LAST TIME OUT
The Cleveland Cavaliers (10-21) became losers of six straight after losing 91-76 to the Indiana Pacers. The Cavaliers played three quarters of solid basketball, but put up a whopping 10 points in the fourth quarter. And in that dreadful fourth period, Kyrie Irving went down with a left knee injury. He ultimately returned (and is listed as questionable for tonight’s game) but the quarter capped off Irving’s weakest game in over a week. And with no production from their star (or anyone else) down the stretch, the Wine & Gold lost yet again.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Orlando Magic
Record: (10-21, 3-11 away)
Tipoff: Jan 2 at 7 p.m. – Quicken Loans Arena
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: A 109-100 Cavaliers win – Dec. 13
Opponent’s Blog: Presto In the Paint
Magic: C Nikola Vucevic (day-to-day, ANKLE)
Cavaliers: G Kyrie Irving (QUESTIONABLE, left knee contusion), C Andrew Bynum (OUT INDEFINITELY, team suspension)
Hola Oladipo (and Aaron Afflalo)
Magic rookie Victor Oladipo had a great game against the Cavaliers in their previous matchup, scoring 26 points and dishing out four assists. He also had four steals and three rebounds on defense, showing that he had a impact on both sides of the ball. At times, when defending Irving, Oladipo did get lost and couldn’t consistently stay in front of Irving. He’s been up and down as a rookie, but he might need to have a game similar to this for the Magic to win in Cleveland.
As for Afflalo, who is in the midst of his best season, he had a somewhat quiet game in the first matchup between these two teams, scoring 17 points on 6-15 shooting. However, he is a matchup nightmare for the Cavaliers, especially when they run their three-guard lineups. He can guard either the one, two or three and will face favorable match ups no matter who is guarding him. I mean, can see Matthew Dellavedova slowing him down? A big game from Affalo helps seal a Magic victory here.
And, in case you forgot, Kendrick Lamar was once jealous of Aaron Afflalo.
The Cavaliers without Irving are what exactly?
As noted above, Kyrie Irving is questionable for tonight’s game. Over his last ten games, Irving is shooting 47 percent from the field (almost five percent above his season average) and is averaging 25.8 points per game, almost three points above his season average. After his early struggles, it looks as Irving is finally turning the corner and, as a result, the Cavaliers should be a better team when he plays.
But if he can’t play tonight, it changes the whole structure of the Cavaliers team. Jarrett Jack would likely start the point, putting more pressure on Dion Waiters to score off the bench. C.J. Miles and Earl Clark would also be called upon to score more than they have of late, something that doesn’t probably end well for the Cavaliers. In all likelihood, the Cavaliers would be better served to run lots of small ball lineups with Earl Clark at the four. The Magic will run their fair share of small ball as well with Tobias Harris at the four, so such a move would make a lot of sense.
Overall, the pieces are in place for the Cavaliers if Irving misses his first game of the season. But one must wonder how it will look and wonder if it will be functional and productive.
Due to some staff issues, there will be no full 3 vs. 3 Fastbreak today. But since Zach Oliver of Baller Mind Frame & myself took the time to answer three questions about tonight’s game.
1. With the Magic near full strength, they’re able to exploit certain matchups with some players versatility. Which players versatility is most important to the Magic this season? And which one causes the most problems for the Cavaliers?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: The answer here for Orlando is Aaron Afflalo and it’s because of his ability on both ends. He can defend both wing spots, as well as opposing point guards, and can do so effectively. And on offense, he can both the two and the three depending on what kind of lineup Orlando wants to run. If they go small, he can play the three and help Orlando get out in transition. In more traditional lineups, he can play the two and get the better of the matchup. For the Cavaliers, it’s also Afflalo. As of late, the Cavaliers have been using three-guard lineups with much more frequency and those lineups aren’t exactly good defensively. The most common – which features Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack – is below average on defense to say the least. In those situations, no matter who he is matched up with, Afflalo should have a favorable advantage.
Zach Oliver, Baller Mind Frame Magic Beat Writer: I would say the player with the most importance is Afflalo. He’s a natural two and he’s a much better fit there, but he can step up and play the three in a small ball lineup. He’s been playing the best basketball of his career, and he should be an All-Star. He’s a tough cover for anyone, and his recent play just proves how good he can be.
As for the toughest for the Cavs, I believe it’s Tobias Harris. Since he was inserted in the starting lineup, Harris has averaged 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He’s best suited as a power forward, where he can exploit matchups, but he’s been playing small forward with Glen Davis at power forward. When he’s at the four, he’s a tough cover for anyone, so if Nik Vucevic is out and Jacque Vaughn chooses to go small, Harris’ minutes at the four could cause problems for Cleveland.
2. Nikola Vucevic had a big game against the Cavaliers the first time out, pulling down 13 rebounds. If he can play, how can the Cavaliers contain him better on the boards?
CM: Both Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao will need to be active and box out well on the boards. Per the NBA’s wonderful player tracking stats, both Thompson and Vucevic are in the top 25 in contested rebounds per game. Thompson, who is eighth in the league in this category, pulls down 4.2 contested boards per game. Vucevic comes in at 25th, pulling down 3.5 per and Anderson Varejao pulls down a shade less at 3.4 per game. This is the area where the Cavaliers need to limit Vucevic and make it a physical battle in the post. As Zach notes below, the Orlando big man is going to get his fair share of uncontested boards. But when they go head-to-head, Thompson and Varejao will need to keep Vucevic off the glass.
ZO: I’ll put this simply… You can’t. Well, ok, you CAN, but it’s not easy to do. The Cavaliers smalls will need to get down and rebound the ball and the bigs need to keep a body on him at all times. He’s tied for fifth in the league in uncontested rebounds per game according to the Sports VU data on NBA.com/stats at 7.6 per game. In comparison, Vucevic grabs 3.5 contested rebounds per game, which ties him for 24th in the league. If Cleveland is able to contest his rebound opportunities and send everyone to the boards, they can have more success than they did previously.
3. These teams have identical 10-21 records. Which one of these teams is more likely to have a high number of lottery balls?
CM: Orlando is the answer here, but both are capable of bottoming out. The difference here is Kyrie Irving, the only legitimate star on either of these two rosters. He alone keeps the Cavaliers from being totally horrible and keeps them afloat. But the bigger answer here is this: the Cavaliers ownership likely won’t allow any move that results in another bad record, while Orlando seems to be more willing (and smartly so) to trade away valuable veterans such as Afflalo and Glen Davis. So, in short, the Cavaliers have a star and the ownership wants to make the playoffs no matter what. Orlando is much more practical.
ZO: Orlando. They’re, uh, not very good. They struggle with consistency, their defense struggles for long periods of time and the offense has periods where it can’t throw a pebble in the ocean. Also, the Magic should make some trades to move vets and gain more assets for the future. There’s absolutely no reason for them to contend at all and win games this season, it’s all about growth of players and the team as a whole. Cleveland has the talent to turn things around I think, and well, Kyrie Irving is kinda good.
I’m going to assume Irving plays tonight, as he has been vocal in saying he wants to play all 82 games this season. As a result, with the Cavaliers having the best player on their floor in game between two mediocre teams, I think they get it done. They’ll need to control Nikola Vucevic (if he plays) on the boards and in the post, however, and that is no small task. In the end, the Cavaliers will get this done, winning 99-92.