LAST TIME OUT
The Cavaliers traveled to Brooklyn on Friday night in pursuit of playoff positioning. However, Cleveland fell behind early and, despite a few runs, the failed to comeback. The Nets shot a blistering 48.3 percent from three and ultimately defeated the Cavaliers by a final score of 108-97.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Indiana Pacers
Record: 52-21 (19-17 away)
Tipoff: 3 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Opponent’s Blog: 8 Points, 9 Seconds
Pacers: G C.J. Watson (OUT-hamstring), C Andrew Bynum (OUT-knee)
Cavaliers: G Kyrie Irving (OUT-bicep), F Anthony Bennett (OUT-knee), G C.J. Miles (QUESTIONABLE-ankle), G Sergey Karasev (QUESTIONABLE-knee), G Carrick Felix (OUT-knee)
Stoppable Force vs. Movable Object
The Cavs’ defense battling the Pacers’ offense is going to truly be a spectacle worth watching for all of the wrong reasons. The Cavs are only slightly below average in defensive efficiency, but opponents kill them in the paint, and when things go south for the Cavs’ defense, they go south hard, and quickly. The Cavs played relatively solid defensively for most of this past week, but Friday night, the Nets just went to town on the Cavs, shooting 55 percent from the field in their victory. The Pacers, on the other hand, haven’t scored 100 points since March 15th against the Pistons in overtime, and have scored 71, 77, 84, and 78 points in their last four games against Memphis, Chicago, Miami, and Washington. Coincidentally, they went 1-3 in those games. The Cavs have been able to stay in games with the Pacers so far this season because the Pacers’ offense has been so ugly. Can their defense rebound to have the same thing happen today?
One of the biggest issues for the Pacers in their rough month of March has been the complete disappearance of Roy Hibbert, and to a lesser extent, David West. Hibbert has been slumping since the All-Star Break, posting just a hair under 10 points per game and watching his rebounding numbers capsize to a replacement-level 4.4 per contest in March. He looks injured on the floor at times, and the Pacers have actually been worse with him on the floor in March, as he has a net rating of -3.5 after posting solid numbers all season. Meanwhile, this has put a lot of pressure on West, particularly on the offensive end, and that’s been very apparent in West’s scoring. West has always been pretty efficient as a Pacer, but his numbers have slipped greatly since the break, and he’s shooting 45 percent from the floor in March after a 50.6 percent February. If you’re looking for places where the Cavs can take advantage of the Pacers today, it’s here, with Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao annoying Hibbert on the boards, and Spencer Hawes pulling these two away from the basket on defense, the Cavs probably have an advantage in the front court. Which is insane.
The Ohio State Philosophy
Since Kyrie Irving’s injury, the Cavs have used a shortened rotation, and it’s been interesting to watch how its affected them in games. Wednesday night at Detroit, the Cavs used style mismatches created by their starting lineup in extended minutes to creep back in, and eventually win, after Detroit seemingly had them put away. However, the Nets took advantage of the the lack of depth the Cavs offered on Friday, picking their spots for certain players and allowing Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche to have very effective games in limited minutes. If the Cavs are going to continue to play short, similar to how Thad Matta managed minutes on the Jared Sullinger teams at Ohio State, the Cavs need more of the Pistons game strategy than the Nets game strategy to succeed. If you’re only going to use seven guys heavily in a given night, then you have to pick the right combinations to do damage to your opponent and ride them. With the Pacers not being that deep of a team, and a noticeable advantage in play style against the Pacers’ underachieving front court, this would be a perfect game for Brown to ride the Thompson/Hawes front court heavily, for example, and that could make this necessary strategy very successful.
It seems obvious that the Pacers should win this game. Even with their recent struggles, they’re still an elite defensive team, and the Cavs’ offense is terrible. However, I think this game is going to be very, very close. The last true blowout win for the Pacers came back at the end of February against the Lakers, and the Cavs have played them tight in each of their meetings this season. I think we’re in for another competitive contest, albeit a low-scoring one, with the Pacers pulling out a four or five-point victory.