Cleveland Cavaliers (31-7) vs
Los Angeles Lakers (31-8)
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Monday, January 19, 2008
10:30 PM EST
Here we go. The Cleveland Cavaliers kick off their first extended Western Conference road trip of the season. In all reality, the season is about to really get interesting now. The Lakers, Blazers, Warriors, and Jazz on the road, then home for a tune up against Sacramento before hitting the road to play in Orlando. And then February isn’t any easier. Lakers, Suns, Pistons, Raptors, and Grizzlies at home, and the rest of the games on the road. The end of February sees the Cavaliers play a 4 game road trip that extends into March. Their opponents on that stretch are the Rockets, Spurs, Hawks, and Heat. A home game against the Bucks, and then it’s back on the road to Boston. So yeah, while this has been an unbelievable season so far, the Cavaliers are now getting to the meat and potatoes of their schedule, and it begins tonight with a great matchup against the Western Conference leading Los Angeles Lakers.
While this game looks to be a tremendous challenge to the Cavaliers, the one thing they can reflect upon to give themselves some confidence is that they have won 5 straight against the Lakers and 2 in a row at the Staples Center. The Cavaliers are 11-1 against the Western Conference overall and 5-1 on the road against Western Conference foes. In general, it seems that the Cavaliers have played better against the West than the East, in the regular season, anyway. In each of the last 2 seasons, and then including this season, the Cavaliers have had a better win percentage against the West than the East. So, the Cavaliers have that going for them.
For the Lakers, they are starting to get healthy. Lamar Odom has already returned to the team, and now Luke Walton is expected to play tonight. The Lakers are finishing off a tough stretch of their schedule that included games against the Rockets, Spurs, and Magic. The Lakers have dropped their last two games in that stretch. So, the Cavaliers will be facing a motivated Lakers team tonight, you would guess.
The Lakers got off to a remarkable start this year, just destroying every team that stood before them, similar to the Cavaliers’ impressive stretch in November. Injuries and perhaps complacency have brought the Lakers back down to earth, but even on earth they are arguably the most talented team in the NBA. As much as Kobe may be the focal point, the Lakers are extremely well rounded, they play fast and furious, their offense is next to unstoppable except for the rare nights when their shots aren’t going down, and their defense is better than the numbers show. Their bench is incredibly deep and talented as well. Just look at the difference between these benches tonight. When the Cavaliers need to rest LeBron, Mo, and AV, they’ll be replaced by Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, and JJ Hickson. As for the Lakers, they’ll be bringing in guys like Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, and Sasha Vujacic (if healthy). Not exactly an even level of talent.
Where the Cavaliers will need to find an edge is on defense. While the Lakers really are a good defensive team, they’re not on the same level as the Cavaliers are. However, while the Lakers offense is outstanding, the Cavaliers’ possession-adjusted numbers are just barely behind the Lakers. Without Delonte, the offense will struggle a bit more, and on the road, the Cavs won’t have the crowd to pick them up like they do at the Q. What this means is that the Cavaliers will have to take it upon themselves to bring the extra effort and hustle on defense to be able to beat the Lakers.
There’s no doubt this game is a tough matchup for the Cavaliers as the Lakers are getting healthy now while Cleveland is losing guys left and right. Who knows if Ben Wallace has his energy back and has put his weight back on. Who knows if LeBron’s head cold has cleared up yet. The odds are stacked against them, but hopefully they will work on some of the things on offense that we discussed in earlier posts. Hopefully they will feed off the confidence from beating New Orleans the other night and the confidence that comes from knowing they’ve been able to beat the Lakers in the past with Sasha Pavlovic in the starting lineup.
Most of all, though, I just want to see a game I can enjoy. This is a brutal way to start a road trip. If the Cavaliers get thrashed in this game, it will kill their momentum for the upcoming games. This shouldn’t be a game the Cavaliers will have a tough time getting up, for. This os Kobe vs LeBron. This is perhaps a preview of the NBA Finals, and both teams will want to prove their worth tonight. If you can’t get excited about a game like this, then I’m not sure you’re in the NBA to begin with.