The NBA’s third annual regular season match in Paris will feature the Cleveland Cavaliers, in its first participation in the global games, and the Brooklyn Nets at the Accor Arena on January 11. According to the NBA, France has produced more league players than any country outside of North America.
At Cavaliers practice Tuesday, coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the team was thrilled to attend. “It’s an opportunity for our guys to showcase themselves…”
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie said at practice, “We are about to have a normal day. Hopefully, a good practice and setting up to try to beat the Cavs.”
C'est en marche -French for “It’s on.”
Thursday, the Cavaliers are expected to deploy its latest starting lineup used post-Darius Garland (fractured jaw) and Evan Mobley (knee) injuries: Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade and Jarrett Allen. This group's record is 6-4 and it scores 27 points on 50 percent shooting and 38.8 percent from long range in 10.6 minutes of action per game.
The Nets are without the services of Ben Simmons, Noah Clowney and Day’Ron Sharpe. Simmons, who joined the team from the Philadelphia 76ers in the same 2021 trade that gave the Cavaliers Jarrett Allen, has missed the majority of the regular season with a back injury.
The offensive matchup
Mitchell can put a defender on his back hip like it is nobody’s business, forcing the defense to help as he races downhill. Most defenses in the NBA pack the paint to tag the ball handler at the expense of the three-point line, usually sagging away from the corners. The Nets are no different, but its methods result in it owning the fourth-strictest paint defense in the NBA.
However, the Brooklyn squad is one of the four worst teams (27th in opponent three-point makes) at protecting the arc, giving up 38.6 percent of attempted triples to rivals. In the corners, opponents burn the Nets on 42.7 percent of field goals.
This Just In: Mad Max Strus, Dean Wade and Isaac Okoro’s shooting hands can’t stop shaking with excitement. If the Cavs start blazing from deep, it will unfasten the outside coverage with a hard closeout or pump fake, allowing easier entry into the interior for players not named Mitchell.
Caris LeVert, Cleveland’s superlative sixth man, is the X-factor. He is the next dependable option after Spida for the Wine and Gold at generating rim pressure on the ball. He’s a tough cover because he can score and set up for 21.2 percent of his teammates’ baskets, good enough for the 92nd percentile of all wings, per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).
At center, Jarrett Allen has a 28-pound weight advantage over his matchup, Nic Claxton. At close range, this will be a factor as Allen, who picks up 12.3 percent of his team's offensive rebounds, should overpower him, reaching for misses or when trying to finish over him.
Behind Allen, Tristan Thompson is a big body that will feast on the offensive glass. The Nets have length at every position but lack the bulk. Thompson is another threat to create extra possessions and one of the best screeners on the team because of his acreage. The latter should get him open on rim rolls.
How the Cavaliers stack up on defense
The Cavaliers must stay sharp after the contest by boxing out and securing the defensive rebound because the Nets are a top-six offensive boarding squad and are ninth in second-chance points.
The Nets’ offense does solid work taking care of the ball, turning it over just 12.8 percent of the time (sixth best of 30th teams), and Brooklyn registers about league-average efficiency from long range. The Cavaliers cannot gift-wrap the opposition easy looks by sagging off the wings or corners when getting attacked through pick-and-roll. The defense will switch, double up top, or trap toward the baseline. If that gets beat, it is preferred to concede the two-pointer and not the triple.
Guarding a bigger lineup at the point of attack could be challenging if Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie are splashing triples on pull-ups or when popping on the side of a screen. Sometimes Mitchell does all he can do, but the height advantage the offensive player has is enough.
Of the Brooklyn guards, Mitchell will tag Dinwiddie, who is five inches taller, before the switch. Isaac Okoro, the best perimeter defender of the starters, checks Bridges, likely in full-court press, too. From the reserves, LeVert gets time on him as well. Against this opponent, the zone defense does not seem effective with multiple midrange threats in Bridges and Cam Thomas.
Furthermore, the Nets take 22.1 free throws nightly, which is 22nd best in the NBA, and 1.1 tries fewer than what the Cavaliers allow at the line over the last 10 games. The Wine and Gold mostly have to worry about Bridges, who takes the most shots at the line for the Brooklyn team (five). Avoiding unnecessary reach-ins and jumping vertically on paint contests should prevent the Cavs from getting waxed for free points.
The Cavaliers and Nets have only met up once out of four encounters this year (the season opener for both), with the former edging a one-point victory led by Strus having 27 on his scorecard on 9-of-17 shots. Undoubtedly, there is motivation for the Nets to pay its foes back, but it does not have the juice to get it done. Over the last 10 games, Brooklyn's record is 3-7. The Cavaliers own a 7-3 mark in that span.
The final prediction is the Cavaliers winning by single digits, making for a nail-biting and electric showcase in the city of love.