1. Per Synergy Sports, both the Cavaliers and Pelicans score over a point per position in transition, with New Orleans being a tad better. Who will get the better of this battle on Tuesday?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The Pelicans should take this and, while the absence of Jrue Holiday, undoubtedly hurts their attack, they still have solid ball handlers like Tyreke Evans and Brian Roberts to push the ball up the floor effectively. They also have a hammer that the Cavaliers do not have and likely cannot defend: one Anthony Davis. This gives the Pellies options that they can consistently bank on. Cleveland, on the other hand, is going to be reliant Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to initiate transition offense and don’t have a big who can run the floor and get the hoop like Davis does. Advantage, Pelicans.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: I feel like this is obviously New Orleans. While the Cavs are a good transition team, the Pelicans score a ridiculous amount of baskets on the break, using up a full 15.2 percent of possessions in this way. They have perhaps the best break-finishing big-man in the league, and they are much better at converting transition sets into fouls and getting to the line than Cleveland is. If this game devolves into a fast-paced transition battle, my money’s on the Pelicans having more success.
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Neither team plays fast but when the Pelicans do push the ball, I like them to convert. Even without two of it’s three best players, New Orleans is dangerous in transition. Anthony Davis is an elite weapon running the lane on the break because of his lethal combination of speed, length and athleticism. Tyreke Evans is also dangerous in the open floor, using his physical size and strength to ward off weaker defenders. Kyrie is obviously even more difficult to guard in open space but he just isn’t surrounded with guys who run consistently and Davis will likely be chasing him down or already near the rim.
2. The Pelicans are experiencing their own version of Linsanity right now, as Brian Roberts has been a stud since joining the starting lineup for the injured Jrue Holiday. How can the Cavs slow him down?
CM: Roberts has been statistically better as a starter, as he has doubled his scoring average, increased his APG average by 1.4 while committing only half the numbers of turnovers more and has been has shooting percentage rise by about ten percent. He also plays well without the ball in his hands and is bad with it, as he scores 0.81 points per position in isolation. But he has been outstanding and the Cavaliers perimeter defense (looking at you, Kyrie Irving) will have it’s hands full defending him. Roberts is especially outstanding spotting up (as Trevor notes below), but Irving actually defends spots up well, giving up 0.96 points per possession when defending this play. However, the Cavs defense at times (okay, all the time) doesn’t poorly rotate back to open shooters, meaning it’s going to be more important that the Cavaliers watch him when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands then when he does.
TM: Roberts has been a revelation this season, as he’s developed into one of the league’s most underrated offensive players. Currently putting up 14/3/5 per 36 and shooting 44 percent from three in January, Roberts has helped keep the Pelicans offense afloat, even as Tyreke Evans has struggled and Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson have been sidelined with injury. The big thing for the Cavs to prevent when Roberts is on the floor is allowing Roberts to spot up. Roberts is currently the league’s best spot-up shooter per Synergy, shooting 52.4 percent from three in these situations and converting a league-best 1.52 points per possession in these sets. The key will be solid off-ball defense on Roberts, not allowing him to get into space and set up for open jumpers. This will be especially key when Tyreke Evans is on the floor with Roberts, as the Pelicans’ best secondary ball-handler often causes the defense to key on him more when he has the ball, allowing Roberts to drift and find good spot-up opportunities.
MA: I’ve watched Roberts a little bit last season and he just plays smart, under control and is confident in what he can do. Roberts reminds me of the immortal Andre Miller; he’s steady. He looks comfortable out there and doesn’t try to force things or do too much. His story is quite remarkable, having toiled in Israel and Germany for four seasons before earning a backup role last season with the Pellies as a 27 year old rookie. Since taking over the starting role, Roberts’ has been a calming force as the team tries to stay afloat despite numerous injuries. As the boys stated above, Roberts’ ability to shoot the three has helped keep the Pelicans well spaced even without one of the top shooters in the league in Anderson. This will be a homecoming for Roberts, a Toledo native and former Dayton standout, so he will likely be aggressive from the start. Irving must be aware of where Roberts is off the ball and cannot fall asleep on him or he make the Cavaliers pay.
3. What can Cleveland do defensively to slow down the scolding hot Anthony Davis?
CM: I imagine the Cavaliers will spend their pregame in the their locker room, huddled around Anderson Varejao’s locker, praying to the based God (or Gods, if that’s your thing) that the heart of their defense will be able to suit up tonight. Cleveland MC Machine Gun Kelly will likely be there offering support too, as Dan Gilbert will view him as the closest thing available to Preacher Don available. The pre-game meal with probably be Chick-Fil-A, as it leads to good things for Mike Brown after he eats it and it will topped off by vodka shots provided by Sergey Karasev, NBA rules be damned. And in all likelihood, none of the above rituals will work, as “The Brow” is really, really good and I don’t think anyone not named Roy Hibbert or Marc Gasol can slow him down right now.
TM: Davis particularly excels when he has open space to run the floor. This shows by his best scoring opportunities being as a PNR big and in transition this season. The big challenge for the Cavs against Davis is that they need to protect the lane from letting Davis get open looks at the rim, something they are not great at doing due to their lack of size. If Tristan Thompson is guarding Davis, he’s not fundamentally sound enough to stay in front of a guy like Davis, and is likely to still get shot over. Varejao just isn’t quick enough to defend Davis. Honestly seeing a little more Tyler Zeller might be the Cavs’ best bet, as he’s the only player with the size-quickness combination to stand up to Davis on the defensive end. Hopefully he can have another night like the Milwaukee game and help stop Davis from going bonkers.
MA: Good luck Cavalier big men! Davis is phenomenal at the rim due to his quickness and hops, especially that second jump. His athleticism allows him to perform reckless dunks like this one over Big Baby Davis that just should not be possible. Davis is still perfecting that jump shot above the foul line but he’s been mostly very good from the top of the key. He is already a nightmare in transition, on the offensive glass (fifth in the league with 3.9 ORPG) and of course lob plays. He’s also comfortable handling the ball and finishing with either hand. But he is just average in the paint and does not showcase much of a post-up game yet. The best way to combat Davis is with quick, athletic big men but the Cavs don’t have anyone who fits the ideal mold. The best Cleveland can do is to try and prevent Davis from getting easy buckets by cutting down on live-ball turnovers while keeping him off the offensive glass. This just is not a good matchup on paper for the Cavaliers.