Welcome to the 68th installment of Right Down Euclid’s “Weekly Roundtable.” This weekend Trevor Magnotti and Chris Manning sit down and discuss the latest trending topics concerning your Cleveland Cavaliers and the NBA. The combination of rotating RDE duos answer three questions regarding the hometown Wine & Gold and two questions surrounding the league.
Today the discussion revolves around Cleveland’s playoff hopes, which player Luol Deng will help out the most, the Wine & Gold’s five-game trip out West, the Golden State Warriors’ impressive run and more severe star injuries.
First Question: What seed do you predict that the Cavaliers can rise to in the East with the addition of Deng?
Trevor Magnotti: I think 7th is reasonable. If the Cavs go, say, 27-20 the rest of the way, it puts them at 37-43, which would be the seventh-best win percentage in the East, currently. That’s pretty reasonable to expect with Kyrie now healthy, Bynum gone, and Deng arriving. It also depends on the state of the East, and their competitors might open or close the door as they improve or crumble as well. My bet is more teams crumble. Atlanta is currently missing Al Horford for the season. Detroit is in a free-fall. Brooklyn is an offensive trainwreck, and I don’t see that improving. Chicago is probably about to tank. Washington, Charlotte, and Toronto all should stay in the picture, and I still have irrational hope for the Knicks because comedy. I can see the Cavs vaulting into the rising group in the East rather than staying where they are now at 12th in the East.
Chris Manning: I think so, but it’s no guarantee. Deng has name value and is a good player, but he’s not a band aid for every problem the Cavaliers have. Simply put, there are two – maybe three – players in the NBA right now who could become a member of the Wine & Gold and make them an instant contender, and Deng is not one of them. But considering how bad the East is, I think he’ll do enough and make the Cavaliers good enough to be a six of seven seed. Under the top two, it’s a cluttered mess and it will stay that way. Teams that rise the rest of the way will make it and teams that don’t will get the consolation prize of picking in the lottery come June. I think, in the end, the Cavaliers fall in the former group.
Second Question: With Deng (likely) becoming the starting three in the Cleveland lineup, who does he help out the most (Irving, Miles, Thompson or Varejao) and is this team playoff bound now?
TM: I argue that he helps Kyrie the most. Thanks to Deng’s off-ball movement and cutting ability, Kyrie now has a few solid options to pass off to on drives. No longer should we see Kyrie take it to the hoop in a crowd because his only outlet is Earl Clark. Now, Deng will be cutting to the rim and finding ways to get open, and C.J. Miles and Dion Waiters will be available for deep shooting. He also should help Varejao, as now the Cavs have a not only competent, but very talented wing defender to sick on teams, and this will help in the overall protection of the rim for the Cavs. These are the main things Deng will bring to this team, and that’s who it should help the most.
CM: Kyrie is the answer here. For one, he can be the secondary ball handler in the pick & roll and, while not a great shooter, his ability to cut will make him a nice fit in the Cleveland offense alongside Irving. I think we will see Irving dish a little bit more now when he attacks the rim (as Trevor noted) and I think Deng could actually help Kyrie be more effective off the ball. Unlike Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack, Deng isn’t going to be looking for his own shot first, second, third, etc. He is going to make the right basketball play – whatever that may be – and, if Mike Brown so chooses, I think he could be a very good secondary facilitator for the Cavaliers. Plus, as some of his quotes have indicated, Irving has been learning largely on the fly so far in his career and a veteran presence like Deng should help him mature as a player. Irving is only going to better as a result of this trade.
Third Question: With a five-game road trip out West beginning Friday in Utah, what’s your prediction for the Wine & Gold’s 10-day break from the Q?
TM: I’m predicting a 3-2 trip for the Cavs. The Cavs do have to go to Portland, but the other destinations are Utah, Sacramento, LA for the Lakers, and Denver. The Cavs already crushed Denver at home, but Denver’s home-court advantage is like that of the Seattle Seahawks’. With that mountain air to deal with, I can’t see the Cavs keeping up with the Nuggets. Sacramento’s had a murderous stretch in their schedule the last few weeks, and actually played pretty well, and with Boogie Cousins there to wreak havoc on the Cavs’ D, I’m actually tempted to say this is the other loss. Utah and the Lakers game are probably gimmes because Utah is terrible and the Lakers have like eight healthy players. Portland is a West powerhouse, but the Cavs actually played them pretty close in their first meeting, and this team has lost to Kings and 76ers in the past week, so I’m somewhat tempted to say the Cavs could win this game as well.
