1. Kyrie Irving has been cleared to return to action after missing eight games with a biceps injury. Should the Cavaliers ease him back by bringing him off the bench or throw him back into the starting lineup?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Dion Waiters filled in admirably starting in place of Irving over the past eight games, averaging 22 points per game on 44 percent shooting, while dishing out 5.1 assists. He sunk a crucial game-winner at the buzzer to beat Detroit, helping to keep the Cavs fading playoff hopes alive for now. Yet, Irving is the face of the franchise and hasn’t come off the bench since the 2011 NCAA Tournament while at Duke after returning from a toe injury that caused him to miss most of the season. I think it will be easier for him to work off the rust by starting the game and getting some early minutes under his belt. Waiters on the other hand is familiar coming in off the bench and should slide back into that role comfortably. These are all must-win games for the Cavs so playing their best player as much as possible, assuming good health, is a no-brainer.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Kyrie Irving has never come off the bench in a game. Why start now? Obviously he’ll likely be on a minutes restriction for tonight as the medical staff evaluates him in game action, but he should be starting. You don’t lose anything by doing this and subbing him out more frequently or for longer stretches, and can still structure your lineups in the way that they have been with him out in the time he sits. Bringing him off the bench does nothing, and realistically, a game against the Magic is a perfect time for him to come back. The Magic have zero athleticism at the point guard position, and unless they sic Victor Oladipo on him for the whole game, he’ll spend the game matched up with Jameer Nelson and E’Twaun Moore. You can’t ask for a much better tandem to ease back into action against.
Zach Oliver, Baller Mind Frame Magic Beat Writer: Throw him into the fire, get him back in the starting lineup as fast as possible. He’s an All-Star, and the Cavs still have an outside chance at making the playoffs, especially with the struggling Atlanta Hawks and the dumpster fire that is the New York Knicks in front of them. There’s a good chance he’ll have Jameer Nelson guarding him for stretches when they’re in Orlando, which is, well, clearly a favorable matchup for Cleveland. Also, the Cavs have a remaining schedule that’s slightly more favorable than both Atlanta and New York, which could give them an inside track towards that final playoff spot in the East.
2. Can the Cavaliers keep Nikola Vucevic (averaging 22.7 pts and 14.3 rebs on 58 percent shooting in the past three games) under wraps?
MA: Anderson Varejao is sidelined with a sprained shoulder and his toughness and rebounding will certainly be missed. The nimble Vucevic was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after his incredible three-game stretch (22 points/10 rebounds, 24/23 and 22/10) last week. Big Vuc is now sixth in rebounding this season after dominating the red hot Al Jefferson on the boards, 23 to eight in an overtime win over the Bobcats last Friday. Vucevic and former Sixers teammate Spencer Hawes will face-off for the first time this season, though they matched up three times last year with Vuc out-muscling Hawes on the glass 16.7 to 7.3 rebounds per game. I don’t see that changing though Tristan Thompson will help Hawes battle Vuc on the boards. Without Varejao battling him in the paint, the Montenegrin machine will stay hot offensively and cause problems for the Cavs frontline en route to securing a fourth consecutive double-double.
TM: Vucci Mane may be playing excellent basketball right now, but the Cavs are equipped to stop him on both ends. Vucevic has really struggled to score efficiently when he’s played Cleveland this year, scoring 26 points on 26 shots and shooting 42 percent from the field in two games against the Cavs. He really struggles to score and rebound against Anderson Varejao, though Andy is out tonight, and with Hawes in the lineup now, the Cavs can better stress Vucevic’s limited rim protection for a bad defense. Vucevic might still get plenty of rebounds, as he is prone to doing, but I could definitely see Vucevic’s hot streak coming to a halt tonight against a team that has limited him before.
ZO: Good luck. Vucevic is playing arguably his best basketball of the season, and has proved to be hard to stop, garning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for his stellar play last week. With Anderson Varejao listed as out, it’ll be tough for Cleveland to have the needed inside presence to keep the always active big man off the glass. He’s a matchup nightmare, not only with his ability to rebound the ball so well, but also his strong play in the pick-and-roll along with his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. Sorry in advance, Spencer Hawes.
3. There was a group of Cavs fans that really wanted the team to take Victor Oladipo with the top pick last June. Where is Oladipo at in his development?
MA: I love Oladipo’s game and his persona and I think he’s about right I thought he’d be at this point in his rookie campaign. The Magic have shuffled him in and out of the starting lineup, starting him in 41 of 72 games, but he’s been a professional and handled it well. He’s been solid in every month of the season, showcasing his scoring, playmaking ablities and a defensive mindset. As expected with the switch to point guard, he’s been turnover-prone and has struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter and finish at the rim, shooting under 50 percent at the tin. But he’s been named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month twice and is one of only 7 players in the NBA averaging at least 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and 1.5 steals per game. His work ethic, energy and intensity are all off the charts and I have no doubt that he will continue to improve his weaknesses and become an all-star in the league.
TM: Oladipo’s been decent for the Magic this year, and has shown enough flashes to make the argument that he’s a real long-term piece for them. While I was VERY skeptical of the decision for him to get a ton of minutes at the point, it’s really improved his ball-handling and shot creating ability. He makes a ton of bad mistakes passing the ball, but any rookie will do that. I think he’s headed for a nice, productive career as a complimentary piece, and his versatility will make it so that he can work well with whomever the Magic draft in 2014 with a likely top-5 pick.
ZO: It’s hard to say exactly where he is in his development, considering it’s not fully clear what the team’s plans are for him long term. His jump shot and shot selection still needs a little bit of work, but his ball handling has improved so much over the course of the season, and he’s showing real signs of potentially being a point guard long term. He’s said before that his main goal in the offseason is to learn how to finish with his left hand consistently because, well, he really can’t at this point. Oladipo has been really impressive all season, and if it weren’t for Michael Carter-Williams’ super inflated numbers, he’d have Rookie of the Year locked down. He’s got some more work to put in for multiple facets of his game, but he’s at a good place right now and can only continue to go up from here.