Records: Lakers 32-7, Cavaliers 12-27
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.7 (4th), Cavaliers 105.7 (24th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.5 (4th), Cavaliers 113.9 (29th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Cavaliers: Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable), Rajon Rondo (questionable); Cavaliers: Dante Exum (questionable), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Kevin Porter Jr. (out), Dylan Windler (out)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers have won 8 games in a row, their recent a victory over the Thunder that can only be described as unfathomable, honestly. Without LeBron, AD, or Danny Green, the Lakers routed OKC on the road, on the second night of a back to back, behind Kyle Kuzma’s 36 points, a throwback Rondo game, and strong performances from multiple role players — some of whom rarely see the floor at all under normal circumstances.
The Lakers were up by 21 at halftime, pushed the lead to 32 in the 3rd quarter, and then held on when the Thunder made a 4th quarter run to try to make a game of it. Kuzma ended up burying the Thunder with a late made 3 that crystallized the ceiling of what’s possible for him in a bigger role. Whether that role is there for him on this specific team when everyone is healthy is a story with different considerations, but that doesn’t erase what he and his teammates did on Saturday. Just a stunning win and one that I’ll remember for the rest of this season.
On the health front, LeBron is expected to be back after missing the Thunder game with illness. Davis is still questionable, however. Rondo, too, is questionable after suffering a finger sprain in the Thunder game. We’ll see how things shape up from a lineup perspective closer to the start of the game, but LeBron being back is great news already.
The Cavaliers coming in: The Cavs have won two straight games — including a big win at Denver on Saturday. That win comes on the heels of some recent controversies surrounding the team, specifically Kevin Love exhibiting his general unhappiness with his lot in life as a Cav and head coach John Beilein calling his players “thugs” by mistake in a film session. Oops.
Beyond the recent “drama”, the Cavs are in a place as a franchise where they’re likely going to have to make some decisions heading into the trade deadline. They’ve already traded Jordan Clarkson to the Jazz, but will Love or Tristan Thompson be next? Can they extract value from some of their veterans in deals or will they have to wait until the off-season to try to make more moves? The answers will almost surely be based on what types of offers teams are making for those veterans, but Thompson, especially, would be a great add for a number of teams looking for a rugged big man who can rebound, defend, and score as a roll man in the P&R.
In any event, the Cavs look to only be playing for lottery position this season and that’s probably not the place for veterans like Love and Thompson. And I’m sure they’d be the first to agree with that.
Keys to the game: The Cavs are not a good team, but I expect them to give a good effort in this game. The Lakers would be wise to match it. It know it can be difficult to take the lessons you’ve doled out to other teams to heart, but the shorthanded Lakers just beat a red-hot OKC team who clearly saw who was playing and who was not beforehand and did not bring the requisite effort and attentiveness.
The Lakers, with the league’s 2nd best record and probably feeling quite good about themselves after sweeping a Mavs/Thunder road back to back, might think they can come out and play the lowly Cavs, give only half-effort, and still win. And maybe that’s right. But testing the basketball gods is not the advice I’d give. Me? I’d say, “go out there, play hard, and hopefully turn the 4th quarter into extended garbage time.”
The Lakers may indeed still be down some key players this game, but they still have enough talent to win. The key will be hitting the open shots LeBron generates and getting another strong performance from Kuzma — whether he starts or comes in as a reserve. If these things happen and the Lakers veteran guards defend to the level they’re capable of against the Cavs young lottery picks, Cleveland’s offense will struggle and it will come down to “who has the best player?” — which we know the answer to.
So, the formula is simple. Play hard, get good games from LeBron/Kuz (and, if he plays, AD), defend the perimeter, and rebound well. Do those things and the Lakers win. Here’s to getting it done.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.
*All stats via stats.nba.com