LAST TIME OUT
Against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves down big in the first half. Their defense simply was unable to stop anything that Dallas threw at them. But in the second half, the Cavaliers slowly made their way back and had the game within reach with under a minute to go. However, their comeback hopes were spoiled by Jarrett Jack’s failure to inbound the ball within five seconds and the Cavaliers ultimately fell by a score of 102-97.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Chicago Bulls
Record: 20-20 (7-12 away)
Tipoff: Jan. 22 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 100-84 Chicago win on Dec. 21, 2013
Opponent’s Blog: Pippen Ain’t Easy
Bulls: F Carlos Boozer (OUT, calf), G Kirk Hinrich (OUT, hamstring)
As Dion goes, the bench goes
Since Waiters moved to the bench full time in November, the Cavaliers bench has been amongst the highest scoring in the lead and Waiters has become a real weapon for Cleveland. Outside of the Mavericks game, when the Cavaliers find themselves down in whole. the Syracuse product is usually the one bringing the Cavaliers back.
His scoreless performance against the Mavericks spoke a simple truth that has been apparent for weeks now – Waiters is the driving force behind the bench’s scoring output. Jarrett Jack hasn’t provided the scoring punch he was supposed to bring on a nightly basis so far this season and there really isn’t anyone else Mike Brown can turn to provide scoring if the starters aren’t providing the punch necessary. That puts a lot of pressure on Waiters to score – preferably in bunches when Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles and company are out.
Kyrie doesn’t play well versus the Bulls
Kyrie Irving is unquestionably very good, but for whatever reason, he hasn’t preformed well in his career so far against the Bulls. This season, in 38.3 minutes per game, Irving is scoring 16.3 points per game, but only shooting 30.8 percent from the field and shooting 18.7 times a game. This is Irving at his inefficient worst – high volume, high usage and little reward. This is Kyrie’s Carmelo Anthony mode and it’s not pretty.
One of the men to slow down Irving – Kirk Hinrich – is out tonight, meaning D.J. Augustin and Mike James will be tasked with staying in front of Irving. And for the Cavaliers to win tonight, they need Irving to take advantage of his matchup. They need the Irving that might take a lot of shots, but is draining threes with ease and, when you look at the final box score, you have no idea how he scored 27 points because you just can’t get your mind off his killer crossover.
It’s weird in way. When you don’t particularly notice that Irving has had a big night, that’s a good indicator that he played well on that given night. When you do notice him, it’s because he has missed a high number of shots and isn’t finishing at the rim.
Here’s hoping we don’t notice Irving too much tonight.
Playoff implications in January
Playoff basketball is still months away, but considering how tightly packed the East is in the middle, each game between now and the end of the season matters. This also starts an important stretch for the Cavaliers, as out of 41 remaining game, they only have 17 left against the teams they are competing against for playoff position under the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and whomever wins the Atlantic Division. This is also their last game against the Bulls this season, who are both a division rival and a rival for a playoff spot.
This game should also be a gauge for how much better Deng actually makes the Cavaliers and how they fit into the playoff picture. As of this afternoon, Cleveland is just two games out of the East’s last playoff spot and 5.5 games back of Chicago, currently the East’s sixth seed. If Chicago wins tonight, they’ll own the tiebreaker over Cleveland in both strength of schedule and season series. If the Cleveland wins, they can at least hold a tie in the season series – which should help their playoff chances.
But the most important thing here for the Cavaliers is to get a win that helps them get closer to the eight seed and out of the lottery. A loss – specifically one of the blowout variety – wouldn’t be the best indicator the for the Cavaliers going forward.
This game is at Quicken Loans Arena – where Cleveland is a much, much better team – and they need this one. I think this game hinges on how the Cavaliers preform on the boards and if Waiters can provide scoring off the bench – two factors that are very much up in the air. But considering that Deng does make the Cavaliers better in all areas and that Irving is bound to have a big game against the Bulls at some point, I think the Cavaliers will get it done tonight by, winning 96-92.