to squeak into the playoffs with the healthiest roster they can assemble. Those games against Boston I said the Cavs were going to lose? The Celtics are talented, but their rotation is incredibly shallow, so perhaps Kevin Garnett’s knees will need a night off or Paul Pierce will be nursing a knock he picked up a week ago in his fourth game in six nights, and the Cavaliers will have a better shot at victory. I honestly have no clue. It’s going to be a weird season. I advise you to watch the rookies develop, root for entertaining losses, and watch a little college ball to keep your spirits up. Life seems a little less bleak when every outstanding college player is a hypothetical Cavalier.
And we’ll be with you all season. I’ll have news and some longform-y stuff each week, and we’re gonna gangtackle this schedule so we have recaps of every game for you. Kevin has plans to write a series about the Cavs’ outlook moving into the 2012 and 2013 seasons. And there’ll be other stuff, I’m sure. We’re a bit like a busy kitchen at the moment—pans clattering, audible obscenities, a splotch of tomato sauce in our hair—but we’ll figure it out.
Happy holidays. Go Cavs. One.
And so it begins. Or it begins, like, soon. On December 26th, the Cavs will open the season at the Q against the Raptors, then play another 65 games in the span of four months. We are not clairvoyants or wizards, so we can’t predict win totals or PPG averages or whether Byron Scott will grow his compact facial hair into a sweet handlebar ‘stache and start wearing searsuckers on the sidelines (do it!), but we can offer some writerly analysis of the upcoming Cavaliers season. Today, we’ll take a look at the Cavs’ roster.
I’m going to ignore whatever the Cavs starting lineup is on opening night against Toronto. Byron Scott seems like the sort of coach who will have Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving come off the bench initially to prove a point to them that their place in the starting lineup must be earned. You can debate the merits of that approach (and if it’s enacted, we here at CtB probably will), but I think it will be irrelevant some ten, twenty, thirty games into the season. Irving and Thompson will log significant minutes for the Cavs because A.) They need the reps and B.) Even as rookies, they might be two of the best players on the team. By February the starting lineup will probably look something like this:
PG: Kyrie Irving (at Duke, playing 27.5 MPG in 11 games: 17.5 PPG on 53%/46%/90% and 4.3 APG)
SG: Anthony Parker (playing 29 MPG in 72 games: 8.3 PPG on 40%/38%/78% and 3 APG)
SF: Omri Casspi (playing 24 MPG in 71 games: 8.6 PPG on 41%/37%/67% and 4.3 RPG)
PF: Tristan Thompson (at Texas, playing 31 MPG in 36 games: 13.1 PPG on 54%/49% with 7.8 RPG and 2.5 BPG)
C: Anderson Varejao (playing 32 MPG in 31 games: 9.1 PPG on 53%/67% and 9.7 RPG)
Those numbers in parentheses are, as you can probably tell, statistics from last season. Looking at this lineup and thinking about where these guys fit together on the offensive end, the key to success is going to be Irving, as if he doesn’t have enough pressure on him already. Casspi and Parker are most useful as spot-up shooters at the three-point line, and the bigs are both players who make their living cutting to the basket and cleaning up the offensive glass. Irving will need to penetrate, draw defenders, and kick the ball out to the perimeter to maximize the talents of Casspi and Parker; and he needs to keep his head up and practice his bounce-passes to find Thompson and Varejao slashing through the paint. If he can do that, along with creating some shots for himself off the dribble, the Cavs’ starting unit will be reasonably effective.
This probably won’t happen right away or with much consistency in Irving’s rookie season, but my point is that it needs to happen if the Cavs are going to be respectable on the offensive end of the floor. Which essentially means that, some nights, the Cavs won’t be respectable on the offensive end of the floor, especially against teams with point guards who can pester Irving and force him into turnovers. What we can look for is how often and with how much consistency Irving puts it together and animates the Cavs’ offense. If, once or twice a week, he puts up 13-7 with only a turnover or two, he’ll have assembled quite a rookie season for himself.
On defense, the Cavaliers have the potential to be tremendous inside. Thompson will need some time to learn how to play help defense in the NBA, and he might need to add some bulk to guard stronger PFs, but between Varejao’s quick feet and Thompson’s athleticism and shot-blocking ability, the Cleveland paint, especially for penetrating guards, could become a hazardous area. On the perimeter, Parker is above average; Casspi, though he tries hard, is pretty awful; and Kyrie Irving will be solid, but no one will confuse him with Rajon Rondo. I think Varejao and Thompson (after he grows into his role) will be able to compensate capably when Casspi guards athletic 3s who can get around him easily, and the guards will provide a decent enough defensive presence that the Cavs won’t get torched by exceptional backcourts.
