Assessing the Cavs’ chances vs. the Pelicans on Sunday

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton drives. (Photo by Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton drives. (Photo by Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports) /
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The Cleveland Cavaliers are scheduled to face off against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. While this may seem like another run-of-the-mill regular season game, there could be some major implications attached to the contest.

After the Cavs were beaten down by the Toronto Raptors in an awful first half, leading to a rough L on Saturday, even though Cleveland did at one point cut their lead to 12, the Cavs are now 19-33 on the year, which is good for the 13th seed in the Eastern Conference. While in most seasons this record would tell a team to pack up for the year and enjoy their lottery pick, this is not the case for the Cavaliers this season.

The Eastern Conference is especially weak this year and it appears that even with a losing record, teams will still make the cut for postseason play. Currently, the Cavs are only 6.5 games out of the eighth seed, and with almost a fourth of the season left to play, there is plenty of time for them to make up ground. However, this means that every game matters.

If they go on an extended losing streak, any hope of a playoff berth will be lost. This is also a big game for the Pelicans as well. They sit as the 11th seed in a hypercompetitive Western Conference with a record of 23-29.

It will be an enormous step in the rebuilding process for the Pelicans if they are able to make the playoffs this season. So just like for the Cavs, every game the rest of the regular season matters for the Pelicans as well, and both clubs could potentially make a push for getting into the play-in at least if either are able to qualify as say, a 10th seed.

The two teams have only faced off once this season and it was not a night to remember for the Cavaliers. They were soundly defeated by the Pelicans by a final score of 116-82 in the first game of the Cavs’ second half.

The Pelicans dominated Cleveland, other than some unnecessary turnovers from them. They scored more far points, had a better field goal, three-point, and free throw percentage, outrebounded the Cavs, and had more assists.

The Cavs did have six more steals, two more blocks, and forced ten more turnovers, though. This will have to be what they zone in on to beat the Pelicans on Sunday.

The Pelicans are still a relatively young team and with youth comes mistakes and slip-ups. If the Cavs can put enough pressure on them to get them flustered, it will force them into mistakes time and time again that Cleveland can capitalize off of.

That will be easier said than done for the Cavs on Sunday in a tough matchup versus the Pels, though.

This will be difficult to do when looking at the injury report. Larry Nance Jr., Jarrett Allen and Dylan Windler will all be sidelined for the contest. Nance and Allen are two of the best defensive players on the entire roster.

Without them, it will be very difficult for the Cavs to contain a Pelicans roster with elite offensive talent.

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That said, Lonzo Ball will not be active in this one and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart will be out for a stretch to come still.

With Ball out, that should help both Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, who has really been shooting it well from deep as of late. Ball has developed into a great perimeter defender. Without him in the game, the Cavs guards will have more free rein and less to worry about.

Although in regards to Garland, given that he did land awkwardly in Cleveland’s game on Saturday and seemingly injured his ankle to an extent, it’s not completely certain if he’ll play. It is the second leg of a back-to-back, too.

Nonetheless, without Ball in there that helps, as without Nance and Allen playing, a majority of the points will have to come from the young backcourt if they want to win this game. We’ll again see regarding Garland, though.

Albeit the game will likely come down to how well the Cavs will be able to defend Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Isaac Okoro and two-way Lamar Stevens will have their hands full in the wing trying to contain Ingram.

Without Allen or Nance, it will be up to Kevin Love and Isaiah Hartenstein to try to contain the force in the paint that is Zion Williamson.

Sadly, this is probably not a game that the Cavs will be able to win. They are currently too short-handed to be able to defend some of the Pelicans’ best players. The only way that they would be able to pull off a victory is if Garland (if he’s active) and Sexton are able to take advantage without Ball and light up the scoreboard.

I’d frankly expect New Orleans to win and cover here; here’s some of the betting element for this matchup, for reference, courtesy of The Action Network. You can view more in relation to that here as well.

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Perhaps the Cavaliers and Garland/Sexton, and maybe Love, can get it done here, though. But it’s tough to foresee that given their absences.