Cleveland Cavaliers (43-11)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
7:00 PM EST
Say goodbye to the Q, Cavaliers, because after tonight’s game, 8 of the next 10 games will be on the road. After tonight, the next 7 games will be against teams who would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. These things will balance out, as the Cavaliers will play 8 of 9 at home in the Q after this stretch of 8 out of 10 on the road, but regardless, a game like tonight’s, at home against a weak team, is a game the Cavaliers absolutely cannot slip up in if they want to secure the #1 seed. This game just screams trap game, but the good news is that so far this year the Cavaliers have been able to resist being lulled to sleep by trap games, and tonight they will try to once more find the motivation to come out strong and put away a team they should be able to beat soundly.
Projected Starting Lineups
-G Mike Conley (9.2 ppg, 3.7 apg, 0.8 spg, 13.07 PER)
-G O.J. Mayo (19.4 ppg, 2.9 apg, .385 3P%, 15.49 PER)
-F Rudy Gay (18.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 apg, 15.03 PER)
-F Hakim Warrick (11.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 16.43 PER)
-C Marc Gasol (10.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 15.93 PER)
Key Reserves: Darko Milicic, Darrell Arthur, Quinton Ross, Greg Buckner, Darius Miles
Injuries: Mike Wilks (out)
-G Mo Williams (17.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 17.28 PER)
-G Delonte West (12.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, .427 3P%, 16.28 PER)
-F LeBron James (28.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 7.1 apg, 32.16 PER)
-F Ben Wallace (3.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 12.32 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 19.28 PER)
Key Reserves: Anderson Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, JJ Hickson
Injuries: Sasha Pavlovic (out), Eric Snow (out)
Team Efficiency Stats
-Off (93.5 ppg, 39.4 rpg, .448 FG%, .754 FT%, 16.7 apg, Eff-100.3, Rank-28)
-Def (99.7 ppg, 40.1 rpg, .474 FG%, Eff-106.7, Rank-22)
-Off (100.9 ppg, 41.8 rpg, .474 FG%, .752 FT%, 20.1 apg, Eff-110.1, Rank-3)
-Def (90.8 ppg, 38.6 rpg, .427 FG%, Eff-98.5, Rank-2)
- Cleveland 102 at Memphis 87 – 01/13/09 [box]
The last time the Cavaliers played the Grizzlies, they thumped them only to have Delonte West go down in the next game against the Bulls. This time, they play the Grizzlies one game after getting him back. It makes you feel like the whole thing has come full circle and now Delonte is back and the Cavaliers can get back to normal. They sure looked that way in their last game against the Pistons. However, we’ve yet to see how well Delonte can come back after playing in a game 2 days prior. We’ll see if he still has his energy and legs beneath him in this game. If he does, this could be a long game for the Grizzlies.
Not that there isn’t some promise within this Grizzlies team. Rudy Gay is a phenomenal scorer and he’s always dangerous. Rookie OJ Mayo has been sensational and is showing an offensive game that is far more developed for the NBA game than most scouts thought it would be at this point. Then there’s Mike Conley. The former OSU star has not been an instant success in Memphis, but lately his game has been coming to him. In the month of February, Conley is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. It’s this show of promise that made it possible for the Grizzlies to trade Kyle Lowry at the deadline and to therefore basically hand over the reigns of this team to Conley.
The undersized Grizzlies’ backcourt means that Mo Williams and Delonte West will be able to easily interchange defensive assignments, depending on where the Cavs most need West. If Conley is able to break down Mo off the dribble, then expect to see West spend some time defending him. Otherwise, I would imagine Delonte will spend much of his night shadowing Mayo and trying to make his life as difficult as possible, as he did the first time these two teams met in January.
Defensively, the Grizzlies have size (Gasol and Milicic) and athleticism (Warrick and Arthur) in their frontcourt, but despite those traits, they are still not a very good rebounding team and they don’t block a lot of shots. In general, this team does not play very strong defense, and with West back in the lineup, we saw Sunday night how much better the Cavs’ spacing is on offense. Spacing and ball movement are two of the biggest factors when playing a weak defensive team because it can create a plethora of easy baskets, and I look for the Cavaliers to try to take advantage of this weakness and get to basket as often as possible.
The prime matchup in this game, though, will be LeBron vs Gay. I have long admired Rudy Gay’s game and I find him to be one of the most entertaining guys in the Association to watch play, but he is also maddeningly inconsistent, and at times he has a tendency to try to take too many outside shots against the Cavaliers (for an analogy, think of how LeBron usually plays against the Pistons and Spurs). In the last matchup, LeBron ended up with 30 points and held Gay to just 10 points on 5-18 shooting from the field. I’d expect a player of Gay’s caliber to look to try to be more aggressive in getting to some driving lanes in this game, so look for LeBron to have to spend a little more energy on defense in this game.
It’s really a shame that the old Grizzlies of Conley, Mike Miller, Gay, Warrick, and Pau Gasol were never able to find a way to gel together, because I always thought that had the potential to be a very difficult lineup to defend. Here they are just a year and a half later, and Pau and Miller are gone and the Grizzlies are rebuilding once again, limping through this season with the Association’s 7th worst record. The Cavaliers have a long, difficult, and grinding road ahead of them, and they cannot afford to overlook this struggling Grizzlies team. Especially not at home, and especially with so much on the line every time the Cavs take the court this season. It’s that pressure of trying to win the #1 seed that will continue to make these kind of games interesting to watch, and more importantly, necessary for the Cavaliers to win.
From The Outside Looking In
Next Game For The Cavaliers
Thursday, February 26, 2009
8:00 PM EST
Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets