Preview & Chat: Lakers & Cavs

Kurt —  December 25, 2009

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Records: Lakers 23-4 (1st in West) Cavaliers 22-8 (3rd in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108 (12th in league), Cavaliers 109.5 (8th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.2 (1st in league) Cavaliers 103.3 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, Shaq

Happy Holidays: As Ramona Shelborn reminded us, today we celebrate something very special: The 24th anniversary of Rocky defeating Ivan Drago in Moscow. There is probably something else, too.

Whatever you choose to celebrate, I want to wish you a happy holidays and I hope that Santa and 2010 bring you everything your heart desires. Thank you for being part of the community here, and it is going to be a fun next six months (and beyond) at FB&G.

Now grab an egg nog, sit down and let’s talk hoops.

Quick Lakers notes: The Lakers will be at full strength, that includes Kobe who said he knee was fine.

Pau Gasol officially signed his deal, which will likely be worth about $57 million ($7 million less than had been reported before). The first thing is that the formal amount will not be known until the new CBA kicks in for the 2011 season (there’s still the tinsy little matter of negotiations) as that will set maximum raise and other thing that could tweak the deal. The good news that over the course of the contract, Gasol took less in raises — and far less than he might of made on the open market — to stay in Los Angeles. With guys like LO and Artest also playing for what might be below market value in their eyes, the Lakers have a team of guys willing to sacrifice to keep winning. That is an impressive thing.

Keys to game: Artest on LeBron, now that is a Christmas Day present I’m excited about. It is going to be fun to watch.

One other simple key to watch: The Cavs are the best three point shooting team in the NBA at 42.3%. The Lakers are the best at defending the three in the league, opponents shoot just 30.1% against them. If one team controls this area, huge advantage.

Great note from John at Cavs the Blog on the Lakers defense (and something to think about with LeBron attacking the rim):

Here’s the oddest thing about how the Lakers play defense. Even though the goal of almost every NBA offense is to get shots at the rim, the Lakers allow more shots at the rim per game than any other team in the league, and still manage to have the best defense in the league. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the Lakers are extremely good at defending shots at the rim; only the Cavs and Celtics allow a lower field goal percentage on close shots than the Lakers’ mark of 56.7%. Second, and even more important, the Lakers don’t foul. They only allow 25.6 free throw attempts per game, which is tied for the lowest mark in the league.

The Cavs offense is a lot of high screen and roll action, with LeBron and Mo Williams when he is out. It’s effective, the Cavs spread the floor with shooters and LeBron will make the pass when the defense collapses. In overtime against Sacramento, the Cavaliers offense was fairly simple and unimaginative, but it worked: LeBron would drive and the Cavs spread the floor. The key was this — Kings bigs would go to protect the rim, and Big Z would stand in the corner where he’d drain the corner three. (Ohh, sorry Joel, “short corner three.”) You have to stay on him out there, he is one of the Cavs better outside shooters.

JJ Hickson starts on Pau Gasol: Biggest mismatch on the floor. From Kevin Pelton at Basketball Prospectus:

I’ve railed about this before, but J.J. Hickson simply is not a very good basketball player at this stage in his career, which makes it odd that he is starting and playing 19 minutes a game for the Cavaliers. They are 10.0 points worse per 100 possessions on defense with Hickson in the game, and the upgrade he offers on Anderson Varejao as a partner for Shaquille O’Neal in the frontcourt comes nowhere near offsetting this problem. Hickson should also never be let anywhere near Zydrunas Ilgauskas).

Shaq hasn’t been the defensive disaster many (myself included) expected, but the lineups when he is on the floor are not as strong offensively. It’s a spacing issue, there is just more traffic in the paint and less spreading of the floor when he is out there.

Frankly, the best lineup I’ve seen the Cavs run is a small lineup — LeBron at the four, Varejao as center. They spread the floor with three guards who can knock down shots and they are much quicker and more athletic. We’ll see how the Lakers adjust, hopefully by making them pay a price in the paint with Gasol or Bynum.

Where you can watch: I don’t know if you picked up on the subtle promotions, but ABC will have this game. Starts at 2 Pacific (check out Boston/Orlando, too, that one should be fun).