July 23, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers End Latest Road Trip in Memphis Tonight

The Cleveland Cavaliers had an interesting Thanksgiving weekend. Last Wednesday they got things started with a big win at home against Philadelphia to end their losing streak. Jeremy Pargo had an absolutely insane breakout game in filling in for Kyrie Irving.

Unfortunately, the Cavaliers had to follow that up with another road trip. This one a three-game trip, and they have already lost the first two. Now they have to recover and try to beat one of the best teams in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies.

The good news for the Cavaliers is that they’ve been playing pretty decent basketball without Kyrie. I know, giving up 108+ points in consecutive losses hardly sounds like decent basketball, but really, it hasn’t been so bad. The team has stepped up and been able to get really even scoring distribution and have had their chances to win each of the last two games.

In fact, against the Heat the Cavaliers had eight (EIGHT!) players score in double digits and picked up 21 assists to just 10 turnovers. The problem, as always, is defense. The Cavaliers just can’t help themselves and routinely give up 50%+ from the field and 100+ points like it was nothing.

The Cavaliers give up the second-most points, have the third-worst defensive efficiency, give up the worst eFG%, and allow the sixth-most fastbreak points per game in the NBA. I know this isn’t news, but these rankings are atrocious and they tell the story. Until the Cavaliers can learn to get some stops, particularly in the fourth quarter, they are going to continue to lose games.

The Grizzlies are going to be an especially difficult challenge. Coming in with the NBA’s best record at 9-2, the Grizzlies create so many problems for their opponents. The Grizzlies are fourth in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency. They don’t turn the ball over, they get 2nd chance opportunities from offensive rebounds, and they excel at getting to the free throw line.

The Grizzlies frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol might be the best frontcourt in the NBA. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson are definitely going to have their work cut out for them. The Grizzlies are the 3rd best offensive rebounding team and the Cavaliers are the 5th best defensive rebounding team. Whichever side can control the glass when the Cavaliers are on defense will go a long way toward building an advantage by neutralizing their opponent’s strength.

It’s not just the frontcourt that can hurt you, though. The Grizzlies backcourt tandem is not one to be overlooked. Point guard Mike Conley is having another solid season and small forward Rudy Gay is still one of the best offensive small forwards in the NBA. With so many different ways to score and create from so many different positions, the Grizzlies should give the Cavaliers defense nightmares.

The Grizzlies defense is exceptionally stout in the half court set. But they are vulnerable to teams who can get out and run and create some transition opportunities. This is further reason why the Cavaliers’ defensive rebounding in this game will be so important. The Cavaliers need to limit the Grizzlies’ scoring chances, and then create fastbreak chances the other way off Memphis misses.

If you give the Grizzlies a chance to get their defense set, it’s tough to get much inside with Gasol in the paint. Randolph isn’t known for his defense by any means, but he’s another big body that can clog the lane defensively. Mike Conley is a capable defender at the point as well. Essentially, you don’t want to let the Grizzlies dictate style of play.

The Grizzlies have only failed to score 100 points four times, going 2-2 in those games. They’re 7-0 in the games they do score 100. They’ve only given up 100 points once (an opening night loss in Los Angeles to the Clippers). The Grizzlies will impose their will on you, and it’s tough to stop.

So what can the Cavaliers do to win this game without Kyrie Irving? They’ll need a few things to happen. The two teams to beat the Grizzlies did it with their defense. The Cavaliers will need Varejao/Thompson/Tyler Zeller/Samardo Samuels (or whoever the fourth man Byron Scott decides to use happens to be) to limit the damage from Z-Bo and Gasol inside. Someone on the Cavaliers’ backcourt will need to disrupt Conley from setting things up as much as possible.

On offense, the Cavaliers need to be efficient in transition, and they will likely need a couple guys to get hot from outside. The Grizzlies focus on making life difficult inside in the half court set, but they will give teams a decent look every now and then from three. Whether it be Gibson, Waiters, Pargo, or Gee, someone needs to be ready to knock down those open looks when there.

Make no mistake, this is a tough matchup for the Cavaliers. A lot needs to go their way to win this game. The biggest thing will be whether the Cavaliers can find a way to get stops on defense. You have to beat the Grizzlies with defense, and beating teams with defense hasn’t been the Cavaliers’ M.O. But as they say, that’s why they play the games. Anything can happen. Nobody thought the Cavaliers could compete with Miami in South Beach, but they did. Now they need to play just a little bit better in Memphis.

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Image Source: David Liam Kyle

  • Lyon25

    I see TT getting into early foul trouble. ZBo is so good at the midrange game he’ll have TT out of position and TT tends to foul when people drive on him.

    Lets hope we can impose our will and maybe get to use the small ball lineup that seemed to work well against Miami

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I actually think it’s easier to impose your style on Miami than it is on Memphis. The Grizzlies remind me a lot of the 2009 and 2010 Cavaliers in that way. Equally efficient on both ends and require opponents to play their absolute best to beat them.

  • mgbode

    what about a team that is terrible at frontcourt defense? will Memphis pose issues on a team like that?

    (I might skip watching this game – if only there was a better MNF game on tonight)

  • mgbode

    gah. i’m an idiot. i have nfl-replay. i’ll watch Pitt fumble the ball another 8 times tonight and throw another 3 INTs :)

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    If you really didn’t watch the game, I officially deem you the team’s unlucky charm and forbid you from watching anymore games against good opponents, haha.

  • mgbode

    I did skip the game. But, I watched them snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory against plenty of other teams this year (the Heat the most recent example before last night).
    Funny that the box score appears it played out as I feared. They could do what they wanted in the frontcourt. Did Memphis just not go to the well enough there? Or were we doing something to somehow mitigate them getting chances despite them being incredibly efficient when they got those chances?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Well, they definitely missed Conley. Their offense was so out of sync without him. They never looked like they were running real sets other than the first and last 5 minutes of the game. Tristan had issues with Z-Bo of course, but Z-Bo also made some really tough shots, as he is prone to do. Varejao was great defensively in this game, though.

    I think the biggest thing was Gibson played so many minutes, and he was really disrupting Memphis from getting into their offense. Say what you will about Gibson, but there’s no question how hard he has worked on his defense over his career to make himself into an ok defender. Hopefully he can pass on some of that process to Kyrie.

  • porckchopexpress

    Cavs kept the turnover battle close, but most importantly didn’t let the Grizz get into transition – Gay was had a pretty quiet night, right up until the end -not having Conley helped this, but if one of these teams is playing the “missing point guard hurt us” card, it wasn’t Memphis.

    Biggest thing was keeping them off of the offensive glass. Andy swallowed up 2nd chance shots, every Memphis game I watch I think Randolph gets 6-8 points off of put backs and those opportunites weren’t there. TT didn’t have a great statistical game but he battled his butt off against that front court. Having watched him stand his ground against the NBA’s King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd, I felt really good about him today.

  • mgbode

    thank you sir. between you and PCE, I think I have a good feel for the game now. I might try to catch it online sometime.
    and, Gibson has been pretty good this year. the last 2 years his defense has improved leaps and bounds but his shot has alluded him. this year he seems to have put it together. if only injuries didn’t rob him of that time to mature on the court earlier. ah well.

  • mgbode

    much appreciated.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I’ll actually even go so far as to say that I’m not opposed to re-signing Gibson next year if the annual price is reasonable. From an attitude and hard work point of view, he’s a valuable commodity. And heck, considering he was a 2nd round pick, his on court contributions are nothing buy gravy.