1. How does Tristan Thompson matchup with the likes of J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried?
Chris Manning, RDE co-editor: I think this a game where Thompson can get back on track on both sides of the ball. When he’s matched up with Faried, he’ll be playing against a similar player who isn’t very good on defense, even if Thompson won’t be as quick. As for Hickson, I can see Thompson outmuscling Hickson on the boards and in the post. On defense, however, both men are skilled and quicker than the Cavaliers Canadian forward, which could result in Thompson landing in foul trouble. All in all, provided he can get the proper spacing and amount of touches, I think Thompson can have a good game against the Nuggets.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: Defensively, Thompson’s going to have his hands full. Hickson’s a really good post player, and has a little bit of range to his shot, so that’s going to be a challenge for Thompson. Faried’s also much quicker than TT, which puts him at a disadvantage. Rebounding might be a struggle, because both players crash the boards well, Faried because he’s active, Hickson because he doesn’t move from under the basket on defense. Thompson’s real strength is going to be on offense, because Faried and Hickson are both tire fires on defense. Expect Thompson to have something like 18-20 points, because the Cavs would be idiotic to not post Thompson up on these two.
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: Thompson (22 years old) lacks the speed and tenacity on the glass that Faried (24) brings and can’t match the strength of Hickson (25). But Thompson gives great effort, hustles on the offensive glass, and works hard as evidenced by his commitment to switch to shooting right-handed. He’s sinking just 41.8 percent of his shots from the field but the change has seen his free throw percentage jump from 60.8 last year to a respectable 74 percent this season, a good indicator that his shot will come around with more repetition and confidence. Hickson has been starting at center so Thompson will be matched up with Faried, who was selected 18 picks after Thompson in the 2011 NBA draft. Thompson must keep ‘The Manimal’ off the offensive glass (he’s eighth in the league in offensive rebounding). Faried will look to run as soon as the ball is rebounded therefore Thompson must be ready to sprint back on defense after possession changes. Offensively, Thompson’s long wingspan affords him an inch and change over the smaller Faried so he shouldn’t have a problem shooting over his fellow third-year player.
2. The Nuggets’ interior defense is pretty ugly. Is this going to be a big game for Andrew Bynum?
CM: Absolutely. Bynum, more so than any player on the roster, is poised to have a good game against the Nuggets. Not one player on Denver’s roster has the capability of defending Bynum once he gets his positioning on the block. JaVale Mcgee? He’ll get overpowered. Hickson? Not big or strong enough to stop Bynum. Timofey Mozgov? Maybe Denver’s best chance to give Bynum fits, but I can’t see him finding much success either. Without question, Bynum should have a big game against this Nuggets front line.
TM: Continuing from the previous question, absolutely. Via NBAwowy.com, teams convert 62 percent of lay-ups, 57 percent of tip-ins, and 52 percent of hook shots against Faried/Hickson lineups. That’s, um…..horrible. And considering this is the Nuggz most common frontcourt combo, that bodes really well for Bynum as well as Thompson. I’d expect the Cavs to post up on at least 25 percent of their possessions in this game, because Bynum and Thompson, and even Anthony Bennett, should be able to abuse the Nuggets in the paint.
MA: Bynum had his best game of the season last time out and I see him building on that performance in this game if the Cavs commit to feeding him. Bynum has an enormous size advantage over Hickson but don’t be surprised to see Timofey Mozgov get into this game early or even start. Mozgov has come out of nowhere to dominate over the past two games, posting 16.5 points and 17.5 rebounds, including a 17-point, 20-rebound performance last night off the bench in a romp over the Nets. Mozgov (7’, 1”) outplayed a bewildered Brook Lopez and his confidence is soaring. Lopez poured in 10 points in the first quarter against Hickson but scored just two from that point on against the larger Mozgov. Bynum is the Cavs one big advantage in this ball game so I expect Denver coach Brian Shaw to double-team him in the post especially with Hickson playing center, which will open up the floor for Irving and company. However, Bynum cannot be lazy in transition because Hickson and Mozgov will make rim-runs and get easy points if he doesn’t hustle back.
3. The Nuggets want to run the floor and push the pace while Mike Brown’s Cavs would rather slug it out in the half court. Which team imposes it’s will?
CM: My gut tells me the Nuggets win this battle, if only because Denver has a functional offense while the Cavaliers still are struggling to find consistency. If we went roster for roster, I’d look at the Wine & Gold and see two players (Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum) whom the Cavaliers could use to slow the pace and dictate the tempo for the majority of the game. But since Bynum is still going to play a limited number of minutes, and Irving hasn’t played well enough this season for me to say he’ll wipe the floor with Denver’s Ty Lawson, I say the Nuggets impose their will. It’s part of who they are and I can’t see how the Cavaliers can slow them down – barring Cleveland forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.
TM: I think like it or not, we’re going to get a little bit more of a fast-paced game. Denver’s one of the best teams in the league at imposing its pace on the other team. Really, only Houston does that better. I think the Cavs can try to work the half court game as much as they can, especially to get the post game going, but they’re going to have to be active defensively, and hopefully will be able to get out and run with smaller lineups. I’d say expect Bynum to play a lot still, but maybe we’ll see more Earl Clark at the four, or maybe more Thompson/Varejao to combat this. Also, this probably makes the game more fun, so I’m all for it.
MA: Denver plays at the fourth fastest pace (the number of possessions a team uses per game) in the league while the Cavaliers are in the middle of the pack. Ty Lawson is one of the fastest players in the NBA with the ball in his hands and is a nightmare in the open floor. Cleveland is one of the three worst shooting teams in the league and must be cognizant off long rebounds to rush back on defense and force the Nuggets to beat them in the half-court. Denver will run on misses and makes and I think we will see them force the pace. Mike Brown must make sure his young guards pick and choose when to match the Nuggets’ break-neck pace, though I’m sure we’ll see Waiters and Irving make a few plays in the open court.