LAST TIME OUT
The Cleveland Cavaliers continued to their recent hot streak on Friday night, as they took down the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland was down by upwards of 20 points in the first half, but battled back the rest of the way and ultimately won by a final score of 103-94. Cavaliers center Spencer Hawes led Cleveland with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving finished with 16. Dion Waiters and Luol Deng had 18 and 16 respectively. Stephen Curry led the Warriors with a game-high 27 points. The win put the Cavaliers four games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the Eastern Conferences’s eight seed.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 47-20 (28-5 at home)
Tipoff: 9:30 p.m. from the Staples Center in Los Angeles
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: Cavaliers 88, Clippers 82 on Dec. 7, 2013 at Quicken Loans Arena
Opponent’s Blog: Fully Clips
Clippers: G Jamal Crawford (OUT-calf), G J.J. Redick (OUT-back)
Cavaliers: F Anthony Bennett (OUT-knee strain), G Carrick Felix (OUT-knee), G/F C.J. Miles (doubtful-ankle)
Can the Cavaliers continue the momentum
Before the Cavaliers travel to Phoenix to take on the Suns, their season looked almost over. Before heading to Arizona, Cleveland was simply outplayed by the Knicks and had lost four straight games. And with the Suns having success earlier in the season against the Cavaliers, it looked as if Cleveland would lose their five straight in the desert. But they surprised, turning back several runs by the Suns and winning by a final score of 110-101. On Friday, it looked like any momentum gained in Phoenix would be halted in Oakland. Down by more than twenty int the first half, the Cavaliers came all the way back and beat the Warriors by nine.
With those two wins, Cleveland is still in the playoff race, but they are running out time to sneak in. A win in Los Angeles would be huge for those hopes and could help keep the momentum at the start of what will be the hardest week of their season. After the Clippers game, Cleveland will travel home to take on the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockers (three of the NBA’s best teams) in successive order. And after that triumvirate, Cleveland will travel to the Big Apple to take on those pesky Knicks on Sunday. In short, a win here – against one of the NBA’s elite – would be huge heading into a week with three games against other elite teams and a team that has given the Cavaliers serious problems this season.
Blake Griffin vs. Tristan Thompson
Thompson (with help from Anderson Varejao) was solid against Griffin in the first matchup between these teams. In 37 minutes, Griffin was 3-12 from the field – finishing with just 10 points. He did pull down 10 rebounds, but when you look back at the tape, Griffin looked frustrated for most of the game and it showed. He was clearly forcing shots, just trying to get something to fall to no avail. Here is Griffin’s shot chart from that game:
If Thompson – who is a streaky defender – can frustrate Griffin again this time around, it will take a lot of the life out of the Clipper offense. And if he can again score 20 points and pull down 10 rebounds, that will be even better, as well as totally unexpected.
The Importance of Dion Waiters
The Clippers with be without sixth-man Jamal Crawford tonight against the Cavaliers. His 18.7 points per game are missed, but he’s also been L.A.’s best bench player for almost the entire season. They have a few other solid role players – namely Darren Collisson, Danny Granger and Glen “Big Baby” Davis – but Crawford is the leader of their bench mob. When he’s out, their league-leading offense suffers. Without Crawford, The Clippers will have to get scoring from unexacting places, but should also put more pressure on Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan to score. This makes their offense much more predictable for a Cavaliers defense that will struggles to deal with even simple ball movement.
But Crawford’s absence also makes Dion Waiters the x-factor tonight. He’s looked like a totally different player since moving to the bench and it’s made the Cavaliers more dangerous. Of late, even when he’s struggled to get in a groove, Waiters has been able to make his presence felt. For example, against the Suns on Wednesday, Waiters finished just 4-11 from the field, finishing with 10 points. But in the third quarter – just as Phoenix made a run with the Cleveland starters on the bench – Waiters scored eight straight to end the quarter. His solo run was capped off by a 27-foot dagger from the left wing and his play gave the Cavaliers a five-point lead at the end of the quarter. If Waiters can do something similar tonight and get in a rhythm, it should give the Cavaliers the boost they’ll need from their bench – especially with L.A. unable to match their firepower.
The Cavaliers beat the Clippers the last time these two teams met because they were able to slow the pace of the game, frustrate Paul and somewhat limit Griffin’s effectiveness. In that matchup, Paul and Griffin combined to shoot 7-23 for a combined 23 points. As a team, the Clippers finished with a shooting percentage of 32.2 percent – 15.5 percent behind their season average. Their 82 points in the first matchup are also their third-lowest total of the season and 25.7 below their season average of 107.7, which leads the league. It’s hard to see how the Cavaliers can replicate that performance and barring the Cavaliers taking down L.A. in a sloppy shootout, there isn’t a clear path to victory. This makes the Clippers the favorite and expect them to win comfortably. I’ll take the Los Angeles 107, Cleveland 97.