Records: Lakers 15-21 (11th in the West), Cavaliers 9-29 (15th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (6th in the NBA), Cavaliers 98.3 (28th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.0 (22nd in the NBA), Cavaliers 105.9 (28th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Robert Sacre
Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season), Steve Blake (out), Dwight Howard (game time decision); Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao (out), Daniel Gibson (probable)
The Lakers Coming in: First things first: Pau Gasol has not yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion a week ago today. Gasol did some light shooting and work on the eliptical machine, but his recovery has not yet advanced to the basketball activities stage. Dwight Howard, however, is a game time decision with his “torn” labrum. Dwight insisted after his MRI that he’d be out around a week and today, like Gasol, is exactly 7 days since the injury occurred. If he’s able to go, we’ll only know right before the game as he’s set to be examined right before the game.
Speaking of injuries, a quick word on Jordan Hill and the end of his season due to his bad hip. Hill will be sorely missed. He may not be a star player, but he brought tangible and intangible positives to this team and there’s really no other bench player who can duplicate those things. His energy and hustle were key factors in every Laker win (and several comebacks that ended up falling short) while his work on the backboards and attentiveness on the back line of the defense stood out on a team that didn’t have enough of those traits. I wish him nothing but the best in his recovery and hope he comes back next season stronger than ever. For a player who was on the verge of being a lottery bust, Hill found a role as a valued contributor on a team that should be contending for a deep post season run. Quite the turnaround for him and I can only hope he can pick up where he left off when he gets healthy.
The Cavaliers Coming in: The Cavs have lost 3 of 5 and 6 of their last 10. They’re without big man Anderson Varejao for the next two months after he tore his quadriceps muscle and required surgery. Their two draft picks from this past June (Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller) have had up and down seasons and look to be a ways away from being consistently solid contributors. For the most part, the Cavs have been a team that plays hard and keeps games close only to lose because they lack depth and experience.
What — or I should say who — the Cavs do have is Kyrie Irving. Irving is one of the most fun players to watch on a night to night basis. His offensive game is as well rounded as they come and he seems to have that sixth sense that all great players have about what his team needs in the moment and then combines it with the skill level to provide it. There are few PG’s who can instantly make a team worth watching on any given night and Irving is one of them. So, if nothing else, the Cavs may only have 9 wins, but they still have Kyrie.
Cavaliers Blogs: Check out Cavs the Blog for good insight on this team.
Keys to game: After the Lakers got ransacked by the Thunder, Mike D’Antoni told his team that their season “starts on Sunday.” This statement, though mocked on twitter (what about the Lakers isn’t, though?) is essentially true. While we’ve been saying it for sometime, the Lakers really don’t have any more margin for error and a game against the Cavs (who compete, but are a bad team overall) needs to be a victory when the clock hits triple zeroes.
In order to get the win — and this will sound like a broken record — the Lakers really need to defend better than they have. Irving is their main weapon and he must be slowed down tonight. He is a killer in isolation and in the P&R, so getting him to give up the ball is going to be the Lakers’ best strategy. Blitz him off the P&R and show him the 2nd defender early on his drives and make him a passer. The Cavs don’t possess many other weapons on the wing, so the Lakers will need to help on Kyrie while cutting off passing angles into the paint to make their perimeter players hit jumpers.
Furthermore, when the ball is kicked out, the Lakers must still contest shots, but not in a way that surrenders more driving lanes that can break down their defense. The Lakers have had too many issues slowing down secondary dribble penetration actions this season and even against the Cavs they can be taken advantage of if they don’t show the needed discipline. Make them hit contested jumpers from range and live with the results. One player to look out for here is C.J. Miles. The last time these two teams met, Miles hit some early uncontested jumpers and found his rhythm the rest of the game. He must be marked closely and turned into a mid-range shooter where he’s run off the 3 point line but not allowed a direct line to the rim.
Offensively, the Lakers must take advantage of the fact that the Cavs don’t really possess a rim protector roaming their paint. Thompson and Zeller are not plus-level shot blockers and will allow opponents to convert at the rim when they get there (the Cavs are 2nd to last in the league allowing teams to shoot 62.8% within 5 feet). I’d prefer the Lakers attack off the dribble more rather than settling for the first open three pointer that presents itself. Those long jumpers will be available later in the clock against a Cavs D that has trouble defending as possessions are extended.
I’d also like to see Nash get more aggressive offensively, if only to make Irving work on that end of the floor. He’s not the most polished defender at this stage of his career and he can be taken advantage of on that end of the floor. Plus, attacking Irving has the dual benefit of making him expend energy that can potentially lead to him having a harder time producing on offense. Attack with Nash and let the offense flow through him more often and good things will happen.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.