One area in which the Cavs need to improve is defending the three-point line. Any team that played the Cavs last season put up Anthony “I Don’t Miss” Morrow numbers from beyond the arc (41%!). I would be more concerned about this problem if it didn’t seem, at least in the midst of last season’s unrelentingly depressing losing streak, to be an issue of effort. I don’t think we’ll see as many poor closeouts or wide-open opponents this season if only because two rookies—who Scott can pull of the floor if their defensive effort wanes—will be playing big minutes, Casspi and Varejao are extremely hard workers, and even the most fervent pessimist can’t anticipate the Cavs will suffer another losing streak that numbers in the twenties and demoralizes every single person who roots for, is employed by, or has heard of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But, y’know, getting that opponent 3FG% down to a respectable number (is 35% doable?) would help this team stay in some games.
Again, I’m sort of projecting what Byron Scott’s rotation is going to be by mid-season, but suppose the bench looks something like this:
6. Antawn Jamison (PF/SF, 6’9-235, scorer)
7. Ramon Sessions (PG/SG, 6’3-190, sparkplug)
8. Daniel Gibson (SG/PG, 6’2-200, 3-pt specialist)
9. Christian Eyenga (SG/SF 6’7-210, athletic freak)
10. Samardo Samuels (PF, 6’9-260, rebounder, foul-drawer)
11. Ryan Hollins (C, 7′-230, tall)
12. Alonzo Gee (SF/SG, 6’6-220, perimeter defender, maybe?)
13. Semih Erden (C; 6’11-240; tall, but in a European way)
14. Luke Harangody (SF/PF 6’7-250, hustler)
15. Manny Harris (SG/PG, 6’5-185, rooting interest)
16. Colin McGowan (PG, 6’1-165, all-around dynamo)
There is good news and bad news here. (And the worse news is I got cut from the team, despite the fact that I would make a much better token white guy than Luke Harangody. C’mon, B-Scott! I was gonna make everyone on the team personalized highlight reels set to Just Blaze beats. I’ve been rehearsing a series of exaggerated “holy crap, I can’t believe he made that shot!” reactions for months. I was going to be Brian Cardinal 2.0! You’ll regret this while Harangody sits stoically at his locker before games, singing “Satellite” to himself beneath his breath, not even bothering to map step-by-step diagrams of the awesome handshakes he plans to execute with his beloved teammates as they walk to the bench after a timeout. This is an outrage.)
The good news: this bench is deep. The Cavs have 10 to 12 (depending on how you feel about Gee and Hollins) capable NBA players on their roster. In this compact season that’s going to feature a lot of games in a short amount of time, every NBA coach is going to plumb the depths of his bench for able-bodied basketball players, due either to fatigue or injury. Byron Scott, at the very least, knows what he’s getting from the Cavs’ bench, since many of these guys played big minutes last season due to a massive injury bug that struck the team around January.
The bad news: This bench isn’t very good. I think both Gibson and Sessions can be effective off the bench—the former as a spot-up shooter and increasingly capable defender, the latter as a guy who flies around for 15-18 minutes a game—but the problem is that if Scott plays both of them together, or pairs one of them with Irving, the Cavalier backcourt becomes incredibly small. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Sessions is pretty dismal on the defensive end.
Beyond the backcourt subs, the Cavs have Jamison (low-efficiency scorer, below average defender), Eyenga (incredibly raw, apparently in B-Scott’s doghouse), and a bunch of guys who are good at either one or two things or nothing at all. So, while there are a lot of bodies—guys who can step onto the hardwood and not completely embarrass themselves—I’m not sure how much winning basketball Scott can wring from those bodies.
It seems to me that Scott is going to have to do a better job this year in getting the team to play smart, active defense for four quarters. Because the Cavalier offense is going to struggle. The two guys who be doing the majority of the offense-orchestrating are A.) a rookie and B.) A guy who is sometimes prone to put his head down, drive to the hoop without a plan, and clank the ball against the underside of the rim. So, Jamison, who completely checked out last year, is going to have to adjust his mindset (he has said during training camp that this is going to be a focus for him this season); Thompson is going to have to learn quickly when to rotate, when to double, when to stay at home; and the backcourt, which will sometimes be quite undersized, is going to need to move their feet, know where help is, and do the best they can on nights when the opposing team’s shooting guard is 6’6″.
And a Shameless Plug
Well, sort of. John and I participated in ESPN.com’s 5-on-5 feature last week. We talked Irving, Thompson, the impact of a shortened season, and the Cavs’ lineup deficiencies. We also managed to use the term “rookie wall” gratuitously. You can read that here.
