LAST TIME OUT
On Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Sacramento Kings and put forth one of their best performances of the year. The Cleveland defense – without Anderson Varejao – held DeMarcus Cousins to only two points after the first quarter and went on to win by a final score of 109-99. And while Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson all had really strong performances, much maligned top pick Anthony Bennett had his best performance as a pro, putting up 19 points on only nine shots and pulling down 10 boards. Even if the Cavaliers had lost, that would have been reason enough to be excited about last night’s game.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Detroit Pistons
Record: 22-29 (12-15 at home)
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. from the Palace of Auburn Hulls in Auburn Hills, Michigan
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: Pistons 115, Cavaliers 92 on Dec. 23
Opponent’s Blog: Life on Dumars
Pistons: G Chauncey Billups (DAY-TO-DAY – knee)
Cavaliers: C Anderson Varejao (OUT – back), G C.J. Miles (DAY-TO-DAY – foot)
Yes, the postseason is still a possibility
A win against the Pistons tonight would be the fourth in a row for the Cavaliers and give them some legitimate momentum heading into the All-Star break. This winning streak came on the heels of a seven game losing streak that was capped off by an embarrassing loss (one that was the likely tipping point in Chris Grant losing his job) to a very shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers team. And with all the issues(the Andrew Bynum debacle, Dion Waiters rumors, etc.) the Cavaliers have had this season, this winning streak has pumped some energy back into a season that just a week ago looked lost.
And don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are still only 4.5 games out of the eighth spot in the East. The Pistons are currently the first team out, with the New York Knicks two games behind the Pistons and the Cavaliers 3.5 back of Detroit. And while the Cavaliers aren’t likely to keep winning like this the rest of the season (just look at who they play in the month of March), a win today against a team in the hunt that blew them out earlier in the season would keep the flickering playoff hopes alive for the time being. And with their first two games back being against bottom feeders (the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic) this is a perfect time to capitalize on an opportunity and keep in the hunt while also building momentum for the rest of the season.
Anthony Bennett Watch
Over his last five games, Bennett is shooting 48.6 percent from the field and averaging 10.8 points per game. As noted above, the rookie is coming off his best performance as a pro and is looking more and more like a competent NBA pro each time out. He’s still struggling on defense, still a little out of shape and still has a long way to go before we can forget about his historically awful start to his rookie season. But he’s on the right path and it seems like forever ago that Bennett did this.
Assuming that Bennett once again is in the rotation and plays around 30 minutes tonight, there will be openings for him to make an impact against Detroit. As his shot chart indicates, he’s been dreadful in the midrange and near the rim. Against Detroit, he’s likely going to get looks in that area, as will Luol Deng. With Drummond anchoring the interior of their defense, the Pistons are primed to disrupt the Cleveland pick and roll game. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters shouldn’t have a problem getting into the paint, but it’s the next step where they will have trouble. Because the Cavaliers don’t have a competent big to run pick and rolls with, Bennett is going to be in position to receive passes that set up open shots in the midrange. For instance, if Bennett is on the floor with Tyler Zeller and Irving, he’s going to a safety valve when the Detroit defense inevitably collapses on Irving at the rim. If he can hit these open looks, he will once again be helping his team win and also showing improvement. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Dysfunction junction, what’s your function?
This is an odd game and it’s not because of what will happen on the court – it’s what happening with the guys in suits who built the rosters and coach making pained faces on the bench. In the past week, both teams have made dramatic changes that, at least in the short term, have sparked improved play on the hardwood. In Cleveland (as mentioned above) Chris Grant was canned as GM with David Griffin taking over in the interim and the team has ripped off four straight. As for the Pistons, they canned coach Maurice Cheeks and replaced him with assistant John Loyer and he immediately made an impression, as he guided his team to a 109-100 victory of the San Antonio Spurs in his debut.
If the change is going to affect one team more than the other, it has to be the Pistons if only because their change happened sooner. Still, both franchises are dysfunctional and have some serious clouds hanging over their future. And while a win tonight doesn’t absolve all of one of these team’s issues, it will interesting to gauge which team has more in place right now. It’s arguable that both teams have their franchise player in place (Cleveland with Kyrie Irving, Detroit with Andre Drummond) but we don’t know what else. So, if you decide to watch this game, watch it just for the dysfunction mixed into a cocktail of possibly fake momentum and confidence.
The Pistons won the first game between these two teams largely because Josh Smith actually shot well (he went 10-18 from the floor) and they out-rebounded the Cavaliers by 11. The former is unlikely to happen again, but the latter is concerning – especially when you consider that Anderson Varejao is again out due to injury. This means Tyler Zeller and Henry Sims will be tasked with battled Drummond on the boards and we have to see how that plays out. I don’t think it plays out well on the glass, but I do think the Cavaliers can get enough scoring from Irving and Dion Waiters on the perimeter to help negate the rebounding differential. In the end, I think this game is much closer than the first and that the Cavaliers will pull this out by a final score of 101-96.