LAST TIME OUT
Cleveland suffered a devastating 117-98 loss to the sputtering Atlanta Hawks last night sending them to the brink of elimination. The Cavs now sit three games behind the eighth-seeded Hawks and four back in the loss column. The Hawks never trailed, taking control from the jump to lead 39-23 after the first quarter. The Cavs disappointingly offered little resistance, trailing by double digits for the final 37 minutes in a must-win game against one of the two teams they were trying to track down. Dion Waiters led the way for the Cavs with 23 points, while Spencer Hawes contributed 16 points, 10 rebounds and six steals. Mike Scott came off the bench to score a game-high 26 points on 12-13 shooting in just 20 minutes for the Hawks and Jeff Teague outplayed Irving, going for 17 points and 12 assists.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Charlotte Bobcats
Record: 38–38 (15–22 road)
Tipoff: 7:30 PM ET – Quicken Loans Arena
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: March 7, 2014 in Charlotte: Bobcats 101, Cavaliers 92
Opponent’s Blog: Roberto Gato
Bobcats: Josh McRoberts (OUT-Ankle)
Cavaliers: C Anderson Varejao (Day-to-Day, AC joint sprain), Anthony Bennett (OUT-Knee)
Kyrie Irving Must Be Kyrie Irving
Irving was terrific in his first game back on Wednesday night in Orlando, contributing 17 points on 7-8 shooting, while dishing eight assists and grabbing six rebounds. However, Irving struggled last night in Atlanta, shooting 6-15 from the field en route to a 13-point, four-assist night. The Cavs need their star to take charge and lead the way by making plays for himself and his teammates. He must set an example and play with energy and passion, a night after he and his teammates failed to show up in their biggest game of the season.
Interior Play Against Big Al
Al Jefferson is having a huge first season with Charlotte, averaging over 21 points and 10 rebounds in leading the Bobcats to the brink of a playoff berth for just the second time since the franchise’s inception in 2004. Jefferson, the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March after averaging nearly 25 points and 11 boards on 55 percent shooting, has been scorching hot recently, notching double-doubles in 10 of his last 13 games. On March 7, Big Al scored 28 points on 12-18 shooting in his only outing against the Cavaliers this season, toying with Tyler Zeller and Spencer Hawes. The Cavs tried doubling him, but the Bobcat wings did an excellent job of feeding Big Al, giving him second post-up opportunities on his favorite spot, the left block. Jefferson twice stepped through double-teams to score in the paint, but his best move was a spin towards the baseline, leaving Zeller guarding air as he laid the ball in uncontested. Spencer Hawes and Tyler Zeller must accept the challenge of stopping Jefferson take pride in having a chance to slow down one of the game’s premier scoring big men. The Cavs must be more aggressive with the double-teams and either force Jefferson to give the ball up or shoot falling away from the basket. Easier said than done.
The Cavs are impossible to predict and I’ve rarely guessed right in this spot. But I think this one is easier to predict. The Bobcats have won three straight and are a win away from clinching a playoff berth. I think the Bobs are hungry, while the Cavs are disheartened after watching their playoff hopes die (barring a miracle) in Atlanta. Al Jefferson is the best player on either team, having put this Charlotte squad on his back and carried them to .500. I expect him to stay hot and Kemba Walker and co. will do just enough to eek out a victory over the downtrodden Cavaliers.