Cleveland 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.
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.