Preview & Chat: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Darius Soriano —  January 13, 2012

Records: Lakers 8-4 (3rd in West), Cavaliers 5-5 (8th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.1 (13th in NBA), Cavaliers 103.2 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 97.8 (5th in NBA), Cavaliers 102.1 (14th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Derrick Caracter (out), Josh McRoberts (questionable), Troy Murphy (probable); Cavaliers: none

The Lakers Coming in: Let’s start with the good news first. The Lakers have won 4 in a row, Kobe is rolling, and the team expects to get McRoberts, Murphy, and Kapono back tonight. Frontcourt depth has been lacking of late and the return of these guys couldn’t come sooner. This is especially true for McRoberts, whose energy, athleticism, and ability to run the floor has been a great boost to a 2nd unit that’s had difficulty generating easy baskets. Not to mention his hustle and hard-nosed play was missed on the glass and on defense, where he was always around the ball trying to make a positive play. Hopefully his toe allows him to play to his full ability, but even if that’s not the case right away, just having him back at all means a better frontcourt rotation for Mike Brown and less strain on Pau and Bynum.

Now for the bad news: Steve Blake is out with a fracture of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum. Early reports have him listed as “day to day” but also that he’s unlikely to play tomorrow vs. the Clippers. Losing Blake is blow to this team as he’s been the Lakers best three point shooter and their best point guard by a fair amount. He’s really found his shot this season and to miss him for any amount of time hurts. In his place, rookie Darius Morris will back up Fisher, so we’ll finally get the long look at him that we’ve wanted. Morris is an intriguing prospect and has shown flashes of an NBA-ready game whenever he’s gotten minutes, but has also shown a tendency to over-dribble and a penchant for rookie mistakes. Now, though, he’ll get steady burn for at least the next two nights and a chance to show that maybe he should stick in the rotation.

The Cavaliers Coming in: After “The Decision,” many thought it would be a long time before the Cavs would compete for anything of substance – even a playoff berth. After all, you don’t have the core of your franchise and one of the best players in the league walk away for nothing and recover easily. Well, I’m not saying all the pundits were wrong, but this team is on the right track towards rebuilding, currently possessing the 8th best record in the East, one-half game up on the Boston Celtics.

And while it’s early and this isn’t likely to hold for the entire season, the Cavs are a much tougher out right now than anyone anticipated, and it’s because they’ve found two strong rookies from this past draft and have their veterans playing strong ball. In his must read rookie watch column, David Thorpe had this to say about #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving:

The Cavs knew they were getting a player who would one day be their floor general, as it was always clear Irving knew how to run a team. But they also hoped he would be able to score. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with a point guard who can score (as opposed to a point guard who can only score). Irving is proving he’s not just an assertive shooter but someone who can break his man down and get into the teeth of the defense for buckets, fouls or dishes.

In his last game, Irving put up 26 points and 6 assists (as well as 6 turnovers) in a win over Phoenix. There’s still some growth needed, but he’s showing a polish and pedigree that a lot of young PGs do not. However, Irving’s not their only prized rook, as Thorpe added this about #4 overall pick Tristian Thompson’s performance against the Jazz:

Crashing the rim for a monster tip dunk? Check. Racing the floor and making a spectacular catch on the run, then being able to stop and set up for dunk? Check again. How about a hard drive from the perimeter twice, resulting in one and-1 finish and one sweet off-hand half hook? Yep, check and check. “Raw” was a term used to define him in June, but there was nothing raw about those plays. If Thompson can prove to be tough to defend one-on-one in the paint or the perimeter, he would rapidly join a small list of bigs with that skill set.

When you add those two youngsters to a solid (if unspectacular) list of vets that includes Jamison, Varejao, Parker, Daniel Gibson, and Ramon Sessions, and have other young players showing improvement (Alonzo Gee and Semih Erden have given them useful minutes), you have a formula for success. Again, whether or not this lasts is up for debate, but right now they’re playing solid basketball and must be taken seriously lest you want to take an L after 48 minutes.

