1. Lineups featuring an Anthony Bennett-Tyler Zeller frontcourt are primed to get destroyed on the boards. Should the Cavaliers avoid playing the two together for long stretches against Indiana?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: This is an issue that I think will be interesting for the Cavaliers to handle moving forward. With no Andrew Bynum, Zeller and Bennett and likely to see lots of time together coming off the bench. Against Indiana, Zeller and Bennett will struggle heavily when not matched with backups Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi. I think this duo will be best served to play in situations where they can get out and run and at least hang on the boards. It’s hard to do, but I think the Cavs would be wise to let Zeller and Bennett bang with the reserves and let the stronger rebounding duo of Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson play inside against Roy Hibbert and David West.
Zak Kolesar, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: I think any frontcout duo that you put out on the court is going to get destroyed by a team like Indiana. With physical brutes down low such as Roy Hibbert, who will most definitely see time when the Cavs are playing a Bennett-Zeller frontcourt, it’s an unfavorable matchup no matter who Mike Brown puts out on the court. What’s going to be most interesting, however, if and when the Cavaliers sport this lineup is when Indiana is on offense. I think that should be Cleveland’s main concern in regards to playing a Bennett-Zeller reserve lineup. If you thought Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao were bad at protecting the rim, this duo makes them look like the ’86 Twin Towers of the Houston Rockets.
Tom Lewis, Indy Cornrows EIC: The Pacers have struggled to rebound at times this year and lost the offensive rebounding battle against opponents more often than they would like. While they remain a top ten rebounding team, the reserve unit isn’t going to dominate the glass. In fact, looking waayyy back to the first meeting, Zeller and Bennett ended up about even on the boards with Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi. If Bennett and Zeller work OK together otherwise, rebounding shouldn’t be a major concern.
2.Because of Bynum’s recent suspension, the Cavaliers are lacking a real presence in the middle. How will Roy Hibbert perform against Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, a frontcourt duo that struggles to protect the rim?
CM: On offense, I think Hibbert is poised to have a huge day against the Cavaliers. Thompson is far too small to hang in the post for any stretch and, even at his peak last season, Varejao struggled defensively to control elite centers. Hibbert – at 7’2”, 290 pounds – will also have a nice size advantage over the 6’11”, 267 pounds Varejao. If Indiana wanted to, I think they would be able to have a lot of success pounding the ball inside and running their offense through Hibbert in the post. Anything short of 20 point, 13 rebounds performance from the Georgetown product would be surprising.
ZK: Even though Hibbert is better known for his defense than his offense, I think he could have a monster game in the paint with the way Cleveland has been manhandled down low as of late. With the energetic Varejao in at center instead of the lackadaisical Andrew Bynum, things should run a little more smoother in regards to the plan of attack that the Cavs have in containing a big like Hibbert. I think Hibbert will have a big day on the offensive boards for Indiana, and that spells blowout for the Wine & Gold.
TL: The good news for the Cavs is that Hibbert is much better at protecting the rim than he is at attacking it. The size difference will allow Hibbert to set the pace down in the post and find his rhythm on his jump hooks. However, Varejao is a problem matchup for the big fella. Hibbert has struggled in the past keeping up with active centers like Varejao and Joakim Noah who can force him to move around and expend extra energy on defense. Hibbert isn’t real strong with the ball, so a quicker defender who can beat him to his preferred spot on the floor usually leaves Roy settling for a shot or giving up the ball.
3. When the two teams met earlier in the season it was considered a potential playoff preview, assuming the Cavs would jump into that playoff mix with their young talent and roster upgrades. Both teams have gone in opposite directions since, so what is holding the Cavs back?
CM: The Cavaliers have a roster that doesn’t exactly mesh together. Their three lead wings are all ball dominate and they have yet to play consistently good basketball for any long stretch this season. They also have add issues with offensive creativity and spacing, but the latter actually should be improved now that Andrew Bynum is no longer playing center. Now that they no longer have a massive albatross clogging up the paint, the Cavaliers should now be more effective as a whole on offense and play to the strengths of their best players, which is to get out and run in transition. It’s a small step, but it’s the first one is maximizing the full potential of the team.
ZK: Stagnation. Things tend to run much smoother for the Cavs in the first half. And then it’s like other teams drink a special formula a la Space Jam that the Wine & Gold have no answer for. I don’t think that Cleveland’s second-half woes are because of second-half adjustments made by the opposing teams. It’s more of a problem concerning the lack of motivation from players. Brown made it clear that if there wasn’t clear defensive effort being put forth on the court, he would pull a player. I haven’t seen that once (sans Bynum) this season, and it’s not just because the Cavaliers have few players that are defense-oriented.
TL: From the outside looking in, it appears the Cavs roster isn’t on the same page. Obviously, Andrew Bynum didn’t help and as Pacers fans know all too well, a couple of bad actors can disrupt a talented roster and stunt any attempts to develop chemistry throughout the playing rotation. At some point, Kyrie Irving is going to have to be a force of follow-me-to-the-promised-land positivity who not only plays at an elite level but leads and makes others want to follow.