August 26, 2014

Kyrie-less Cavaliers Play Milwaukee In Battle of Could-be 8-seeds

Jackson and Jennings, the Odd Couple?

The Cleveland Cavaliers (10-14, 10th in the East) will once again try to win without the services of Kyrie Irving. The rookie PG and growing team leader and developing impact player will miss all of this weekend’s games as he tries to recover from his concussion.

Friday night, it will be the Milwaukee Bucks (11-14, 8th in the East) who will visit The Q to try to do what the LA Clippers could not. The Cavaliers will once again be without Irving and starting SG Anthony Parker, but they will certainly be relieved to welcome Tristan Thompson back into the lineup.

The Bucks are not without injury issues of their own, as Andrew Bogut remains out with an ankle fracture. Ersan Ilyasova is also listed as day-to-day. So the starting lineup for the Cavaliers will be Ramon Sessions, Daniel Gibson, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao while for the Bucks it will be Brandon Jennings, Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Drew Gooden.

The Cavaliers, Bucks, and Knicks could (COULD) very well battle for the 8 seed in the East all year long, so it would have been nice to see both teams battle at full strength, but instead fans will have to settle for slightly wounded versions of the teams.

The Bucks are pretty similar to the Cavaliers in that they are a feisty team who has some big wins against some very good opponents (Miami and the Lakers included) but have also suffered some baffling defeats at the hands of inferior opponents (including Detroit and Charlotte). The Bucks sputtered out of the gate, starting 4-9 in their first 13 games. Since then, though, they have started to turn things around going 7-5 in their last 2 games.

Brandon Jennings has been solid again this season and Ramon Sessions will have to be active on defense to keep up with Jennings. Jon Leuer has been a pleasant rookie surprise, and Mike Dunleavy and Drew Gooden have been having pretty good seasons. But the issue for Milwaukee has been the disappointing play of Stephen Jackson.

Jackson, brought in both to mentor and to compliment Brandon Jennings on the court, has been a bit of a nightmare. He’s playing some of the worst basketball of his career (his PER is the lowest it’s been since the 2002 season when he was in San Antonio) and he is starting to become unhappy and vocal about it in Milwaukee. The Bucks need better and more consistent play out of Captain Jack if they are going to solidify their spot in the East’s Top 8.

For Cleveland, you have to feel that Anderson Varejao is a lot happier seeing Drew Gooden at C then he would be with Bogut. With Gooden there, I feel the advantage is strongly on Cleveland’s side. However, Drew Gooden is an underrated basketball player who is often overlooked because of his aloofness. If you give him room to make plays, he is still a dynamic scorer out of the post. Varejao can’t be complacent tonight.

The Bucks have been one of the NBA’s disappointments this season. However, they’re trying to get things turned around. In their mind, winning a game in Cleveland against the Cavaliers (without Kyrie Irving) is precisely the kind of thing teams who make the playoffs should do. But it shouldn’t be easy. If Antawn Jamison can continue to play good ball, Daniel Gibson can continue to play suffocating defense and get his shot working again, and Tristan Thompson can revitalize the bench unit, then I like Cleveland’s chances in this game.