Cavaliers Blogs: Cavs The Blog is a great site and has all the news and analysis you’d want. If you need more, however, Fear The Sword is also an excellent resource.

Keys to game: The Lakers’ formula for getting wins has been pretty simple of late. Let Kobe carry the load on offense, have a couple of players (normally the bigs, but Matt Barnes or Steve Blake are good candidates as well) make some plays down the stretch, and play strong enough defense while rebounding well to be ahead when the final buzzer sounds. And if they go this route tonight, I would not be surprised, as I think (for the most part) that teams ride what works for a while, make adjustments when things go awry for a game or two, and then find their stride again once those issues get sorted out. At least this is what the good teams do and the Lakers are a good  team.

That said, the Cavs offer some specific challenges that the Lakers will need to be on top of or risk having their formula not work out. First and foremost is slowing down the Cavs’ PG combo. As mentioned above, Irving is playing very well and were it not for the fantastic play of Ricky Rubio, he’d be the runaway choice for rookie of the year. Then, you have Ramon Sessions who has been in the running for the NBA’s “best backup point guard” for several years. These two combine for about 27 points and 10 assists a night and while that may not sound that impressive, take a look at what the Laker PGs put up combined and tell me this may not be an issue tonight. The Lakers must slow their penetration, make them shoot the ball from the outside (especially Sessions) and force them to give the ball up to their teammates, who aren’t as comfortable making plays for themselves. If the Lakers can effectively force guys like Parker, Jamison, or Casspi to create a shot against the shot clock, they’ll have done their job.

On offense, the Lakers must also be aware that the Kobe show cannot last forever and that they’ll need to diversify their attack. Tonight offers a great chance as Antawn Jamison will start the game guarding either Pau Gasol (likely) or Andrew Bynum (*starts laughing*). Jamison can guard neither of these players effectively and should be picked on as much as possible to make this clear to everyone in the building. Jamison wasn’t a good defender in his prime, but age has now taken away most of his foot speed and a fair amount of his desire, and what’s left is a guy that gives up buckets routinely. So, essentially I’d like to see the ball go into the post against whomever ‘Tawn is guarding and let that player go to work. If that’s Gasol, then all the better, as Varejao’s natural instincts to help will only open passing lanes and offensive rebounding angles for Andrew Bynum (who’s looking for a bounce back game too, by the way).

If the Lakers simply do these things well, hit a couple of three-pointers to keep the defense honest, and get a normal night (not the otherworldly outputs he’s been giving lately) from Kobe, the Lakers should be fine. However, should they think this Cavs team can’t beat them or isn’t talented enough to hang around, they’ll learn rather quickly that’s not the case and they’ll find themselves in a dog fight. Luckily, this Lakers team hasn’t had much complacency in them this season but old habits do die hard. Hopefully, tonight’s not a night they make an appearance.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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79 responses to Preview & Chat: The Cleveland Cavaliers

  1. trap game.

  2. Possible trap game, but I predict that we’ll get an infusion of energy from Morris, and the mismatches down low will be too much for the Cavs to overcome. I just hope that the coaches will be in his ear about defending the P&R by going under the screen against Sessions.

  3. no such thing as a trap game this season, the guys will be ready. specially because this was Mike Brown’s last coaching gig. imo, hope im right.

  4. So glad to hear that McRoberts is coming back, Murphy and Kapono as well. We need to get back to some of the hustle bench play that was serving so well… Josh is a huge part of that, he goes all out and gets the other guys worked up. It’s been awesome to see Kobe defy all laws of nature but seriously, some of the other guys need to assert more.

  5. Darius:

    Great “bounce back” from illness yourself. Good to see the flu didn’t rob your sense of humor, which is in fine form. Congrats on the blog award too.

    Ok, brown-nose moment over.

    You realize you just guaranteed that Jamison is going to go for 23-11-4 with two blocks and two steals tonight, right?

