LAST TIME OUT
The Cavaliers struggled early and found themselves down by two at the half. But in the second half, the Cavaliers turned it around and outscored the Utah Jazz by 22 points, putting up 30 points in both the third and fourth quarters. And along the way, Kyrie Irving became the first Cavalier since LeBron James to record a triple double. When Irving pulled down his tenth rebound with 4:02 left to play, Irving caped off a night where almost everything went well for them in the second half. In the end, Cleveland defeated Utah by a final score of 99-70.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 32-25 (17-14 home)
Tipoff: 9 p.m. from the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: Cavaliers 91, Grizzlies 83 (OT) on Feb. 9
Opponent’s Blog: Beale Street Bears
Cavaliers: G C.J. Miles (OUT – ankle), G Dion Waiters (OUT – left knee), C Anderson Varejao (OUT – back), F Anthony Bennett (questionable – knee)
The return of the Grindfather (and Mike Conley)
The Cavaliers took on the Grizzles a few weeks back, Memphis was without both Tony Allen and Mike Conley. Not shockingly, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were able to find success fairly easily against the Memphis defense. Marc Gasol was thus tasked with anchoring the entire Grizzlies defense by himself and the Cavaliers guards found consistent success getting in the paint. On the night, Irving finished with 31 points and Waiters finished with 23 off the bench.
With Conley and Allen back in the lineup, the Cavaliers are going have to be more creative in getting Irving looks – especially in the paint. If Waiters was able and and physically in a position to attack (or even just play a few minutes), this would be a much easier task for the Cavaliers. But instead of having two dynamic scorers in the backcourt, the Cavaliers now have one. And call me crazy, but I can’t see Matthew Dellavedova or Jarrett Jack doing enough to take some of the pressure of Irving. And as a result, it’s going for Irving to crack the Conley/Allen duo. Le’s see if Irving can do it.
Spencer Hawes (only on offense) and Marc Gasol (on defense)
Hawes has made a noticeable impact on the Cavaliers offense in just a few games and the Cavaliers spacing has looked solid since the trade as well. He especially developed a nice little pick and roll game with Irving and, once the Cavaliers get back to full strength, expect him to help create open looks for others as well. Hawes, while not a great shooter, is a solid threat from the outside as well. This should especially come in handy against the Grizzlies, who start Marc Gasol in the middle.
Overall, the Grizzlies are a top-five defense and can stop teams in just about every way. They can be picked apart, but it’s taken a team with an elite offense like the Oklahoma City Thunder to crack it. This is where Hawes comes in. If he can pull away Gasol from the rim, it could open up lanes for Irving, Jack and others. It might even open up shots for Luol Deng and Tristan Thompson. Granted, the Grizzlies could roll the dice and use Zach Randolph to defend Hawes and use Gasol on Tristan Thompson, that has it’s own issues. As a result, I’d like to see the Cavaliers run pick and rolls with Hawes out past the three-point line and then make the Grizzlies pick who to defend. That may be their best chance to create consistent open looks.
Positioning, positioning, positioning
Both the Cavaliers and Grizzlies are within striking distance of a playoff spot in their respective conference. In fact, both teams are the last time looking in from the outside. Memphis is 2.5 games back of the Phoenix Suns out West, while the Cavaliers are 3.5 games back of the Atlanta Hawks in the East. The Grizzlies face more of an uphill battle, seeing that they are competing against four other teams for positioning in the lower half of the Western Conference.
As for the Cavaliers, they are about to start an daunting March that sees them play almost ever elite team in the NBA. This matchup with the Grizzlies is actually one of the Cavaliers easiest in the entire month and this game, on the road, isn’t exactly a cake walkIt’s also critical that they win every game that they can before the Hawks get healthy enough to stop their free fall. With both teams traveling and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, both teams ares sure to be fatigued. And both teams could really use a win here. Let’s see who wants it more.
The Cavaliers were able to get solid production from their bench against both the Thunder and Jazz. However, the Thunder and Jazz aren’t as strong defensively as the Grizzlies and this leads me to think the Cavaliers will lose this game. For the Cavaliers to win, they’ll need a big night from Irving and they’ll also need production from Spencer Hawes/Tyler Zeller in the post. It also would be nice if Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng could provide something of worth. That’s a lot that needs to go right for the Cavaliers to win and all Memphis really needs to do is make the game gritty and physical. Against a Cavaliers team that is much better playing out in space, I see the Grizzlies taking home a 96-91 victory over the Cavaliers.