1. Markieff Morris led the charge for the Suns in their comeback in the last game, finishing with 27 points and 15 rebounds. How do the Cavs keep this from happening again?
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: I’m just hopeful Tristan Thompson has a better game, if anything. Thompson looked lost back in January when he had to defend Markieff in spot-up opportunities and off the dribble, and Morris has the athleticism to give Thompson fits inside and out. Thompson’s looked a little better defensively as of late, so I’m hopeful his confidence is higher. However, I’m not sure that Thompson is quick enough to handle Morris. Combine this with the fact that Thompson is going to have to conted with Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye for stretches, and both of these guys are solid rebounders and post defenders. This might be even tougher for Thompson because he’s getting a huge challenge on both ends. I think Morris is a safe bet to have a big game tonight.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: I’m not entirely convinced that the Cavaliers are equipped to defend Morris. The better of the two Morris twins is an athletic forward who excelles in the Suns’ utempo system. Both Tyler Zeller and Spencer Hawes are two slow to stay in front of Morris. Luol Deng is too slow. That leaves Tristan Thompson, who in theory is the best choice to defend Morris. But Thompson has struggled againast athletic power forwards this season and was outplayed by Morris when these two teams previously matched up. The Cavaliers best bet is to double Morris down low and make him pass. Other than that, Morris is going to be tough for the Cavaliers to defend.
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Markieff Morris has to be a contender for sixth man of the year. He’s carved out a stellar season filling in as the ‘stretch four.’ His versatility and ability to play inside and out has helped transform the Phoenix offense into a juggernaut. Tristan Thompson was torched during the first meeting and he’ll have to deal with Morris once again. Morris isn’t a great three-point shooter and this season, he’s attacking the rim, forcing his way to the line an impressive 4.2 times in 25.8 minutes a game. The Cavalier bigs couldn’t slow down Morris, who used his speed and strength to will his way into the paint, going 10-12 from the stripe. He actually was just 2-8 at the rim in the first meeting but went 6-8 from the perimeter shooting over Tyler Zeller twice and knocking down a handful of open jumpers. The best bet is to have Thompson on Morris, as he is the only Cavalier big who has the length and foot speed to challenge Morris. If you play off him, he’ll shoot over you and if you’re slow to react on the pick-and-slip, he’ll hurt you. Don’t give him clean looks.
2. Suns guard Eric Bledsoe will make his return tonight after missing time with a torn meniscus Even with limited minutes, how will he help the Suns?
TM: Bledsoe is a great on-ball defender for the Suns, which means they have a great answer for Kyrie Irving on that end. Bledsoe is one heck of an athlete, and his ranginess on the perimeter will help to try and contain Kyrie’s drives more efficiently, and he’s quick enough that he should help the Suns’ transition defense. Offensively, he’s also a second ball-handler who will allow Goran Dragic to do more off the ball, a huge threat becase he’s a great outside shooter who now won’t have to create all of his open looks. It also means less Ish Smith, which is great for Phoenix.
CM: Bledsoe instanty gives the Suns a strong backcourt duo. Playing alongside Goran Dragic, Bledsoe makes the Suns diffucult to defend. They move the ball with percision and can control hte pace of the game. In this game specifically, Bledsoe gives the Suns a huge advantage in the backcourt. When Bledsoe or Dragic has the ball in their hands, the Cavaliers are going to get destroyed in the middle by penetration or strong interior passing. So even if he plays just a few minutes tonight, Bledsoe adds another dimension to this Suns offense that I think that should make them make a final push towards the playoffs. And against the Cavaliers, it could mean an easy Suns victory.
MA: Bledsoe was having a breakout season in his first year with the Suns after being traded from the Clippers during the summer. He is an athletic, explosive scoring point guard who also brings the intensity on the defensive end. Bledsoe is more of a slashing combo guard rather than a pass-first point guard. With Goran Dragic and Gerald Green starting, Bledsoe will give the sputtering Suns a huge boost off the bench once he finds his rhythm. The Suns have been relying solely on Ish Smith as the only guard off the bench since Leandro Barbosa fractured his hand last week. Bledsoe will certainnly give Phoenix scoring punch and another ball-handler to take the pressure off Dragic. Bledsoe’s return may be able to launch the team back into the playoffs in the tight western conference; Phoenix is currently ninth in the west, a game behind Memphis and Dallas for the final two playoff spots.
3. True or False: This is a must win game for the Cavaliers.
TM: I mean, when you’re 24-40 and still think you can make the playoffs for some reason, isn’t every game a must-win?
CM: Yes, without question. Looking at records alone, the Suns are one of the easiest teams the Cavaliers play the rest of the season. And not only is this game winnable (at least compared to some of their other games), but it comes at the start of a three-game West Coast swing that sees the Cavaliers taking on teams above the Suns in the standings. For the Cavaliers to make one final push towards the playoffs, they need a win tonight – no ifs, ands or butts about it.
MA: I thought the Knicks game was a must-win for the Cavaliers, who are teetering on the edge of contention. I’m sticking a fork in Dan Gilbert’s squad, especially with the start of this treacherous six-game stretch (at PHO, at GS, at LAC, vs. MIA, vs. OKC, vs. HOU). They’re all must win games for the Cavs, who now have to jump three teams to secure a date with Indiana or Miami (sweet!). Cleveland hasn’t shown any life during this four-game losing streak but they’ll need to turn it around quickly and finish the season on a torrid streak. The Cavs will likely need to go 12-6 to down the stretch to give themselves a chance but they can’t afford to fall any further behind. It must start tonight.