The Cleveland Cavaliers (1-1) head into Indianapolis tonight to take on the Indiana Pacers (2-0). For the Cavaliers, this will be their first test against a very good basketball team. Looking to build their first win streak of the season, the Cavaliers will need to not only match the effort they gave against the Pistons, but they will have to likely play even better.
The Pacers are off to a great start this year, playing pretty solid basketball in wins against the Pistons and Raptors. Head coach Frank Vogel will feature a starting lineup of Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert. The Pacers have also have quality bench guys like Tyler Hansbrough, George Hill, Dahntay Jones, and Lou Amundson.
The Cavaliers will likely once again feature a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao. So far this year, coach Byron Scott has used a wholesale 2nd unit of Ramon Sessions, Daniel Gibson, Alonzo Gee, Tristan Thompson, and either Ryan Hollins or Samardo Samuels. With as well as Samuels played against Detroit, it would be surprising to see him go back to Ryan Hollins, but if the 2nd unit is needed to match up with Indiana’s starters, Hibbert’s height could be problematic for Samuels. This may tempt Coach Scott to fall back on Hollins.
Once again, a major focus for the Cavaliers will be their defense, and primarily Kyrie Irving’s continued development in defending the pick and roll. Like fellow Georgetown center Greg Monroe, Hibbert is more of a post up, stay at home center, which should once again allow Anderson Varejao to be more helpful in cutting off both driving and passing lines. However, the Pacers are slightly different with David West. After years of executing nearly flawless pick and rolls with Chris Paul in New Orleans, West is the one who poses the most threat in the pick and roll game. This will offer a tough challenge for Antawn Jamison. If Jamison struggles defending West and helping Irving with the pick and roll defense, Coach Scott could decide to try breaking his routine of hockey style line changes and use a situational substitution of Tristan Thompson to see if he offers a better matchup.
For the Cavaliers on offense, we saw Kyrie Irving show flashes of why he was the first pick in the Pistons game. It was encouraging to see him bounce back from his disappointing debut and make his impact felt in game two. After a bit of a slow start against Detroit where Irving was once again being a little too passive and hesitant, he finally decided to do what he does best and make the offense run through him. The entire team responded and suddenly Irving was pushing tempo on the break, distributing great passes to guys cutting without the ball, setting up teammates for either an easy basket or an easy assist. Hopefully Irving can continue to build on that foundation and play more minutes and make an even bigger impact in this game.
The Cavaliers’ bench has been huge thus far this season. For the Pacers, while the bench should be one of their strong suits, they are struggling to find scoring. George Hill in particular has been struggling with his shot. The Pacers will be looking for better play out of that unit in this game. The Pacers’ reserves have been solid on defense, though, and it will be fun to watch these benches battle it out. Can the Cavaliers continue to find bench scoring from unexpected sources (Gee in game 1, Samuels in game 2) and can Tristan Thompson continue to provide a spark of energy, defense, and yes, even scoring, against a stout Pacers’ bench?
The Cavaliers had a lot going for them against Detroit. It was a good matchup schematically and there was a level of comfort and familiarity from having played them twice in the preseason. Indiana is a new challenge. Both the Pacers and the Cavaliers believe and hope that they are teams on the rise. However, the Pacers are clearly much farther along than the Cavaliers. The Pacers hope to be a legit player in the Eastern Conference. They will expect themselves to beat Cleveland, and rightfully so. But for a young team still trying to build confidence and an identity, the Pacers are a prime opponent to make a stand and prove that on any given night they can jump up and beat a playoff team. In that way, this is a bit of a measuring stick game for both teams. Can the Pacers put away teams they should beat? And can the Cavaliers show that their true identity is closer to the Pistons game than the Raptors game? Find out tonight at 7:00.