Finally. After what felt like an eternity (but was really 13 days) away from Cleveland, the Cavaliers (6-6) return home to take on the Golden State Warriors (4-8).
For both teams, this is an important, winnable game. Golden State, still trying to get their sea legs under new head coach Mark Jackson, come into this game looking to figure out how to win games on the road. The Warriors are just 1-4 on the road this year, including losses at Phoenix and at Charlotte, two places the Cavaliers recently came away with wins. After winning in Detroit Sunday night, though, their confidence will be up and if Stephen Curry actually plays, it could provide a huge boost to this team.
For the Cavaliers, they are staring at perhaps the most daunting stretch of their schedule after tonight. After tonight, their schedule through the end of February is Chicago, at Atlanta, at Miami, New York, New Jersey, at Boston, Boston, at Orlando, Dallas, at Miami, LA Clippers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Indiana, Miami, Sacramento, Detroit, New Orleans, Boston, at New York.
This is going to be the stretch that defines this team and gives them their identity. From January 31 to February 28 the Cavaliers play 11 home games and just 2 road games. So despite the difficult opponents, they will have all the comforts of home. With this stretch coming up ahead, the Cavaliers surely don’t want to drop their first home game in two weeks, a game against an opponent they should feel like they can beat.
I think some people feared things would start to unravel for the pesky young Cavaliers on the road trip. Instead, the team proved they can play with very good teams on the road and give themselves opportunities to win. The Cavaliers still need to learn how to win some of those games, but that will come with time. We watched it organically grow over 4 years with LeBron James, so no reason to expect results to be immediate with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Instead, as we’ve been saying all along, what’s important is improvement in the margins, a standard of improvement we have certainly seen coming to fruition so far this young season.
The Warriors have been playing without Stephen Curry who is recovering from an ankle injury. Despite some rumblings that he might try to play tonight, most people expect him to miss the game. If that’s the case, Jackson’s Warriors will use a starting lineup of Charles Jenkins, Monta Ellis, Dorrell Wright, David Lee, and Andris Biedrins. Some of their key reserves include Nate Robinson, Brandon Rush, Klay Thomspon (brother of Cavaliers’ reserve Mychal), Ekpe Udoh, and Dominic McGuire.
Once again the Cavaliers will be playing an offense eerily similar to their own. Check out these numbers. Points per game: Cleveland 96.5, Golden State 94.8. Points in the paint per game: Cleveland 43.8, Golden State 41.2. Fastbreak points per game: Cleveland 12.8, Golden State 12.5. Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 0.990, Golden State 0.989.
The key for the Cavaliers, in my opinion, will be to push the tempo as much as possible. Golden State may have the stereotype of an up tempo team, but they haven’t been playing that way this year. Their defense has been much better against half court sets than it has in open court situations. The Cavaliers need to push the tempo, get into the paint, and draw as many fouls as they can. The Warriors are another team that fouls a lot, and playing up tempo will put more pressure on them defensively.
A big matchup to watch in this one is Antawn Jamison and David Lee. Lee has been having a very strong year offensively for the Warriors and he can give Jamison some problems in the post. With Biedrin’s post presence forcing Varejao to perhaps play more honest and not offer help as quickly, it could create more space for Lee to isolate himself with Jamison on him. Tristan Thompson may be a better defensive matchup for Lee, but with Lee’s well known struggles on defense, Jamison could be looking at a huge game. Coach Scott will have to find that balance in his substitution patterns and player rotations.
Anthony Parker will miss tonight’s game, giving Daniel Gibson the start at the 2. I expect to see more minutes of Irving and Sessions playing together as a result. We haven’t seen a ton of Irving and Sessions together, but if the Cavaliers really do want to push the pace against the Warriors, having those two on the court together could really help to achieve that goal.