Preview and Chat: Lakers at Cavs

Daniel Rapaport —  February 5, 2014

First and foremost, hello! It’s been way too long since I’ve written here. College will do that to you, I’m sure you guys know how it is- with all the craziness that comes with adjusting to school (doing your own laundry, having to force yourself to get in bed when it’s 3 AM and your parents aren’t around to yell at you, and, oh yeah, midterms), sometimes you find yourself so busy with the things that you need to do that you forget to do the things that you want to do. But, I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of things, so get used to hearing from me often again.

The last time I posted, the Lakers were in, well, a very different place. At 13-14, things looked somewhat promising, and I praised D’Antoni for making the most out of the limited talent on this roster. Today, the Lakers are at certainly their lowest point of the season, having lost twice as many games as they’ve won (16-32). I’m young, but I can’t remember a season in which expectations have become so bleak. The Lakers simply aren’t a good team right now. They’ve lost seven in a row and 19 of 22, allow the second most points in the league (106.2), and are still remarkably banged up. As Darius so eloquently put it:

When it was announced that Nash and Blake would return last night and that Farmar wouldn’t be far behind them, things looked to have turned a corner on the injury front. But, as has been the case all year, the Lakers’ gnarly luck struck again, and Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill both left the game with a sprained right ankle and a cervical sprain, respectively. Meeks will miss the remaining two games of the road trip, while Hill is a question mark tonight. Keep in mind that the Lakers will be without Pau Gasol, who averaged an impressive 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game in the 3-12 catastrophe also known as January. Manny Harris was also released yesterday when LA decided that his benefit to the team didn’t outweigh the cost of paying him for the rest of the season or the flexibility his roster spot could provide on the trade market (Harris had already signed the maximum amount of 10-day contracts allowed by the league).

The good news is, the Cavaliers aren’t much better than the Lakers are at this moment in time. Both teams sit at 16-32 and are coming into tonight’s contest playing far from their best. In their last ten games, the Cavs are a paltry 2-8, with a defensive rating (110.9) that would make even Mike D’Antoni reconsider his defensive strategies. It’s a bit ironic, too, as Mike Brown was brought back to Cleveland to enforce a tough-minded, hard-nosed, defense-first mentality that, for whatever reason, simply hasn’t gained any traction with his players. The Cavs’ season is essentially beyond repair, as their GM made clear when he questioned his players will to win.

As is often the case with Mike Brown-led teams, the Cavaliers’ offense is borderline unwatchable, too often turning into a lets-watch-Kyrie-because-he’s-talented-and-can-create-his-own-shot offense. When you rely on a score-first point guard too often, your team ends up shooting a ton of midrange jumpers- the most inefficient way to score in today’s NBA. The Cavs rank 5th in percentage of points scored coming from midrange jumpers, at 21.9% and fifth in percentage of unassisted field goals made at 45.4%.

Kyrie Irving has the sixth highest usage rate in the NBA, so expect a heavy dose of him tonight. While he’s perhaps not having the type of season many expected him to, Kyrie’s still an elite player in this league. He’ll start the All-Star game and is capable of dropping 30+ on any given night. I have a feeling tonight will be one of those given nights. Neither Blake nor Nash is gifted with the type of foot speed you need to stay in front of Irving, who has elite quickness and a borderline disgustingly good handle on the basketball.

Like always, the Lakers will need to shoot well from outside and find a contain the Cavaliers’ inconsistent offense. No matter where you stand on the tanking front (and I’m not going to argue with those who are rooting for the Lakers to lose at this point), there’s no arguing that tonight is a winnable game. Look for LAL to rely on Nick Young (I’m not using the nickname again until the Lakers win again), who’s averaged 19.4 points per contest over the last 20, for the bulk of their offense. When you’re as limited offensively as LAL is, you have no choice but to feed those few players who have proven to be able to score consistently. Of those healthy for tonight’s game, Nick Young is the only one who’s proven he can do so. Your 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers, ladies and gentlemen.

Where you can watch: 4:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Daniel Rapaport