Tomorrow, Mallory will handle part two of our preview. He’ll be profiling Cavalier newcomers Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. And Friday, I’ll be back with a look at the Cavs’ schedule.
Orlando Magic (19-12) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-22)
Offensive Efficiency: Magic 104.8 (12th) vs. Cavaliers 97.7 (29th)
Defensive Efficiency: Magic 99.0 (4th) vs. Cavaliers 107.6 (26th)
Pace: Magic 93.1 (21st) vs. Cavaliers 95.3 (16th)
The Cavs took the ball to the basket a lot against Minnesota, but that might not be a great idea in this game. No team defends the rim better than Orlando, and Dwight Howard is going to send the ball back every time the Cavs throw up a weak layup. The Cavs’ best chance is probably to swing that ball around the perimeter and force the Magic’s new pieces to make rotations.
This could be a trap game for the Magic, who are coming off two huge wins but still haven’t gotten used to playing with each other. So we’ve got that going for us.
The Magic are going to get a ton of open three-point looks tonight. Richardson, Jameer, Hedo, FINGA GUNZ and the rest of their shooters are feeling good, it could get ugly. Also, the Cavs still can’t guard Dwight Howard straight-up, and he might take out his frustration with his 6-point game on the Cavs.
Alright, that’s all for right now. This one could end badly. Check in with me on the live dime, and check back here later for the recap.
Miami Heat (11-8) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-10)
Offensive Efficiency: Miami 107.5 (6th) vs. Cleveland 99.0 (28th)
Defensive Efficiency: Miami 98.8 (4th) vs. Cleveland 105.1 (18th)
Pace: Miami 93.4 (21st) vs. Cleveland 95.3 (14th)
The Heat are going to be playing five-on-six tonight, and that’s the key to the game. The longer the game stays close or the Cavs have the lead, the louder the crowd is going to get and the bigger the chances the Heat will fold become. The Heat are a jump-shooting team still figuring out how to play with one another — they do not want to have to perform under pressure.
I have a bad feeling that LeBron is going to go into destruction mode tonight and start attacking the rim, and I have a worse feeling that the Cavs aren’t going to be able to stop him if he does. This team has struggled to stop penetration, protect the paint and guard wings all year long, and that is not a good thing with LeBron and Wade coming to town. Still, it might just take a couple of stops or a couple of missed jumpers for LeBron to lose confidence and start deferring/launching jumpers. The first quarter is going to be crucial in this one.
I actually feel good about the Bosh/Varejao matchup. Andy should be able to contest Bosh’s jumpers, and he will make CB4’s life miserable every time he steps foot in the paint or goes for a rebound.
I don’t see how the Cavs can possibly contain Wade. Fortunately, the Heat have done a pretty good job of containing Wade and James all by themselves this season. Hopefully that continues.
Offensively, the Heat defend the paint well and are very mobile on the perimeter. The matchup to exploit is Mo vs. Arroyo — Mo should be able to beat Arroyo off the dribble and hit some jumpers before the bigs can step up to contest. Moving the ball will be so important — I actually think the crowd will help the Cavs a lot if it becomes a jump shooting contest because of the confidence factor. Pack the paint and force the Heat to make shots with the crowd dying to see them fail.
Alright, that’s all for now. I’m ready for this thing to get started already. I’ll be doing the dime, so stop by and say hi.
Cleveland Cavaliers (5-6) vs. San Antonio Spurs (10-1)
Offensive Efficiency: Cavaliers 101.2 (22nd) vs. Spurs 107.8 (4th)
Defensive Efficiency: Cavaliers 105.3 (20th) vs. Spurs 99.6 (7th)
Pace: Cavaliers 95.3 (16th) vs. Spurs 98.3 (7th)
– The Spurs are 10-1, and they’re doing it by playing fast, scoring in bunches, and getting a ton out of the Parker/Ginobili/Jefferson triumvirate. Duncan’s only averaging 14 a game, and the team is 10-1 anyways. This will not be an easy game, especially since transition defense and wing defense have been major issues for the Cavs.
– Hickson needs to get back on track tonight. He needs to be aggressive early and use his speed advantage on Blair to open things up — he might be tempted to shoot over him, but I think he’d be better served making Blair move.
– Tim Duncan might not be the featured guy on offense anymore, but he’s still the key to the Spurs’ defense. Cavs have to keep the ball moving, because Duncan still shuts down the paint as well as just about anybody. Some threes would be nice as well.
– Stopping penetration and locating shooters in transition aren’t easy things to do, but the Cavs are going to have to do them if they don’t want to get whooped against the Spurs. That’s all I have for now — check back here after the game for the recap.