Cavaliers Preview Game #29: Cavs at Suns

Cavaliers vs SunsCleveland Cavaliers (20-8) vs
Phoenix Suns (18-9)
US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
Monday, December 21, 2009
9:00 PM EST

After dropping a game against the Dirk-less Mavericks last night, the Cavaliers must now play game #2 of this 4 game Western Conference road swing against one of the best offenses in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns. It would be nice to be heading into this game with some confidence after taking care of business in Dallas, but as is routinely the case with this years team, they got lazy and careless on offense and let a chance to get a big road win slip away. So now, with an insanely difficult matchup in Los Angeles on Christmas Day looming on the horizon (not to mention a game against the Kings, who are excellent at home), the Cavaliers instead face a must win game if they want any chance of salvaging their pride on this road trip. I would love to talk about all the things the Cavaliers are doing great and why they should win this game tonight, but if we’re being honest, the Cavaliers continue to just limp along lifelessly through this season, almost as if they don’t care. It’s hard to feel good about this game. But if there’s one ray of hope, it’s that the Cavaliers thrash the Suns in Cleveland earlier this year. We’ll see if they can muster the same motivation tonight.   

Projected Starting Lineups

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Mo Williams (16.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 15.91 PER)
-G Anthony Parker (7.4 ppg, 1.7 apg, .506 3P%, 9.73 PER)
-F LeBron James (28.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 7.9 apg, 29.94 PER)
-F JJ Hickson (7.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.4 bpg, 13.67 PER)
-C Shaquille O’Neal (10.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 15.61 PER)

Key Reserves: (Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson)

Injuries: Jamario Moon (doubtful), Leon Powe (out)

Phoenix Suns:

-G Steve Nash (18.1 ppg, 11.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 24.03 PER)
-G Jason Richardson (16.0 ppg, 1.9 apg, .400 3P%, 17.75 PER)
-F Grant Hill (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 14.37 PER)
-F Amare Stoudemire (20.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 18.81 PER)
-C Channing Frye (12.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 14.58 PER)

Key Reserves: Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson

Injuries: Leandro Barbosa (out)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Off (99.3 ppg, 41.5 rpg, .478 FG%, 20.9 apg, 14.6 TOpg, Eff-106.7, Rank-8)
-Def (94.3 ppg, 39.3 rpg, .433 FG%, Eff-100.3, Rank-5)

Phoenix Suns:

-Off (108.9 ppg, 41.9 rpg, .494 FG%, 23.7 apg, 15.3 TOpg, Eff-111.7, Rank-1)
-Def (105.1 ppg, 43.2 rpg, .455 FG%, Eff-107.1, Rank-25)

Previous Matchups

  1. Phoenix 90 at Cleveland 107 – 12/2/2009 [box]

Future Matchups


Game Notes

Strength vs Strength. Offense vs Defense. There’s the old saying that offense wins games, but defense wins Championships. It seems hard to believe that the Cavaliers are an elite defensive team statistically, especially for those of us who watch them play night after night. We see the Cavaliers develop long stretches of bad habits, slow rotations, sloppy footwork, unnecessary fouls, and a general lack of hustle and effort. Yet, here they are with the league’s 2nd best FG% against, 4th lowest ppg against, and 5th most efficient defense. It’s scary to think how good this defense could or perhaps even should be. If they ever decide to turn it on and play hard this season, look out.

As for this matchup with Phoenix, it’s unfortunate that Jamario Moon is listed as doubtful. Moon is one of the Cavaliers’ most versatile and athletic defenders, a perfect matchup against an offense like Phoenix’s. Furthermore, you never know until game time whether Delonte West will be there or not, and even then you don’t know whether he’s in a good frame of mind until he actually steps on the court. Having Delonte would be huge in this matchup, though. While the Cavaliers’ perimeter defenders are excellent at closing out on shooters, they are porous when it comes to allowing opponents to slice right through them with ease. West is a huge help, particularly against Steve Nash.

The Suns’ starting lineup is phenomenal, but without Barbosa, their bench is shallow. This is partially neutralized without Moon, but the Cavaliers can still have a slight depth advantage (although the Suns bench players who do play are all superb players). The Suns also don’t have a ton of inside size or presence. This is where the Cavaliers can look to find an advantage. It is imperative that Shaq be on his game tonight, as the Suns really don’t have anyone who can matchup with him. And if Amare is going to have to be helping out a lot on Shaq, look for Hickson and Varejao to have some opportunities to cut without the basketball and get setup with easy looks.

