1. Omri Casspi has become a solid rotation player for the Rockets after being awful in Cleveland last season. How has been able to turn around his career?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: I think it’s a mixture of being on a good team and playing in a system that enables Casspi to do what he does best, which is shoot it from deep. In Cleveland, after a rough start, he was bound to the bench for the remainder of the season. In Houston, as one of the first guys off the Rockets bench, Casspi comes off the bench with one job and that’s to stroke it. Houston plays at tempo that enables Casspi to really float around on the outside and pick his spots. It also helps that he plays with good-to-elite shooters such as Chandler Parsons, James Harden and Jeremy Lin. At one time, he can be on the floor with all of the players mentioned above, Casspi is thriving as a stretch four and it made him one of the better free agent signings last summer.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: After four years as a member of the Cavs and Kings, this is the first time in Casspi’s career that he’s been in a winning situation. He’s no longer being forced into bad situations and being expected to be something he’s not, which I think was the issue in his previous two spots. With Houston, Casspi knows that he doesn’t have to be a team’s only three-point threat off the bench. He’s surrounded by them, and this allows him to both pick his spots and play to his strengths. After his nightmare of a 12-13 season, which has to be one of the most depressing seasons ever had by an individual NBA player, Casspi more than anyone needed a fresh start, and now, in Houston with a winning culture and no pressure, he’s excelling, putting up numbers that match his fairly impressive rookie season with the Kings.
Michael Ma, Space City Scoop EIC: The Rockets offensive style has been just about a perfect fit for Casspi. He’s been a tweener his whole career, not quite fast and agile enough to be a full time small forward, and not quite big enough to be a power forward, but has range and good ball skills. Playing as a stretch power forward off the bench, he suits the Rockets needs perfectly with that role, and his production has shown: Casspi is averaging eight points and four rebounds, while shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc in about 20 minutes per game. Half the time, success in the NBA is about finding the right fit and opportunity, and it looks like Casspi has found that in Houston.
2. How should the Cavaliers look to defend the Rockets wings, namely James Harden and Chandler Parsons?
CM: In theory, I can see Luol Deng having a fair amount of success defending Parsons at the three spot, but when he’s out of the game, Parsons is likely to find himself with a high number of open looks. This is especially the case if Mike Brown runs the Cavaliers three-guard lineups for any stretch of time, as the 6’9” Parsons will dwarf the likes of Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters on the wing. As for Parsons, sans the Cavaliers using Deng to defend him and C.J. Miles/Waiters to defend Parsons (which actually would make some sense), I can’t see how he doesn’t have a huge game, assuming he plays. He will be able to get inside whenever he wants to and, if he’s fouled, it’s a virtual lock for him to score at least his average and probably more. A year ago, after a slow first half, Harden got into a groove against the Cavaliers defense and didn’t look back. Expect him to do more of the same tonight, if he plays. And if he doesn’t, Jeremy Lin should have a big game for Houston, as the Cavaliers aren’t good at defending opposing teams in the pick and roll – a Lin speciality, as he is the primary ball handler in the pick and roll on 22.3 percent of his offensive plays, per Synergy Sports.
TM: I don’t really see this happening no matter what the Cavs try to do. I guess Deng will be able to defend Parsons, and especially deny him getting open looks above the break on the three-point line, where he’s most deadly. However, when he isn’t in the game, I expect Parsons to go bananas. Harden’s going to do that no matter who is on him, because while Dion Waiters is better on defense than he was last year, right now he’s not playing with any real intensity on the defensive side of the ball, and I could see Harden torching him. Likewise, the talent gulf between James Harden and C.J. Miles or Matthew Dellavedova is so big that the BP oil spill could happen in it and still not cause major damage. Harden might be a lock to go for 35 against Cleveland. This is depressing.
MM: Harden has missed the past two games with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand, and will be a game-time decision. Should he not be able to go, then the Rockets will start two point guards in Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin. Lin’s been huge during Harden’s absence, but he’s not at the same level as Harden is: the Cavs just have to make sure to not let him get in the paint or do damage in the pick-and-roll. If Harden is able to play, then I’m not sure anyone will expect what he would be able to bring, himself included. Chandler Parsons, on the other hand, has the ability to knock down the 3-pointer, and finish at the rim. At 6’9”, he’s a tough matchup for anyone, but I think the Cavs are in good shape with an elite perimeter defender in Deng on him. Parsons doesn’t really have the skill set to create for himself, he’s more of a catch-and-shoot, or catch-and-attack type player. Deng may have to play close to 40 minutes if the Cavs don’t want to see Parsons go off.
3. Without Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers have a huge hole at the center position, which doesn’t bode well with Dwight Howard patrolling the paint. What can Cleveland do to prevent Howard from dominating the interior?
CM: Hack him when you can and double him aggressively seems like the best and only options to me. However, the Rockets play at a high pace and don’t always set up in a traditional offensive set that puts Howard in set places. He’s always going to moving and this makes it hard to design a defense to slow him down. Assuming Varejao is out, this means that Tyler Zeller needs to play big minutes, probably upwards of 30. He’s possibly the Cavaliers most mobile big and, at 7’0” he’s bigger than Howard. And if Mike Brown is hell bent on giving Henry Sims some serious minutes, it should only be to hack Howard anytime he is set to take a shot within six feet. The more the Cavaliers get Howard taking free throws and not rising up for dunks or baby hooks, the better.
TM: Well for one, maybe we can play Tyler Zeller more instead of compensating Varejao’s minutes with playing Henry Sims a ton? That was the most baffling part of the Knicks game. You’re missing your best center, your backup is playing really well, so let’s play the deep bench guy more to compensate? I don’t get it. Anyway, if the Cavs are going to keep Dwight from having big success, Zeller needs to play big minutes. He’s the best the Cavs have currently at bodying up bigger centers, and he’ll give them the best shot at actually rebounding the ball. I wouldn’t mind using Sims for 5-10 minutes strictly for Hack-a-thon purposes, but if Zeller isn’t in then I want small-ball. Tristan at center, three guards and Deng. Just run Howard right off the floor.
MM: Well, Andrew Bynum would have been very useful, but that’s a different story. The Cavs can use a combination of their big men on him, Tyler Zeller, Henry Sims, or Tristan Thompson, and send a double if Howard is having his way in the post. The Rockets are at the bottom of the league in 3-point shooting this season(for a team that lives and dies by the outside shot may I add), so the Cavs can test the 3-point shooters. The other scenario would be to get Howard into foul trouble, and the Cavs have a bevy of guards who are able to penetrate into the lane and get to the basket: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Jarrett Jack, and even C.J. Miles. I don’t think the game will be determined in the low post, but rather, by guard play.