Forget all the hype around Christmas Day, this was the game I have been most looking forward to this season. This is the game I wanted tickets to. (I had to pass due to a work situation. I need to quit this job and blog full time â€” Iâ€™m just six numbers away.)
LeBron James, within a couple of seasons, will be the best player in the NBA. Right now heâ€™s in the mix (his PER of 25.75 is fifth best in the league, his eFG% is 51.9%, he has a pure point rating better than any Laker starter) and I think itâ€™s a fair debate to ask whether he or Kobe is the best perimeter player in the league right now â€” by the end of next season there wonâ€™t be a question. Or, as Sports Guy put it:
He’s headed for 55 wins on a team with an overmatched coach, two decent starters, three role players and a bunch of stiffs. More importantly, he’s reached “There’s nothing on right now, maybe I’ll flick on The Package and see if LeBron is playing” status — which hasn’t happened since MJ was playing in Chicago.
The thing is, LeBronâ€™s game doesnâ€™t remind me of MJâ€™s, it reminds me of Magic. He has that kind of court sense and vision, the passing skills are there and he lifts the level of play of everyone around him.
Among those benefiting from LeBronâ€™s skills are the two players that give the Cavs a good inside presence â€”Drew Gooden (20.08 PER) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (18.81).
This is a big key tonight â€” while all the focus tonight will be on the Kobe/LeBron match up (even though Kobe plays the two and LeBron the three), the winner of the Gooden/Odom match up may well decide the outcome of this game. Goodenâ€™s defense has been better than Odomâ€™s this season (Goodenâ€™s oPER is an average 14.6, Odomâ€™s is an unimpressive 17.0), so Odom needs to step up his defense tonight as well as score.
By the way, the Mihm/Ilgauskas tussle should be entertaining as well. Also, Caron Butler, for the second night in a row, is being asked to step up big on the defensive end and stop a guy who can single-handedly defeat the Lakers. (Carmello had 17 last night, but the Lakersâ€™ defensive problems were more widespread than just any one person). Finally, Cleveland has gotten good bench play Brazilian Anderson Varejao, watch out for him tonight.
The Cavs have a good offense, their numbers arenâ€™t quite as impressive as the Lakers (averaging 1.8 fewer points per 100 possessions and their eFG% is a point lower), but their defense is much better. Cleveland allows just 98.8 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-lowest total in the league (the Lakers average 103.6). Teams only shoot 46.6% eFG% against them and the Cavs give up few offensive rebounds. The position they are best at shutting down is the off-guard, providing a challenge for Kobe.
The one defensive weakness for the Cavs this season has been against good point guards (16.1 oPER). The last team with that weakness was Minnesota, and after a slow start Atkins stepped up and was a key part of that comeback and win â€” he needs to duplicate that effort tonight.
As for tonight â€” with this Jekyll and Hyde team, I have no idea what Laker team will show up from quarter to quarter, let alone game to game.
For the past four games the Lakers have fallen in a deep first-half hole. Cleveland presents some real match up problems for the Lakers. The Lakers are in the second night of a back-to-back. All those things should give the Cavs the advantage, but it could be meaningless if the Lakers show up and play defense.
I have no idea what to expect, save that I expect to enjoy watching this game.