    Trap game? Between Brown’s motivation to beat his old team, and maybe even some motivation to stick it to Gilbert and his Laker-envy, I think they will be fine

  6. Loving the start from Drew.

  7. AusPhi – me as well, feeding him early. Excellent.

  8. Wow, the audience reaction when Drew went down for that quick second. A collective “No” … Even Kobe had to laugh.

  9. anyone have a link?

  10. And even though I don’t want to jump on the anit-Fish bandwagon, those 2 early fouls give Morris the chance to work his way into the game at a better pace.

  11. i don’t know about the Darius Morris haircut but i liked that he hit the open 3.

  12. If the Cavs single team Bynum he will have a big night. He is off to a good start.

  13. the difference between Bynum on single vs double coverage is so glaring

  14. Ugh. Morris just went over the screen after Sessions. OTOH, he’s hit an open three, set up three assists already, and has forced some turnovers and missed shots with good D on other P&R plays.

  15. Really liking Morris. It is nice to have dribble penetration again.

  16. Lakers taking too long to get into their offense in this quarter.

  17. Morris is too nonchalant bringing the ball up. Push it.

  18. No world peace so far…..?

  19. Mindcrime – Don’t say it out loud, you might jinx it.

  20. As brutal as Fish has been this season, his distribution is really on-point tonight.

  21. lakers seem to be hugging more this year.

  22. Is it legal for a vampire to play in the NBA?

  23. Kobe’s singlehandedly trying to raise that team 3pt%.

  24. @22 – Yes, but only after the sun has gone down.

  25. After the Kobe bashing Kobe scored at will against opposing teams. Now its Fisher’s time to serve platter to his critics.

  26. Lakers PGs combine for 12 assists and 0 TOs! I could get used to that

  27. AusPhil:

    Good point. I was just a bit taken aback, given MB’s love for Ron Ron so far this year.

    Pretty prophetic having the Kobe thread this afternoon. Did he read FB&G today and decide he had to measure up to all of the superlatives?

  28. Fisher with the near perfect half, 0-0 FGs, 9 Dimes and zero turnovers.

    Kobe has been brilliant again with 24 points and has his 3 falling tonight.

    Good half for the Lakers. I think Darius Morris is earning more PT

  29. Impressive 1st half against a less than impressive team. Gotta love our defense.

  30. Pau says–”We don’t need no stinkin’ CP3″

    Lob city is wearing purple and gold tonight….

  31. Matt Barnes has been just what the Lakers ordered at SF this season.

  32. Wow – Antawn Jameson shoots a LOT. It’s almost like he’s Antoine Walker (but without the 3pt fgas and the shimmy).

  33. 32

    He’s definitely not out there for his defense or passing…

  34. According to a Mcten tweet “Now I’m hearing from Lakers PR that Metta World Peace has a sore back and sore Achilles’. It wasn’t listed on the pregame injury report. “

  35. Looks like Kobe has found his 3-point stroke. Bad news for the rest of the league…

  36. Haha – Morris puts Sessions on the floor, then helps him up. Young fella. That won’t last.

  37. What Kobe is doing is just unreal, I mean words can’t describe it

  38. The two rooks on the floor!

  39. Kobe is being a straight up ball hogger right now. I don’t care of the fact they’re winning the game. Pass the damn ball! 3 on 1 and he doesn’t pass the ball? Come on now.

  40. Kobe playing unreal? Uh, that’s called ball hogging right now. Does he know he has 4 other guys on his team?

  41. What a pass Morris behind the back to Pau. We need to get this kid burn, he’s really showing promise, and flashes of showtime.

    Steve Blake out 3-4 weeks… There is it

  42. This is ridiculous. Morris routinely takes 7.5 seconds to bring the ball up the court, and then the guards just run a series of aimless pick-and-rolls for the next 10-12. Rinse and repeat.