CM: I think the Cavaliers go 4-1 on this trip, but it also could be 1-4, 2-3 or 3-2. They are going to lose in Portland in a less competitive game than their first matchup and lose by eight or nine in the Pacific Northwest. Utah should be an easy W, as the Jazz are just awful at everything. The Lakers should also be a relatively easy win, since they are riddled with injuries. Remember, on Christmas Day, Nick Young was their player the NBA used to promote their game against the Heat. Sacramento and Denver are a tad dicey, but I think they can get wins in both of those cities. Boogie Cousins can absolutely own the Cavaliers’ bigs, but they are just so awful as a team on defense right now. As for the Nuggets, their home court advantage is an advantage for a good reason, but I just can’t shake the first matchup of these teams from my mind.
Fourth Question: The Warriors had their 10-game winning streak halted along with a spot in NBA history by closing out their road trip an impressive 7-0. What have you learned about Golden State from the aforementioned streak?
TM: The main takeaway here is that we can’t be totally swayed by runs in the early part of the season without looking at the schedule. The Warriors struggled a lot early in this season, trying to adjust to life without their hyper-talented bench from last year against a heavy diet of the West’s top teams; the long win streak then came against the Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers, Suns, Cavs (in OT! :D), Magic, Heat, Hawks, Wizards, and Bucks. Of that group, only three or four are quality teams, depending on your feelings on the Hawks and Nuggets. Granted, it’s really hard to win 10 straight. It’s even harder to win six road games in a row. However, when your schedule gets significantly easier very rapidly, a huge improvement is to be expected, and the Warriors’ record finally corrected to where many thought it should be this year.
CM: The Warriors, when at full strength, are a very good team, and that’s what this winning streak proved to me. With the three-headed monster of Andre Igoudala, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the outside, this team can score with anyone, and they play with a swagger that is hard to match. I know it’s very early, but I think that this team is showing signs of being a legitimate contender for the NBA title and are, at the very least, a team that is built for the long haul. They can score, play at a variety of tempos and are much better on defense than their reputation indicates. And most importantly, one half of my Warriors-Bulls predication still has some life in it.
Fifth Question: Injuries keep on continuing to hamper rising teams this season, as it has been painful to see some top-notch stars go down this season. With Chris Paul, Ryan Anderson and Eric Bledsoe being the latest victims, which respective team has been hit the worst?
TM: I’d argue that Bledsoe is the biggest loss for this season. The Suns are thriving this season with a weird unit based around Bledsoe and Goran Dragic’s penetrating and passing ability. Without Bledsoe, the Suns lose their best defensive guard, and the player with the highest usage of any Sun. That means they need to redistribute offensive touches, which is tricky when you’re relying on Markieff Morris and Gerald Green as two of your bigger options. I could really see the Suns going under offensively without Bledsoe, and they have a really tough schedule coming up, which is going to make things even harder on them.
CM: The Clippers, due to a soft schedule, actually should be okay and can tread water without Paul around. In the end, I think they can still get one of the top four seeds out West, and that’s all really matters. The loss of Anderson – who has had an awful, awful year with this injury and some off the court issues – makes the Pelicans worse and damages their playoff hopes, but this isn’t a really good team that is going be doomed from losing a key piece. If anything, this gives them a better chance to get a nice piece in the lottery and then build around Anthony Davis and said piece. That leaves me with Phoenix, who in two ways, has been hit the worst. While not a title contender, Eric Bledsoe was leading that team expertly and helped make them a likely playoff team. Plus, Bledsoe in set to be a restricted free agent this summer and, if he’s out for an extended period, that’s less time to properly assess his worth. And say a team like the Orlando Magic offers Bledsoe a max deal this summer. Based on what will be a somewhat small sample size, there isn’t a perfect answer about whether or not to pay Bledsoe loads of money. That alone makes the Suns a loser.
Make sure to check back next week to see what Trevor Magnotti and Zak Kolesar have to debate at the “Weekly Roundtable.”