The Cavaliers are faced with a cold reality as they get prepared to take on the Sixers tonight at home after two days off. They’re a 2-8 basketball team on a six-game losing streak that just got considerably worse for the foreseeable future. With Kyrie Irving sidelined for the next four weeks, the Cavaliers lose not only their most important offensive player, but their only consistent creator. It will take a lot of out-of-character efforts and hard-nosed defense to make not only tonight’s clash against the 7-4 Philadelphia 76ers, but the next 15 games, watchable for more than the most diehard Cavalier fans.
In Kyrie’s absence, Jeremy Pargo will start at the point guard slot. The 6’2″ Gonzaga alum had been relegated to the inactive list for the first several games, but Donald Sloan and the bench’s overall ineffectiveness forced Byron Scott to give the 26-year-old another look. While Sloan probably takes care of the ball a little better and may be a better passer, Pargo has a little more pep in his step and could conceivably score from time to time. In 12 minutes in Philly on Sunday, Pargo canned a pair of three balls for his six points. The Cavaliers could really use 15-20 effective minutes out of Pargo at the bare minimum to keep the next 15 games competitive.
It won’t just be Pargo, however, that shoulders the extra load with Irving out of the lineup. The two most obvious fallbacks would be the Cavs’ pair of shooting guards, Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson. Through ten games, despite what Byron has called it, we’ve seen plenty of time with Dion as the de facto point guard. He brings the ball up the court, initiates the offense, and is the man reversing the ball often times. With no other discernible source of offensive firepower, it’s time to unleash Waiters, give him the 20 shots he so desires, and truly see what high-end production looks like for the Syracuse kid. Sure, Waiters is just 9-for-45 from the field in his last three games to plummet his season shooting percentage to under 39%, but what do the Cavaliers have to lose? If I’m Coach Scott, I’m telling Waiters to attack the basket at will and draw defenders to open teammates up for open shots. It’s been said in football that quarterbacks can “throw receivers open”. In essence, with Dion quarterbacking the offense, whether in title or not, with players like Tristan Thompson, Anderson Vareajo, and Tyler Zeller being asked to score, Dion must strive for the same thing. You’re bound to get another 3-for-16 clunker or two, but you’re also probably going to have a couple 11-for-20 occurrences that result in a Cavalier victory.
Pargo will roll with the starting five, but we’re undoubtedly looking at a Waiters-Gibson backcourt closing out close games (hopefully tonight’s included). Gibson’s been the beacon of scoring hope in an dark abyss of moving parts and fundamental failures off the bench. To pull him off the bench would be a critical miscalculation at this point, in my opinion. Take him out of the picture, and you’re number one offensive option in that second unit becomes Tyler Zeller or C.J. Miles, who is still looking for that illusive broad side of the barn.
More than anything, this game isn’t about the Sixers, who are a very good team, a playoff team, in their own right. It’s not even about the absence of Irving, which looked at in a one-game sample is bound to happen from time to time. To me, it’s more about the desire of the bench to become at least average and the defensive intensity building up steam. We saw small stretches of it at home against Dallas, and we caught extended stretches of it when the Cavaliers fell to the Sixers by 7 three days ago after holding them to 43% shooting. This team has capable defenders in Gee, Miles, Gibson, Thompson, and Varejao. With Kyrie, the source of some undeniable and soon-to-be-documented defensive lapses1, sitting on the sidelines, does Pargo, Waiters, Sloan, or whoever is going to guard Jrue Holiday and eventually Nick Young make it a point of pride to slow them down? Can someone keep the opposing point from setting up shop in the lane, leading to inevitable alley-oops, slams, and lay-ins for Young and Hawes?
Without Andrew Bynum, there’s nothing that makes this Sixers team profoundly better than the Cavaliers. But, if the Cavaliers spend time licking their wounds on offense instead of gut-checking and rallying behind their leader in Varejao on defense, it could be a long night at The Q.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."