To put it bluntly, this game is will be pretty good estimation of what life will be like without Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. The Philadelphia 76ers are a mid-level team that, even with an awful performance for Irving, the Cavs were able to compete with. Now, with Irving out and Donald Sloan or Jeremy Pargo likely to start at point guard, this game is nothing more than an indicator of what we can expect for the next month. Cavs-Sixers coverage begins at 7 p.m. on FSN Ohio and will also broadcast live at 7 p.m. on WTAM 1100.
This topic has already been beaten to death, but it’s hard not to talk about Kyrie Irving. Up until his injury diagnosis, Irving was truly having a breakout campaign. He was averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 assists and was shooting 46.3 percent from the field. That’s a pretty good stat line for an NBA point guard in his second season, and with that stat line Irving was seriously being talked about amongst the top point guards in the league. Sure, there were defensive issues, but overall this was what Cleveland needed. But enough on what Irving had done – let’s talk about what needs to be done to replace him as best as possible.
First off, I think starting Sloan is the wrong decision. He’s not really NBA quality, and looks lost running the Cavs offense at times. I think the right call is to start Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and have him sharing the point guard duties with Dion Waiters. Seeing as the Cavaliers bench is already thin, this lets them maximize the adequate talent they do have on the bench. And when those two need a rest, play Sloan – but only for a little. Give Waiters his rest by using C.J. Miles, Omri Casspi and/or Alonzo Gee at the two. Also, the Cavs should work inside–out with their offense. Feed the ball inside to Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson and let them facilitate the offense in Irving’s absence. Also, increase the number of pick and rolls – use them to get shooters like Gibson and Waiters loose. There is no Irving to make passes for shots and easy layups in the middle of the lane. For the Cavs to be successful at all during this stretch, they are going to need to play team-oriented basketball – a foreign concept in the modern NBA.
The good news for Cleveland is that the Sixers are not great offensively. They only average 88.9 points, and really don’t have a consistently potent offensive threat It’s entirely possible that, if this game turns into a shoot out, the Cavaliers win. Waiters is deadly when he gets his shots to fall and Varejao is at his best in chaotic situations. If the team around those two shoots 45 percent or so from the field, makes their free throws and shoots an adequate percent from three-point range, the Cavs could eek this one out at Quicken Loans Arena.
Sadly, I find that unrealistic. This is going to be the first ugly game in the line of many for Cavaliers fans. The next month is going to be hard to watch, and expect all the positive energy around the Cavaliers to erode. The Sixers are third in the NBA with 90.1 points allowed per game, and they limited the Cavaliers to 79 with Irving in the lineup. Brace yourselves, Cavalier fans – this just the fist of many rough games without Irving.