1. We are a few games into the Kyrie-less Cavaliers. How have the Cavaliers looked without their leading scorer?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Just as they have looked all season; good for a game or two, bad for three or four. You don’t know what you’re going to get game to game from nearly every player on this roster and they are not a cohesive unit, therefore it’s not hard to see why they are all over the place. Just when you think they’re out of it, Jarrett Jack has a career game and they rally from 17 down on the road to beat a desperate Knicks team. Dion Waiters has scored the ball like I thought he would, but he’s actually shot well from the field in the four games, averaging 23.7 points on 45.7 percent shooting. He’ll probably shoot 30 percent in the next four games, that’s just who this team is. I commend them for continuing to play hard without Irving and other injured players, but that’s about the only positive in a lost season.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The Cavaliers offense fairly inconsistent without Irving. The most consistent scorer in Irving’s absence has been Dion Waiters and even he hasn’t been scoring each time out. The Cavaliers’ offense has turned into a flavor of the day-type situation. One day it’s Waiters, one day its Jack and for all we know, Alonzo Gee is going to go off for 30-plus tonight against the Raptors. But in all seriousness, the Cavaliers offense is has (and will continue to) feed the hot hand and exploit matchups that favor the Cavaliers. From a X’s and O’s standpoint, it’s basic but just about the only thing that makes sense.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: It appears that the Cavs’ biggest successes have come when they are getting good guard play, which is counterintuitive when the Cavs are missing their best guard. Dion Waiters went off on the Rockets on Saturday, scoring 26 points on 11-20 shooting and routinely beating James Harden in isolation for baskets. Sunday, Jarrett Jack dissected the Knicks, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points and running the offense directly at the Knicks’ horrible switching scheme with pick-n-rolls. When the Cavs are getting good play from their guards, they look great. When they aren’t, they look terrible. This is nothing new, as the guards have been what generates the offense for the Cavs all season. Defensively, they haven’t looked bad, especially against the teams they’ve been facing, all pretty solid offenses with the exception of the Knicks. Kevin Durant burned them sure, and Waiters really struggled to contain Harden, but these two have been lighting up everyone all season. I’d say the Cavs have looked much, much better than I expected without Kyrie in the lineup.
2. The Cavaliers have defended Jonas Valanciunas effectively the two times the teams have met. How have they managed to do so?
MA: Valanciunas was actually quite effective in the first matchup, scoring 18 points on 8-12 shooting while grabbing four offensive rebounds and eight total. He only took two shots in 17 minutes four days later in the rematch and it surely didn’t have anything to do with the Cavaliers interior defense. I’ve watched Spencer Hawes for four seasons now and he’s as soft as they come in the paint. He lacks physicality and shies away from it. He’ll block a few shots here and there but he is a weak defender and everyone knows it. Valanciunas did most of his damage against Tyler Zeller getting easy layups off the pick-and-roll or penetration. He beat the slow-footed Hawes in the pick-and-roll.
CM: Valanciunas plays below the rim and isn’t an explosive force around the rim. As a result, he isn’t a stylistic nightmare for the Cavaliers. With no one is going to mistake Spencer Hawes and Anderson Varejao for all-world defenders, they are capable of defending Valanciunas. He’s fairly predictable and in his second season, he hasn’t taken that huge step in developement that many expected him to take. As a result, if you can keep Valanciunas off the block and outside the paint, you can force him into taking bad shots. Hawes did it the last time these teams matched up and, with Varejao and the ever-serviceable Tyler Zeller, they can do it again.
TM: In the previous battles with the Raptors, Spencer Hawes was excellent defensively against Valanciunas. Valanciunas is a below-the-rim player, and he has really mechanical post moves, which plays right into Hawes’s very limited strengths as a defensive player. Hawes is an excellent post shot blocker, and he got three on Valanciunas in the first game against the Raptors, and one more in the second contest. Valanciunas is a great rebounder, but he got tied up well by Tyler Zeller, and the Cavs have their best potential answer for Valanciunas back. Anderson Varejao didn’t play against the the Raptors last time, but he’s back in the lineup now, and if Valanciunas has to answer to Hawes and Varejao for a full game, I can’t see him finding too much success.
3. DeMar DeRozen went off for 33 points when these teams previously met. How can Cleveland better defend DeRozen?
MA: Luol Deng has the size and length to contest DeRozan’s jump shots and although various injuries throughout his career may have zapped some of lateral quickness, Deng can account for this by playing off DeRozan. They held DD to 14 points on 5-14 shooting in the first matchup but DeRozan was ultra aggresive in the second game, getting to the line 13 times en route to 16 fourth quarter points. Deng should force DeRozan to shoot from the outside because he can still get a hand up and bother DeRozan’s shot. DeRozan has worked hard to establish a reliable jump shot but he’s made major strides as a playmaker, increasing his assist percentage from 12 percent to 18.4, resulting in 3.9 dimes per game. But he still takes a ton of ‘long two’s’ and the Cavs can catch him on an off night with a great performance from Deng.
CM: Deng is the key for the Cavaliers. He’s been hobbled by an ankle injury of late and he’s still struggling to adapt to Cleveland’s defense system. With C.J. Miles still slowed as well, Deng is going to spend the majority of the time defending DeRozan. He’ll need to keep him from getting inside and attacking the rim, thus turning him into a jump shooter. And when you take a look at his shot chart, it’s clear that that is the only way to contain DeRozan.
TM: I think the easiest answer here is that Luol Deng just has to have a good game. Deng played like hot garbage on February 25th, getting taxed into 39 minutes of play, scoring just 8 points on 14 shots, and letting DeRozan get what he wanted on the other end. The Cavs were also without Dion Waiters for this game, and that meant when DeRozan shifted down to shooting guard and the Raptors went big, Jarrett Jack or Matthew Dellavedova was guarding a 6’7” freak athlete. With Waiters back and a competent game from Deng, I think that would limit DeRozan more than the Cavs did last time. If they can keep him in the 17-24 point range, they’ll be okay.