  43. Passing the ball more then once constitutes team ball. Passing the ball once to Kobe and shooting is not basketball.

  44. Morris is not ready quite yet, but he looks better than Glock!!! Blake out for 3 to 4 weeks!!! Hinrich is out until the end of the month!!! What now, I guess Morris better get ready in a hurry!!!

  45. Somebody needs to mention to the Lakers the game ain’t over yet.

  46. Troy Murphy is just too slow and unatheletic.

  47. Drew needs to get more touches. He was dominating the smaller Varejao (single coverage) early in the contest. Since then, not many opportunities. Too much reliance on Kobe.

  48. I hope the lakers actually lose tonight. Cuz having Kobe shoot all the time is not a winning formula.

  49. i do hope Mitch is working hard to get a scorer for the second unit

  50. So many offensive fouls. Second game in a row with what feels like a lot of them.

  51. Anonymous, yes Kobe is more than unreal its incredible considering he has a torn tendon on his hand plus mangled fingers.

    Kobe is hot and they are riding the hot hand. Why don’t you post under a name instead of anonymous because you sound like a Kobe basher right now.

  52. I didnt know you need a healthy wrist to actually pass the ball. You gotta admit kobe’s shooting just a bit too much. I’d like him to actually get to 2 assists tonight.

  53. Update on Matt Barnes from latmedina tweet : Per Lakers’ timetable on Blake, he will miss between 11 & 17 games & return as early as Feb. 3 at Denver & as late as Feb. 10 at New York. [via Twitter]

  54. Anonymous, you seem to be trying to say something but it isn’t that clear to me. Could you please repeat it another 7 times? Thanks.

  55. Joel – I’m glad that you’re asking for anonymous to clarify. I have also been struggling to understand those cryptic posts!

  56. Between Kobe, Barnes, Pau and Drew the Lakers have a solid 4 punch. The rest of the team is a ? without Blake playing.

  57. I have always liked Varejao and kind of thought that was going to be LO’s replacement. We couldn’t give him enough time though and he can’t score a lick. It’s a win but it wasn’t satisfying at all.

  58. 31 attempts? Almost half of your teams total attempts? Team basketball…that’s fantastic!

  59. Glad for the win. Still not a fan of this overly Kobe-centered offense. I would love to see more interplay between Gasol and Bynum. They are probably the most skilled front court in the league. For whatever reason we just don’t see enough of what they can do. Go ahead and shoot at me for complaining. This approach will get them past teams like Cleveland. However, I can’t see it working against the big dogs of the league.

  60. 4 points off the bench today. Geez.

  61. Sorry above was me.

  62. T. Rogers we can all agree this strategy is unlikely to be sustainable for the rest of the season, but at this point who do you want shooting besides Kobe? Other than Pau, and Bynum I would rather Kobe hoist 30 shots than for Fisher to have 10, or Artest to have 10. I have faith in Kobe, my faith waivers with other players.

  63. In all seriousness… Just because Kobe is calling for the ball doesn’t mean he always has to get it. It’s not like he’s always the one bringing the ball upcourt. This kind of predictability won’t work against the elite teams. I was hoping to see Fish swing the ball to the other side of the court a couple times to give the bigs some touches.

  64. The Lakers are doing a very bad job of incorporating the bigs. And Andrew – while he played decent defense – was pretty lackadaisical out there because they weren’t involving him.

  65. Tomorrow night will be fun to see Drew against DeAndre Jordan.

  66. 62

    The problem is, good teams won’t allow Kobe to get 30 quality shots. If the Lakers don’t get into the habit of diversifying the offense now it could cause problems down the road.

  67. Wow! The Lakers just won with their bench get out scored 46 to 6 and tgeir starting guard scoring 2 points.

    Wow!

  68. I don’t mind Kobe taking the majority of the shots. I just have a problem with him taking a shot every single time down court. He doesn’t even look at his other teammates. He should at least dump it down to Bynum. Drew took only 9 attempts!

  69. This is a game where Bynum should have had some more touches.

    Thank the basketball gods for Barnes.

