The Cavaliers continue their mini road trip tonight when they head north to take on the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves. As far a road trips go, this one isn’t too bad. 4 games, none of them back to back, and 2 of them against a couple of the worst teams in the NBA (Minnesota and Oklahoma City). In fact, in the last 3 weeks of December, Cleveland has only 7 games, and none of them are back to back. There are a couple moderate tests in Miami in there, as well as tough games against Denver and Houston, which will make the easy games against Washington, Oklahoma City, and tonight’s opponent, Minnesota, that much more important for Cleveland to not get complacent and to take care of business. The Cavaliers will still be without the services of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Daniel Gibson, and Minnesota has a couple tough offensive players in Mike Miller and Al Jefferson, but this is still a game the Cavaliers should be able to control. The Cavaliers are facing injuries, Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak are slumping majorly with their outside shooting, LeBron’s minutes are rising, and the offense isn’t running as smoothly as it once was. There’s some adversity facing the Cavaliers tonight, and it will be a good sign for them to come out and take care of business against a team they should beat.
Projected Starting Lineups
-G Mo Williams (16.0 ppg, 4.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 16.79 PER)
-G Delonte West (11.2 ppg, 3.3 apg, .387 3P%, 13.68 PER)
-F LeBron James (27.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 6.4 apg, 33.32 PER)
-F Ben Wallace (2.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 13.46 PER)
-C Anderson Varejao (9.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 17.82 PER)
Key Injuries: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (out), Daniel Gibson (out), Eric Snow (out)
-G Randy Foye (13.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 0.9 spg, 11.51 PER)
-G Mike Miller (10.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, .408 3P%, 12.85 PER)
-F Ryan Gomes (10.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.4 bpg, 11.07 PER)
-F Craig Smith (9.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 bpg, 16.55 PER)
-C Al Jefferson (21.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 22.38 PER)
Key Injuries: Corey Brewer (out)
Team Efficiency Stats
-Off (102.7 ppg, 42.5 rpg, .476 FG%, .782 FT%, 21.1 apg, Efficiency-111.4, Rank-1)
-Def (90.0 ppg, 37.4 rpg, .420 FG%, Efficiency-97.0, Rank-2)
-Off (95.2 ppg, 41.8 rpg, .426 FG%, .764 FT%, 21.4 apg, Efficiency-98.7, Rank-27)
-Def (102.3 ppg, 41.5 rpg, .471 FG%, Efficiency-107.6, Rank-26)
On paper, this game is one of the biggest mismatches the Cavaliers will play this year. The Cavs are 0.3 assists per game away from being better than the Timberwolves in every single efficiency statistic we look at above. What’s more, the Timberwolves are like the bizarro Cavaliers this season. The Wolves already have one 8-game losing streak, and are currently working on a 10-game losing streak. The Cavaliers have beaten the T-Wolves 5 straight times, and they’ve generally not been close. However, these games are not played on paper.
The Timberwolves may have an apalling 4-20 record, but they have played many close games against some of the best teams in the NBA. While the Cavaliers have been playing the likes of the Knicks, Nets, Bobcats, Bulls, Pacers, Bucks, etc, the T-Wolves have been playing San Antonio, Dallas, Portland, Denver, Boston, Detroit, Phoenix, Orlando, Utah, and the Lakers. In their current 10 game losing streak, Minnesota’s losses have included Denver (by 9), at Orlando (by 11), Utah (by 3), at Denver (by 11), San Antonio (by 12), and at the Lakers (by 12). In December, the T-Wolves still have games against Cleveland, Houston, San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas. So it has not been an easy go of it for the Timberwolves this year, and it culminated in the firing of former Cavaliers coach Randy Wittman and the moving of GM Kevin McHale from the front office to the bench as he takes over for Wittman.
For the Cavaliers, the most important matchups will be on Jefferson and Miller. At 6′-8″, Mike Miller is going to be a handful for Delonte West. Miller could have a lot of good looks shooting over Delonte. On the blocks, Al Jefferson is one of the best players that nobody knows about or talks about. Jefferson is an absolute freak and he should be regarded as one of the better players in the NBA. He’s a double-double machine in his own right, and when he focuses on defense, he can be a tremendous shot blocking presence. It’s going to be important that Andy and Big Ben are able to rotate defensively on Jefferson and not foul too much. If J.J. Hickson or Darnell Jackson have to come in and guard Jefferson for extensive minutes due to foul trouble to the starters, it could make for a long, tough night for the Cavaliers, as Jefferson will be a handful for either one of the Cavs rookies to defend.
When the Cavaliers have the ball, it will be important for Mo Williams to establish himself as the 2nd option in this game with Big Z out. Mo has really picked up his game lately, especially in Z’s absence, and he needs to assert himself early into the offensive flow. The Cavaliers offense has taken a few steps back lately with the loss of Gibson and Z. It would be great to see Delonte West snap out of his funk. Just 2 weeks ago Delonte was shooting close to 50% from long range, but he’s now back in the 30’s at 38.7%. I believe Delonte can be a 40%+ shooter from 3, he just needs to find his confidence again. The good news is that he’s been showing a comfort and ability to score points off the dribble from mid range and in the lane. Hopefully he can keep that up in this game as well. The Timberwolves do not play great defense, and while their size advantage may help them on offense, their size may actually hurt them against the Cavaliers’ quicker and more athletic back court. If the Cavs guards can beat the T-Wolves defenders off the dribble, it will open things up a bit for LeBron and Andy. I would expect to see a lot more pick and roll with Mo and Andy in this one to draw more mismatches and to create more easy baskets.
From The Outside Looking In
Next Game For The Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets
Friday, December 19, 2008
10:30 PM EST