Cleveland Cavaliers (0-1) vs
Toronto Raptors (0-0)
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
7:00 PM EST
The Cleveland Cavaliers have to begin their schedule this year with 4 games in the first 5 nights. Normally that would be a bad thing, but after Tuesday night’s loss to the Celtics, it’s clear this team still needs time to gel. The only way that happens is by playing more games, so the quicker the Cavaliers can get back on the court, the quicker they can work on getting better. Wednesday night’s opponent is the much improved Toronto Raptors. In the LeBron James era the Cavaliers are 16-6 against the Raptors, and LeBron James averages 28 pts, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game against them. In the past this has been a team that the Cavaliers have been able to “get healthy” against. This year, though, it’s the Raptors’ home (and season) opener and the Cavaliers will be coming off a tough loss in playing a road game in the tail end of a back to back. Not exactly a recipe for success, but this is still the kind of game NBA Champions win.
Anyone who has been reading any of my offseason posts probably realizes that nothing I saw in Game 1 of the season really surprised me. As I’ve been saying all along, the Cavaliers need Delonte West and without him, teams like Boston who have quick penetrating PGs are going to be a serious issue for the Cavaliers. And that’s exactly what happened. Nobody can deny that the offense wasn’t great, but the Cavaliers were playing an all time great defensive team in the Boston Celtics. What I found far more worrisome was the lackluster defense all around and how short Mike Brown has to make his bench.
The Orlando Magic laid out the blueprint on how to attack the Cavaliers’ defense, and it looks like teams are ready to exploit it. There were times against Boston when the Cavaliers defense looked completely incapable of getting a stop. And for a team that has long earned their keep with their defense, this was a truly troubling development. Toronto is going to be able to do some of the same things Boston did with Jose Calderon playing the part of Rondo, Chris Bosh playing the part of KG, and Hedo Turkoglu playing the part of Paul Pierce.
The Cavaliers got their fill of Turkoglu in the playoffs last year, and if the Cavaliers want to avoid dropping to 0-2, they better figure out what they’re doing on defense fast. Against the Celtics they allowed a .444 FG% for the game (47% from three) and currently are giving up a league-worst .51 Adjusted FG%. They are also giving up a league-high 1.32 Points per Shot, demonstrating just how totally inefficient they were on defense. And as if their defense wasn’t bad enough, they weren’t rebounding either. Their 32 rebounds was the lowest total of any of the 8 teams to play so far. Last year Cleveland was +3.3 in rebounding margin, and so far this year they are –6.0. So, for all the griping about the offense, I think people should be more concerned about the lack of defense and rebounding. The Cavaliers offense will be fine against weaker defensive opponents, but unless they show more heart and desire on defense than they did against the Celtics, this team is going to have some struggles.
I would expect the Raptors to try to really attack the Cavaliers in that area, then. Look for Turkoglu to try to exploit the same weaknesses he did last year. With 3 very solid offensive weapons in Turkoglu, Bosh, and Calderon, the Raptors are hoping to create enough screens and ball movement to find the holes in the Cavs defense. It’s going to be up to the Cavaliers to adjust and show more effort. Their defensive stopper, Jamario Moon, was a lackluster –9 in almost 14 minutes against Boston. He has to make a bigger impact on defense in this game because his athleticism, versatility, and defensive prowess are why he was brought in to Cleveland.
Offensively for Cleveland, this game should be significantly easier. It was disappointing to not see Shaq and LeBron ever really work together on offense against Boston. They simply weren’t generating any easy baskets whatsoever, finishing with just 6 of 18 on layups in the paint. The Raptors, however, do not have a Kendrick Perkins who can handle Shaq physically one-on-one. Andrea Bargnani is a good scoring center, but his defense and rebounding is atrocious, and it will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers look to attack that weakness a bit.
Only having 17 assists per game is not going to work for the Cavaliers. They need to move the ball around more and LeBron really needs to stop holding on to the ball and chucking up needless threes. We heard all offseason how he was working on his inside game, and then he comes out and takes 9 threes in the first game. Simply not what this offense needs. LeBron finally started getting aggressive in attacking the rim in the 4th quarter, and I would look for him to carry that over into this game. DeMar DeRozan is a phenomenal athlete with tremendous quickness, but as a rookie starting in his first game, the Cavaliers need to make sure they attack him as much as possible. If DeRozan is asked to defend LeBron to rest Turkoglu, I would expect LeBron to make him pay.
Finally, Mo Williams must find a way to make himself felt in the flow of the offense. For all the things we discussed in the offseason, it seems that it never occurred to us to ask how bringing in Shaq and Parker would affect Mo’s role on the offensive. Against the Celtics he looked almost scared to assert himself and instead looked like he was hiding so as to let everyone else get themselves involved. Mo is a borderline All-Star talent, and he needs to be a part of this offense. The reason the Cavaliers made such a leap on offense last season was precisely because of what Mo brought. Without Mo being active and getting open and taking good shots, this offense looks an awful lot like the old 2007 style offense. Toronto was a terrible defensive team last year, and they didn’t do a whole lot to get better on that side of the ball. If the Cavaliers can’t get their offense on track against the Raptors, this could be a long season for this offense.