    Bench minutes – 22 for Murphy, high teens for Morris and Ebanks – No Walton or MWP – a good win to get, all things considered.

  70. If Kobe wants to take 30 shots he will, teams will throw triple teams and double teams at him but he can still shoot the ball (he’s been doing it lately). We can all agree that Drew and Pau deserve more shots, but out of everyone lately Kobe has been more consistent than anyone on the team.

    Ideally if I were to distribute the shots I would say Kobe gets 20-25, Pau 10-15, Bynum 12-17, and Barnes 8-12. The rest of the guys can pick their spots — or not shoot at all :). The team is kind of in the habit now of looking for Kobe every chance they get because they know he’s got the hot hand.

  71. Putting the Kobe stuff aside, the major concern tonight was the poor offensive execution by the bench. Morris takes too long to get us into our offense – check the clock, he always crosses midcourt just before the 16-second mark. Goudelock dribbles a lot but goes mostly east-west rather than north-south. And Pau needs to be far more proactive when he’s out there with the reserves. Get your a$$ in the mid-post area and let the team play through you from there!

  72. Kobe shot a few too many times in the 2nd half. But, as is generally the case, that wasn’t the main negative.

  73. bench scoring: 4 – 36

    Clippers are going to romp (again) tomorrow!

  74. Sorry to say this? Paul and Williams vs Fisher and this Laker bench?

    Kills me but Clipper’s by 8 tomorrow.

    Laker bench without Blake?
    2 rooks, 3 guys who got no minutes on bad teams last year, Metta who is now caption of the practice team and once a year Walton.

    Hard to sustain with only 4 players.

  75. According to the game play by play 9 offensive fouls were called tonight 3 on the Cavs and 6 on the Lakers.

    Would like to see the Lakers go to Gasol and Bynum more in the 4th Q. Lakers have two of the best big men and they need to be used when they have the advantages during the game. Kobe is going to get his points but Gasol and Bynum cannot be forgotten late in the game especially when teams focus on Kobe.

  76. Definitely will take the win, but wasn’t pleased with this game. Kobe is just dominating the ball too much. And to his credit, for the most part, his shot was falling. But if they focused on getting the ball inside more, the victory would have come much easier. Drew was getting single coverage in the 1st and was having his way. Then, inexpicably, the ball wasn’t coming his way. Coach Brown is going to have to find a balance offensively. It’s lookin good when victorious, but if a few losses set in, with Kobe shooting at will, watch how fast the demeanor of some of his teammates change.

  77. The ball doesn’t magically seek its way to Kobe’s hands. Drew & Pau have to be more aggressive in demanding the ball. They’re frequently content with being garbage men and not keeping their eyes on the ball after the first – and often only – entry pass.

  78. It was a win, and Kobe may be enjoying the Cleveland style offense even more than that other guy did.

    Derek, a true chameleon, is beginning to play traditional pg, with 10 assists–nearly a career high. Pau has found ways to involve his teammates while maintaining his usual productivity, somewhat softening the Kobecentrism of the offense. Drew was thrilled when he got the ball at the beginning of the game–lost interest and energy when he was ignored–until Pau got him the ball in the fourth quarter. Kobe ran out of gas in the fourth.

    When Kobe takes a breather, there is no one to assume the Cleveland style superstar role, and the reserve team flounders.

    Injuries have finally temporarily sidelined a Laker starter. We shouldn’t complain. Many other NBA teams have not been so lucky. For better or worse, Darius will be getting his pg opportunity of a lifetime for the next month or so.

    It should be interesting–especially tomorrow.

  79. Lakers884,

    Not to beat a dead horse, but it doesn’t even look like basketball when one guy is monopolizing the offense. I love Kobe’s drive and determination. I just wonder if it sometimes comes at the expense of the team’s collective engagement. At some point Bynum and Gasol may just check out mentally. And when that happens Kobe’s 40 point games won’t matter.