1. With Kyrie Irving out, what is the most interesting one-on-one matchup in this game?
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Given how the last game between these two teams went, Steven Adams and Spencer Hawes is the key matchup. Adams had no idea what to do with Hawes in the last contest, as Hawes and Kyrie Irving got a nice pick-n-pop game going. Adams really isn’t quick enough, or a good enough PNR defender, to adequately challenge Hawes when he slips screens like this. He hit three threes and had 19 points against OKC, mostly thanks to this type of play.Granted, it’s unknown how having Kyrie Irving out of the lineup, and Russell Westbrook in the Thunder lineup, will alter the gameplan for the Thunder, but if Hawes can get hot from outside again, this is going to be a very key matchup for the Cavs to have success.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: If Dion Waiters plays and isn’t slowed down the tumble he took at the end of the Miami game, primary option Dion versus Thabo Sefolosha is very intriguing to me. Sefolosha is a long, rangy defender with good instincts – basically the type of defender that has historically given Dion serious fits. But the Dion we’ve seen since November has shown some versitality in his attack and has a explosive first step. The Cavaliers are going to need Dion to score (as well as distribute the way he did against the Heat) in order to again upset the Heat and it will be interesting to see if he can get going against Sefolosha.
Kevin Yeung, Welcome to Loud City Staff Writer: My heart wants to say Steven Adams versus Spencer Hawes, but if Deng plays (he’s day-to-day is the last I heard), it’s probably Kevin Durant versus Luol Deng. Durant is who he is, so Deng is going to have his hands full defending him. Deng has disappointed defensively since joining the Cavs, so it’d be helpful for the Cavs if he could rediscover “vintage” Luol Deng for a night and slow Durant down a bit. With Kyrie out, some offense out of Deng would be convenient too. Durant has been caught flat-footed on defense a lot these past few weeks, and Deng has the capability to pressure him on that end.
2. The Cavaliers actually outscored the Thunder 44-32 in the paint when these two teams last met. Is it important for the Cavaliers to score that well inside again?
TM: This is where the Cavs killed the Heat on Tuesday, and it’s where you need to have at least marginal success in order to stay in the game against them tonight. The Thunder pack the paint really well on defense, and like when the Cavs play the Bulls, they’re likely to send people into the paint to contest drives to the rim, rather than stay home to account for marginal three-point threats like C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack. If the Cavs can get shots to fall inside, even when the Thunder are doing this, it will open up these outside shooters to potentially do some damage. It’s going to be important not only for Dion Waiters to finish well at the rim, but if Spencer Hawes and Anderson Varejao can score on post-ups, that will also help open things up.
CM: It’s very important for the Cavaliers to get inside and score as much as possible. With no Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are without one of the players than consistently create space with his outside shot. As a result, the Cavaliers are going to need to attack and do with an offense predicated on Dion Waiters attacking the rim/distributing in the pick and roll, Spencer Hawes positioning himself down low for good looks and Tristan Thompon doing something functional in the restricted area. Without these three guys, there isn’t anyone on the roster that has finished well inside of late. Luol Deng and Anderson Varejao have been operating largely in the mid-range and the Jarrett Jack/Matthew Dellavedova/C.J. Miles wing trio is a trigger-happy, bombs-away trio when open. So not only is it important for the Cavaliers to score inside, but their ability to do will tell us a lot about how their offense ultimately performed.
KY: I’d say it’s even more important for the Cavs to score in the paint this time around. Kyrie was their primary source of perimeter offense, and there’s a couple of questionables on the Cavs’ injury report with Dion Waiters and Luol Deng also unsure for Thursday. That leaves them with… Jarrett Jack, Alonzo Gee and Matthew Dellavedova? Even if some or all of those day-to-day guys play, the Cavs’ perimeter offense looks mighty unreliable heading into the Thunder matchup. It’ll be important to get good production out of Spencer Hawes and Tristan Thompson, both guys who looked good/great in the last Thunder-Cavs game.
3. The Thunder have struggled defensively since the All-Star break (17th in defensive efficiency in that timeframe), highlighted by questionable effort and attention lapses on close-outs, weak-side rotations and pick-and-rolls. How should the Cavaliers offense attack that defense?
TM: If the Cavs can get strong post presence established, they are going to be able to open up a lot of options against this Thunder team. If they can get Hawes, Varejao, and/or Zeller to score a couple of buckets under the basket early, it will make the Thunder focus more on stopping them in post-ups. Then, that will open up the outside scorers, as the Thunder like to try to swarm the post. If they can establish a good post presence inside, then get good ball movement around the perimeter to get their shooters open, it’ll open up the lane for Waiters and Miles to work inside.
CM: I see three areas of vulnerability within the Thunder defense that the Cavaliers should look to exploit. It will all stem from the jump shooting success of Spencer Hawes, Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller early on this game. If this trio (or at least Varejao and Hawes) the Cavs pull away Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams from the rim. This should create more favorable looks inside for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, especially when you consider that the Thunder are risky with their perimeter rotations, relying largely on their athleticism. This team looks to create turnovers by jumping lanes, but that can be thwarted by good mall movement and timely dribble penetration. Assuming everyone not named Irving is healthy, I think a Cleveland lineup of Dellavedova, Waiters, Deng, Varejao and Hawes could do some damage. It’s porous defensively, but there is spacing courtesy of the bigs, two wings who can attack the rim and an Aussie who can drift around, picking his spots on the perimeter.
KY: The Cavs could be missing a bunch of perimeter players, but Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams can be an intimidating pair of paint defenders. While the Cavs should definitely make an effort to outscore the Thunder in the paint, it’s hard to imagine they can build a win around that with Ibaka and Adams opposing them. Instead, they should use that and attack the Thunder’s weakness, which has been outside shooting. Playing inside-out with whatever capable outside shooters the Cavs can scrape together or running pick-and-pops with Hawes could be a good source of points for them.