Archive for the ‘Previews’ Category

Cavs Season Preview (Part 3): The Schedule

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

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.

Recap

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.

Cavaliers Season Preview (Part 1): The Roster

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

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.

The Starters

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.

The Bench

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.

Big Picture

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.

Preview: Magic at Cavaliers, December 28th

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Orlando Magic (19-12) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-22)

Relevant Statistics:

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)

Notes:

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.

Preview: Heat at Cavaliers, December 2nd

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Miami Heat (11-8) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-10)

Relevant Statistics:

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)

Notes:

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.

Preview: Cavaliers at Spurs, November 20th

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

San Antonio Poster - Click to View Extra Large Image

Cleveland Cavaliers (5-6) vs. San Antonio Spurs (10-1)

Relevant Statistics:

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)

Notes:

– 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.

Preview: Cavaliers at Hornets, November 19th

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Cleveland Cavaliers (5-5) vs. New Orleans Hornets (9-1)

Relevant Statistics:

Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 101.2 (22nd) vs. New Orleans 107.0 (8th)

Defensive Efficiency: Cleveland 105.0 (20th) vs. New Orleans 98.1 (4th)

Pace: Cleveland 94.8 (18th) vs. New Orleans 92.7 (25th)

Notes:

– This one could get bad. Mo still out (edit: he’s expected to play tonight), team on the road, Hornets playing really great basketball. The Cavs are currently .500, but according to Hollinger’s rankings they’ve had the easiest schedule in the league thus far. Now it’s time to see what this team is really made of.

– There’s no real way to stop Chris Paul. He’s too fast, too good of a ballhandler, too good of a shooter, too good of a passer, and too good of a finisher to shut down. The best the Cavs can do is show hard on those pick-and-rolls and then recover back to the bigs like their lives depend on it — even if they do that, they’ll need some luck to stop Paul from killing them. Paul is my clear MVP choice at this point in the season, and there’s a reason why.

– The Hornets flat-out play defense. They love to collapse on you at the free-throw line area, and only Orlando allows less buckets at the rim per game. (Kind of a fun fact, when you consider that Howard and Okafor helm both paint defenses). The Cavs have to move that ball and hit some shots from outside — no isolation, and please limit the Sessions-ball.

– The Cavs’ advantage over this team is speed — Ariza’s a great athlete, and Paul is a freak, but if the Cavs swarm and recover on defense and move, move, move, move on offense, they could frustrate the Hornets and bridge some of that talent gap. I’m just hoping for a tough performance from the Cavs tonight, but this is basketball and anything can happen — remember Boston? See you after the game.

Preview: Pacers at Cavaliers, November 13th

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Pacers (3-4) vs. Cavaliers (4-4)

Offensive Efficiency: Indiana 103.1 (18th) vs. Cleveland 102.1 (22nd)

Defensive Efficiency: Indiana 105.3 (21st) vs. Cleveland 105.8 (22nd)

Pace: Indiana 98.3 (8th) vs. Cleveland 94.8 (19th)

Notes:

First of what could be a few games without Mo Williams — Boobie and Razor Ramon will have to show up, and it’s going to be very important to get those Princeton sets working. Hickson must be patient from the high post.

Hibbert will be a load inside. No Varejao, so that could be a real problem.

The book on Danny Granger is to run him off that three-point line. If the Cavs fall asleep on him the way they fell asleep on Morrow in the 2nd New Jersey game, it could be a long night.

Collison is fast and wants to get to the basket. Cavs have to keep him out of transition and do a better job than they did with Devin Harris in the half-court.

Hansborough has actually been pretty effective in limited minutes — Cavs should watch out for that 2nd unit and make sure they don’t let him get them in foul trouble.

Alright, that’s all. Let’s see if the Cavs go above or below .500 tonight.

Preview: Nets at Cavaliers, November 11th

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

New Jersey Nets (2-5) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-3)

Offensive Efficiency: New Jersey 97.3 (26th) vs. Cleveland 103.0 (14th)

Defensive Efficiency: New Jersey 106.2 (22nd) vs. Cleveland 106.0 (21st)

Pace: New Jersey 92.8 (28th) vs. Cleveland 95.4 (18th)

Notes:

Well, more of the same would be nice, right? After beating New Jersey on the road on Tuesday, the Cavs are looking to improve to 5-3. Here’s some of what I’ll be looking for:

– Brook Lopez can’t be happy about his 6-18 showing on Tuesday. I predict that Avery Johnson will look to get him going early — if he makes his first two or three and gets some confidence against Varejao, this could be a very different game than the one the two teams just played. If he can’t get settled and Varejao stays in his head, it’ll be good news for Cleveland.

– Mo Williams will also be looking to bounce back — hopefully the home crowd can help him forget about his abysmal shooting last night.

– I’m really, really, really hoping that Ramon Sessions builds on that epic fourth quarter — everything just works so much better when a real point guard is running the show.

– That said, I’d like to see Varejao, Hickson, and Jamison keep working that Princeton offense and getting comfortable from the high post/the perimeter in half-court sets.

– If Outlaw has another huge night tonight, it will be time to take a look at how this team defends swingmen. However, I think there’s a good chance Tuesday night’s performance was a fluke.

Alright, let’s see if this team can improve to 5-3. I’ll be in the Daily Dime, so come say hi.

Preview: Cavaliers at 76ers, November 5th

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Relevant Statistics:

Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 96.6 (26th) vs. Philadelphia 99.8 (21st)

Defensive Efficiency: Cleveland 105.6 (20th) vs. Philadelphia 98.5 (6th)

Pace: Cleveland 94.3 (22nd) vs. Philadelphia 97.0 (18th)

Notes:

-The keys to this one will be slowing down Philadelphia’s frontcourt (Elton Brand is actually not sucking, like, at all, and Thad Young is a good player), keeping Lou Williams from doing too much damage in the limited amount of time the 6ers give him, and finding ways to score on Philly’s surprisingly stingy defense.

It’s an athletic team, so every mistake the Cavs make is going to bite them. Hopefully Mo will start to settle in tonight, J.J. can take it right to their frontcourt, and the Cavs can get back to fundamentals on defense. I’ll be in the dime tonight, so come say hi.

Preview: Hawks at Cavaliers, November 2nd

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Alright, undefeated Hawks coming to Cleveland. Let’s see if the Cavs can get back to .500 tonight. Some things to watch for:

— Another really athletic team in the Hawks. Smith is going to be a tough matchup for JJ, and Horford will take it right at Andy down low. I like both of their chances, though.

— Mo’s back! And he gets to face Mike Bibby! That’s a welcome-back present if I ever saw one.

— The key here is finding something defensively — the Hawks haven’t been doing much on defense, but they’ve been scoring at will so far this season. Make Joe Johnson work, don’t let the Hawks get out and run too much, and stick to Crawford and keep him from getting himself a mini-run. See you after the game.