The other area the Cavaliers must exploit is the Suns’ turnovers. Phoenix is apt to give away the ball, and the Cavaliers must be ready to amp up their transition game to take advantage of some opportunities for easy points. It will be vastly important that the Cavaliers do a better job protecting the ball as well. The Suns aren’t really a gambling defense and they certainly run more often off opponents misses rather than turnovers, but when they have the opportunity to run off a turnover, they will strike. The Cavaliers cannot afford to be careless once again with the ball.

Finally, watch the Cavaliers tonight and see if they can start moving the ball again. In their last 5 games they are averaging only 18.4 assists per game, which is way below their season average. There’s no reason for this other than laziness. We all know how good this team can be, even on offense, when they want to and when they actually try to move the ball around and run real sets. It’s when LeBron, Mo, and Shaq each start slowing things and pounding the life out of the ball while eating up precious time off the shot clock that the offense gets stagnant and people start just standing around. Hopefully the Cavaliers realize the importance of tonight’s game and can snap out of it against a mediocre at best defensive team.

Vegas Line

Phoenix –2.0
Over/Under 210

From The Outside Looking In

Bright Side of the Sun
Valley of the Suns

Deep Purple

Next Game For The Cavaliers

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
10:00 PM EST
Cleveland Cavaliers at Sacramento Kings

  • DCBucks

    Maybe one win this trip. That may be pushing it.

  • AMC

    Going into this trip, I would say this game was the most likely to be lost. After last night’s lackluster effort, I’d be VERY surprised if they rallied and won this one. 1-3 on the trip is very likely, and 0-4 is entirely possible.

  • Matt

    It’s just downright hard to watch the lack of effort. It really is. Full credit to the Shaq detractors of the Shaq deal last summer. I was willing to give the big man a big chance, but it’s clear he is wrecking this team. LOL @ the prospect of him playing three more seasons.

  • historycat

    Why is Shaq hanging out at the top of the key on Offense?

  • historycat

    Well the pace is pretty quick. Showing some effort I think. That’s good. We’ll see if that lasts especially if they get a lead.

  • historycat

    Aweful 3 point shooting but they are making up for it with blocks, steals, and taking care of the ball.

    Good to see.

  • Brick

    Wow. That under the defender’s legs pass has got to be one of my favorite LeBron assists of all time.

  • jcm

    This is the best I’ve seen the Cavs play all season.

  • Jack

    Haha, this is a hilarious series of comments…Delonte = Super Important

    And relax on Shaq everyone – Steve Kerr gets it; I don’t know why you don’t get it…

    …we’re talkin’ ’bout PLAYOFFS!

  • hansolo1


  • bitmatt

    Just checking-

    Is Anderson Varejao still not worth the money the Cavs are paying? A lot of people around here said he isn’t. I know plus/minus is not truly scientific measure of a player’s value, but he does sort of lead the world in that category.

    +21 tonight. The Cavs “small” lineup is murder.

  • Jack

    How does John Krolik blog for ESPN’s Daily Dime? He is a moron.

  • AMC

    Most inspired effort of the season. Coming into this game, I didn’t think the Cavs had a chance. They came out and played with passion for a full 48 minutes. Great effort at both sides of the floor. Standout performances by Mo, Andy and Delonte. Delonte being within the flow of the game is so huge for this team. I thought what distinguished this game was the Cavs’ play on the offensive end down the stretch. The offense did not stagnate, and the ball continued to move. Mo hit some nice outside shots, Andy played the pick and roll to perfection, and LeBron distributed nicely and made some of those maddening fade aways to put the final nail in the Suns’ coffin. Hopefully this win is something the Cavs can really build on.

  • historycat

    A complete game and they won despite not shooting well outside. This is what we thought the whole season would be like!

  • Natty The Dog

    Shaq still blew

  • JM

    Starting to notice a trend here. They are only really trying against good teams this year. They barely get by the average ones. Given that last year they lost I do not mind this strategy.

  • phil m

    @Bittmat: good point, but even putting stats aside, I am continually impressed by how big a difference Varejao makes in any given game when he’s on the floor. It’s all about hustle with him. One does wish Shaq or even Z had the same persistence and quickness, but their not having it most of the time makes Varejao all the more valuable. If Varejao had a mid-range shot like Z, he’d be a top-tier player.

  • Denny

    @ bitmatt re: Andy’s contract. When they signed him it seemed a bit high to me. At this point though I wouldn’t say that it’s overkill. His offense has steadily progressed this year and he’s playing just as hard as always (which doesn’t always happen after big contracts).