1. Both teams are likely to be on the outside looking in of the postseason, but are not yet mathemitically elimated. Which team has a better chance of pulling off the impossible?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Detroit may have the more talented roster, but they have been downright awful this season so by default the Cavaliers have a better shot. The Pistons are 4-15 in their last 19 games and only just stopped a five-game losing streak by winning at Utah on Monday. The Cavaliers have defeated a handful of good teams recently, including Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Golden State all on the road, though Kyrie Irving was healthy during that stretch. However, they sit 4.5 games behind Atlanta (Detroit is 5.5 back) and still must hurdle New York first. The Cavs likely have to win their final 10 games to give themselves a legitimate chance and that of course would be miraculous. Cleveland’s longest winning streak this season is six games; it’s not happening. Both of these franchises face a pivotal offseason ahead and they may start by bringing in new management.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The answer here is the Cavaliers. While Cleveland is missing their best player, they have been playing better of late. Without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers have seen Dion Waiters take on alpha male role and the team has been largely competitive in every game they’ve played. They also have a fairly easy last two weeks of the season. If they can Irving back, and the Hawks continue to struggle, it’s not crazy to think the Cavaliers could sneak in. On the flip side, Detroit is still a mess and should soon seal their fate outside the playoffs. It’s not likely that either team makes the playoffs, but if I pick one, it’s the Cavaliers.
Zak Kolesar, Right Down Euclid EIC: As of right now I would put my money on the Cavaliers. Detroit has been struggling much more than the Wine & Gold as of late. With the Pistons showing more of a downward trend and Cleveland looking like a much quicker and more organized team, I think the Cavaliers hold a better shot at sneaking into the playoffs with 10 games remaining in the season. Although I don’t think 10 games is enough time for either team to leapfrog the Knicks and knock the Bobcats or Hawks out, Cleveland will end the season above the Pistons in the Eastern Conference because of their newfound mentality.
2. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe both had big nights against the Cavaliers back in February. How can the Cavaliers again overcome the Pistons front court?
MA: Drummond has plenty of athleticism to come out on the perimeter and defend the Hawes pick-and-pop. He’s quick enough to slow guard penetration and rally back to Hawes sitting atop the three-point line. Monroe is slower than molasses so the Cavs should attack him in the pick-and-roll game as much as possible especially when Drummond is out of the game. Defensively, the Cavs frontcourt is undersized and outmatched against the physicality and brute strength of Monroe and Drummond. Monroe has averaged 13.5 points and 10 rebounds in the two matchups, while Drummond is putting up 15/14 with both players shooting above 50 percent. The Cavs best option is to let Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith fire away from the perimeter and have all five defenders crash the boards because that is where Drummond, by far the league’s best offensive rebounder (Monroe is fifth in O-Rebs per game), does damage. If Detroit is dominating the paint, the Cavs could also opt to foul Monroe (66 percent free throw shooter) and Drummond (league-worst 42.2 percent) because they have three healthy centers. This will be the first matchup that Detroit faces Cleveland’s current ‘big rotation’ of Hawes, Varejao and Zeller, who combined have 18 fouls to give. Anyone up for watching Drummond shoot 10-plus free throws tonight?
CM: Tristan Thompson is the key to the Cavaliers success against the Detroit frontcourt. Spencer Hawes should be able to find space, but Drummond likely controls that matchup in the same way he did last time. Monroe is also going to get his fair share of clean looks, but Thompson played one of his best games last time time these teams met. He rebounded on both ends, got several second chance looks and was essential in the Cavaliers 93-89 win. He largely outplayed Monroe in the second half and the Cavaliers fed off how he played. Overall, Thompson, Hawes, Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller should be able to hold their own against the Pistons young duo.
ZK: With mismatches. Having Spencer Hawes in the starting lineup has really created matchup problems for opposing bigs trying to account for both Tristan Thompson and Hawes. Because of the long-range attack that Hawes possesses, it forces coaches to put a more flexible player on Hawes or have a big come out to an uncomfortable territory. Cleveland will be able to control the paint if they’re able to bring the Detroit frontcourt out of their comfort zone.
3. With no Kyrie Irving, who gets the better of the point guard battle: Jarrett Jack or Brandon Jennings?
MA: Both Jack and Jennings are poor defenders so we could see both have a nice offensive game against one another. Jack has played well in place of Irving, while Jennings is coming off two quality performances after three awful showings. Both Jack and Jennings have been all over the map this season so predicting who plays better is anybody’s guess. Jennings should have plenty of open looks because the Cavs will be so concerned about the Pistons size. I think Jennings will post similar numbers to Kyle Lowry’s 22-point (3-7 from long range), 10 assist outing from yesterday. Look for each team to attack the other’s point guard with plenty of pick-and-rolls.
CM: Neither player is particularly strong on the defensive end and that’s what makes this matchup intriguing. Jack is in the midst of his best stretch of the season, while Jennings is shooting a horrid 40.3 percent over his last 10 games. Still, paired with Drummond, he’s a solid scoring threat in the pick and roll. However, I give the advantage to Jack. He’s looked good of late, is taking more efficient shots and is playing more comfortably as the second option behind Waiters. As long as Jack doesn’t revert back into the long-two machine that he was early in the season, I think he’ll have the better night.
ZK: I’m not saying that Jack is going to lay an egg in this contest, but I’m going to give a slight edge to Brandon Jennings. The Detroit point guard hasn’t been on the top of his game in the month of March, shooting under 40 percent from the field and averaging less than 12 points per game. Jack has gone above and beyond the role of fill-in for Kyrie, and his body of work next to Dion Waiters over the past five games as a starter is proof of this. Although Jennings may get the best of Jack at times, Jack’s long-range shooting and team-first mentality will help the players surrounding him, leading to another night of efficient, fast-paced offense.