Records: Lakers 27-11 (3rd in West), Cavaliers 8-29 (15th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.4 (2nd in NBA), Cavaliers 100.9 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (11th in NBA), Cavaliers 110.0 (27th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Manny Harris, Alonzo Gee, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Cavaliers:Anderson Varejao, Leon Powe, Daniel Gibson, and Joey Graham (all out), Anthony Parker and Christian Eyenga (both doubtful)
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won 4 in a row and after thrashing the Knicks, things are looking up and the team seems to be on solid ground. The team is starting to play better defense – with the Knicks game being one of the team’s best defensive performances in a long while – and offensively the team also seems to be finding its stride. All in all, there’s been little to complain about as the team is executing well on both sides of the ball and really building momentum during this home-heavy stretch.
In other news, Matt Barnes underwent successful surgery to repair his right meniscus tear today. As Matt explained via twitter in the lead up to his operation, he’s expected to miss about 8 weeks. This would put him on track to return around the first week of March (give or take a week) and would give him about a month of regular season games to find his rhythm in preparation for the playoffs. So, things could be worse on that front with it looking likely that he’ll be back and ready for a late season push and then contribute in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers Coming in: What a difference a decision makes. What used to be a perennial contender is now one of the leagues worst (the worst?) teams. The Cavs have lost 10 in a row and 20 of 21 contests in Byron Scott’s first season as head man (insert relieved picture of Brian Shaw – who turned down the Cavs job – here). Obviously, this team misses Lebron James, as this specific team was built around him. Throughout the James era, complementary role players were put in place to help this team win the championship – even last year’s addition of Jamison was one that was specifically made to complement James. However, with the superstar now gone, all that remains are guys who have some talent – but not the transcendent one that teams rally (and are built) around.
But missing Lebron isn’t this team’s only issue. They’ve been hit hard by the injury bug as their remaining top players have all missed time this year. With news that Andy Varejao is lost for the season with a right foot injury, the poor have gotten poorer and what used to be a competitive team that drew the ire of opposing fans due to their status as one of the league’s best now just gets sympathetic shakes of the head. I mean, look at their projected starting lineup. This team will be lucky to win 20 games this year. Rebuilding is on the horizon, obviously, but until then this team suffers beatdowns in every arena (including their own) and the fans sit through it all wondering how it all changed so quickly. (Well, actually, they don’t wonder. They know where their team went. They saw it on TV.)
Cavs Blogs: Despite the poor outfit he covers, John Krolik and company continue to do excellent work at Cavs The Blog.
Keys to game: Normally this is a place where I discuss strategy, X’s and O’s, and what each team will try to do to win the game. But tonight’s game doesn’t offer that same intrigue where styles of play can win out or where the teams are evenly matched in any area.
That said, of course I can’t ignore this stuff. So yes I’ll be looking for strong offensive execution with an emphasis on post play. Gasol and Bynum should get touch after touch against Jamison and Hickson to punish them in the paint. Kobe and Artest can also get in on the act if they’d like by running center opposite actions where they fill the post on flashes from the weak side. Defensively, the Lakers will need to defend the P&R where Williams will look to exploit the Lakers guards, while Hickson dives to the hoop and Jamison circles the arc looking for an open three-point attempt. Also don’t be surprised to see Mo Williams and Ramon Sessions push the pace a bit more considering their team speed may be their one advantage. So, the Lakers will need to defend well in transition, too.
But really, forget the X’s and O’s for one night as this game will be more about the Lakers just taking the game seriously and playing with effort and smarts. The talent gap in this game is enormous (I again point you to the starting lineups). Plus, with the Cavs dealing with so many injuries, their depth will hamper them as well (last game Byron Scott played 8 guys and one of them is doubtful for tonight). So, all I’m really looking for is a Laker team that isn’t already looking at tomorrow’s game against the Warriors and playing like this game doesn’t matter. The Cavs may not have the talent, but I’m sure they’re going to try hard. If the Lakers don’t do the same this game will be closer than it should for longer than it should. And like any other NBA game, when a team with lesser talent hangs around it starts to get the idea that it can win. The Lakers need to crush those hopes early tonight and get their main players some extra rest for what could be a fast paced game in Oakland tomorrow night.
If the Lakers can play the brand of ball they’ve shown in the past week, everything will be fine tonight. So, go out there with intensity and focus and the win will follow.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.