April 19, 2014

Cavaliers resume play this weekend to host Dallas Mavericks and visit Philadelphia 76ers

After three full days with no Cavaliers basketball, the team returns to action tonight at 7 p.m. for its first home game in two weeks against the Dallas Mavericks. Then, less than 24 hours later, Cleveland hits the road to take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Coming off a 1-5 road trip, it should be a huge relief for the Cavaliers to finally play against at the Q this evening. But, the competition doesn’t get significantly easier as these two opponents both figure to be better than Cleveland at contend for the playoffs in their respective conferences.

However, both teams have some notable changes since the Cavs last played each in the 2011-12 season. Let’s go into bullet-point format to share some of these key storylines about the Mavs, 76ers and the Cavs:

This current Dallas team hardly resembles the one that won the NBA Finals in 2010-11, let alone even the one that failed to make the playoffs last season. Sitting on a lot of cap room in the offseason, Mark Cuban failed to make as big a splash as he had hoped, but still managed to add several intriguing pieces to the puzzle. New additions include guards O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones, forwards Elton Brand and Troy Murphy, and center Chris Kaman. Then you’ve also got rookies Jae Crowder, Bernard James and Jared Cunningham1.

Of course, future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has missed every game thus far and figures to miss a large chunk of this early season. But yet, 10 of the 15 Mavericks to record a single minute of playing time this season were not on the team last year — or better yet, 70.3% of the minutes played are by newbies. That’s an incredible amount of roster turnover in the NBA, especially for a team still expected to compete for the playoffs this year.

Newcomers Mayo (21.8 pts, 58.5% from threes), Collison (14.3 pts, 6.7 assists) and Kaman (15.6 pts, 6.3 rebs) have shined thus far, as Kaman’s been an efficient scorer and rebounder in the low post when healthy, while Mayo is leading the league by quite a bit with 3.4 made three-pointers per game. This remains a very dangerous offensive team even without Dirk — they rank 4th in the league with a 105.4 offensive efficiency metric — and they could cause plenty of problems for the inconsistent Cavs tonight.

Next up on the schedule, the Philadelphia 76ers remain without recent addition Andrew Bynum2, another All-Star that would have caused more even more matchup problems for the Cavaliers this weekend. Even without the big man in the middle, the 76ers held on for an impressive 99-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night. This is a relatively slow-paced, plodding, defensive-focused team under Doug Collins, but one that still struggles on the offensive side.

On the pace-adjusted efficiency side of things, Philadelphia is fourth in defensive efficiency at 96.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. On the flip side, the Cavs are last by quite a bit at 107.8, with the league average being 99.9. A year after being the worst three-point shooting team in NBA history, the 76ers now have a little more offensive firepower by adding guards Jason Richardson (9.8 pts, but currently hurt), Dorrell Wright (12.0 pts) and Nick Young (8.8 pts) while swapping out All-Star Andre Iguodala in the Bynum deal.

But thus far, all three players have started out relatively slow shooting-wise. In fact, Philadelphia’s 77-62 win over New Orleans last week might stand as one of the most boring games all year in the NBA. The biggest bright spot thus far has been young guard Jrue Holiday (18.3 pts, 8.8 assists), who has blossomed into one of the premier young guards in the league, so Kyrie Irving will certainly have his hands full on the defensive side. A win here would be great, as the 76ers will become one of the better teams in the East with Bynum back on the court.

Finally, I wanted to take a look at some of the numbers that have been floating around the Internet over the past few days. As has been reported nearly everywhere, the Cavs starting lineup of Irving-Waiters-Gee-Thompson-Varejao leads the NBA in plus/minus this season with a +55. That’s quite impressive and something that really should stand out in several ways. Obviously, this team’s core group of young players is improving and the starting lineup is worthy of playoff contention. After that, however, the team clearly stinks as we have an overall net plus/minus as a team this year of -55.

So yes, I hope you read that correctly. That means in all other minutes when the starting five is not on the court intact, the Cavaliers have lost by 110 points in just eight games. Let’s look at things on a per-minute basis now:

Unit Minutes Plus/Minus Per 48Mins
Starting Five 144.87 +55 +18.22
All Others 239.13 -110 -22.08
Team Overall 384.00 -55 -6.88

 

Isn’t that just extraordinary? So not only does the +55 now look even more amazing by being +18.23 per 48 minutes — which would easily stand as the greatest NBA team of all-time — but then the -110 is even worse. A -22.08 margin is nearly 10 points worse than what the Charlotte Bobcats did as a team last season (-13.9) in the worst year in league history.

So yes, these are obviously small sample sizes. And from just glancing through NBA.com, it appears that the Cavs’ starting five minutes ranks among the top 10 in the league, and I’m certain that that 37.7% mark of starting five minutes to overall team minutes also is one of the highest. But I stand firmly in the same court as Kirk and Ryan from this site in proclaiming that either Dion Waiters or Kyrie Irving should be on the court at all times.

Thus far, Kyrie has played 280:33 minutes and Dion has played 233:09 minutes. But of these minutes, 201:13 have been played together. So, doing a little math, that still leaves 18.6% of the team’s overall minutes — or 9 minutes per night — when neither Kyrie or Dion is on the court. That’s still way too high and hopefully that’s one little thing we see differently when the Cavaliers return to the court tonight at home.

(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

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Footnotes:

  1. Of special note, the Cavaliers made a draft day deal with the Mavs, acquiring pick No. 17 (Tyler Zeller, who’ll return to action tonight) for No. 24 (Cunningham), No. 33 (James) and No. 34 (Crowder). []
  2. Bynum will be out until at least mid-December now, but it shouldn’t matter too much in the playoff race; the East is wide open enough after Miami that the 76ers should still be able to hold on for a top four seed. []