Los Angeles Lakers (40-9) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (39-9)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Sunday, February 8, 2009
3:30 PM EST
Today’s game is another mildly huge game for the Cavaliers. With a win over the Lakers, the Cavaliers will move into first place in the NBA in Win Pct (and if the Spurs can beat the Celtics, the Cavs will move into first place in the NBA in record as well). With a couple winnable games at Indiana and against Phoenix at home, the Cavaliers have a chance to put them in position to have the Association’s best record at the All-Star Break. You don’t win any trophies for it, and franchises like the Celtics and Lakers would find no moral victory in it, but for a franchise like the Cavaliers, it would be a really nice accomplishment and a testament to Dan Gilbert, Danny Ferry, and Mike Brown’s vision for this franchise. Oh, and LeBron probably has a little to do with it, too.
The old sayings would all seem to indicate it’s better to be a great defensive team than it is to be a great offensive team. Defense wins championships. A great defense can always stop a great offense. And so on and so forth. This is perhaps the first preview we’ve done all year where one team is better in every single offensive stat above, while the other team is better in every single defensive stat. So, advantage Cleveland, right? Not quite. The problem is, the Lakers are a great defensive team as well. And when two great defenses play each other, give the edge to the better offensive team. That formula proved true when the Lakers and Cavs played at Staples last month.
This game will be different, though, and there are some things giving the Cavaliers the edge. First of all, this game is at the Q, where the Cavs are undefeated this season. Second the last time these two teams met, the Cavs were without Ilgauskas. Now, Z is back for Cleveland and the Lakers are without their center, Andrew Bynum. Finally, the Cavaliers are an angry and motivated team right now. In a week in which this team twice felt sorely disrespected and slapped in the face by the league. First, there was the selection of Ray Allen to the All-Star team in place of Jameer Nelson instead of Mo Williams. Then, there was the league’s bizarre decision to review the Knicks game, just take away the one rebound from LeBron, and then release a very public press release to announce the decision. Think the Cavaliers are a little angry about this? Consider this quote from Mo Williams in the Plain Dealer today:
“It’s no secret,” he said. “We feel that whatever we’ve got to get we’ve got to take. There’s nobody going to give us anything. Mentally, that’s strengthened us as a team, knowing that we have to give the extra effort. We’ve got to play even better than we’re capable of playing to get to where we want to get.”
The fact is, this Cavaliers team is on edge right now. After a blazing hot start to the season, they ran into a serious wave of injuries and illnesses, one after another, that continues to this day. Furthermore, their level of play has declined over the last couple months. It’s a testament to the resolve and chemistry of this team that despite these issues, they continue to just win.
Here’s the problem, though. The Cavaliers have not played all that great against other great teams. They do a tremendous job of beating the subpar teams and not losing games they shouldn’t, and that really is an important part of being a great team, but their record against some of the league’s best teams is just average. They are 1-1 against Boston, 0-1 against the Lakers, 0-1 against Orlando, 2-0 against Denver, 1-1 against Atlanta, 1-1 against Detroit, 1-1 against Miami, and 1-1 against New Orleans. It’s time for the Cavaliers to use this angst and edginess that they are feeling right now to good use and to start establishing their will in these games against good opponents.
The Lakers will be without Vladimir Radmanovic, as they have traded him to Charlotte for Adam Morrison and former Cavalier guard Shannon Brown. Morrison and Brown will not be with the Lakers yet today, so the Lakers bench will be a little shorter than usual. For the Cavaliers, they are expected to get Pavlovic and Wright back today, and Wally Szczerbiak will play despite suffering a broken nose last game. He’ll be wearing a mask to help protect his nose.
The last time these two teams met, it wasn’t Kobe who killed the Cavs as much as it was the Lakers size. The Lakers dominated the Cavs down low, scoring at will in the paint and completely owning the glass. With Bynum gone and Z back, perhaps the Cavaliers will be able to hold their own in that area today.