“Are the Cavaliers at home or on the road tonight?”
If you ever find yourself pondering this question, there’s a simple exercise to help you figure out the answer.
Step 1: Look at a Calendar and notice the month
Step 2: If the calendar says “November” the Cavaliers are almost certainly playing on the road.
The end. The Cavaliers are basically living out of suitcases in November thanks to an unfriendly schedule draw to start the season. On Wednesday night the Cavaliers must travel north to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves for what feels like about the 20th road game of the season1. While playing on the road obviously isn’t preferred over playing at home, it certainly isn’t the end of the world for most teams. For the Cavaliers, it has been.
The Cavaliers join the Utah Jazz as the only 0-5 teams on the road this season2. Cleveland could certainly use a road win to get this monkey off their back, but breaking the streak in Minnesota is no small task.
Sure, the Cavaliers already beat the Timberwolves once this year. Any Cleveland fan who survived watching that game without suffering a heart attack most definitely remembers it well. In that game, the Cavaliers held Minnesota to 36.2% shooting from the field, 17.9% shooting from the three-point line, had 10 steals, 12 blocks, and contained Kevin Love to a season low 17 points……and the Cavaliers had to survive Love missing a three-pointer at the buzzer to win.
The odds of the Cavaliers holding Minnesota to those kind of shooting numbers again are somewhat slim. Cleveland needs to begin to discover their offense to be able to offset what will likely be a worse defensive performance than last time. The idea was supposed to be that Andrew Bynum would be a big part of that offensive transformation.
Indeed, Bynum has been permanently placed into the starting lineup. After Monday’s game, Bynum said the team would work on running the offense through him during Tuesday’s practice. Wednesday’s game was supposed to be where the fruit of those efforts would begin to pay off. Unfortunately, Bynum has been excused from the team for a personal family medical issue and he will not be available against the Wolves. Tough luck for a Cavaliers team that could desperately use some road luck.
The Timberwolves (5-3) are agonizingly close to being 7-1. They overcame a 23 point deficit in Cleveland to wind up falling just short of pulling off the win, and Monday they once again made a late push against the Clippers, only to fall 2 points short at the buzzer. In other words, the Timberwolves are looking really good so far this season. Kevin Love is having an MVP caliber year, averaging 26.4 points and 15.0 rebounds per game with a league best 29.13 PER. Kevin Martin is 6th in the NBA in scoring at 24.6 points per game. Ricky Rubio is 4th in the NBA in assists per game, averaging 8.9 per contest.
Cleveland may not be able to match their defensive performance of last week against them, but they can still do some of the same things to try to slow down the Wolves’ scoring attack as much as they can. Cleveland’s best chance in this game, though, will likely be to take advantage of Minnesota’s bench. The Wolves are dead last in bench scoring and 29th in the NBA in opponents bench scoring.
CJ Miles has been simply great for the Cavaliers off the bench. CJ is averaging 12.6 ppg off the bench, but as a testament to his overall impact on the team, he is actually 20th in the NBA in Efficiency Rating at 22.72. Not having Andrew Bynum weakens the bench as Anderson Varejao moves back into the starting lineup, but the Cavaliers still need to take advantage of one of the areas they should have a clear advantage.
Of course, none of this really matters at all unless Kyrie Irving can begin to find his shot. I know much has been written and said in recent days about Kyrie’s relatively mediocre start to the season and Mike Brown’s tongue lashing he gave to Irving last game, but as I’ve been saying all along, Kyrie’s overall game is fine. He’s playing as a more complete player than we’ve ever seen. He simply needs to start knocking down some of the shots we’re all accustomed to seeing him make. Once the shots start falling for Kyrie, many other aspects of the Cavaliers’ offensive game will fall into place.
There’s no doubt the start to the Cavs season hasn’t been as smooth as many had hoped. Perhaps the opening night win over Brooklyn set a few standards too high3. Whatever the case, there’s no reason to lose hope and get all worked up this early in the season.
Some will look at this Minnesota game as a real chance to get blown out and a potentially ugly game. Maybe they’re right. But I see it as yet another opportunity for the Cavaliers. An opportunity to face a real test in a legit Western Conference contender. You don’t learn much about yourself in beating inferior opponents, but playing hard and sneaking away with a road win against a quality opponent is exactly the kind of thing that can begin to turn this season around for the Cavaliers. I hope they can make the most of this opportunity.
Image: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
it’s actually “only” the 6th road game of the season [↩]
there are a few 0-3 road teams as well…Brooklyn, Detroit, Chicago, and Memphis…Orlando is 0-4 on the road [↩]
Ironically, when the Cavaliers subsequently lost to the Bobcats on their home opener, I saw more than a few Cavs fans write it off as acceptable because it’s hard to beat teams on their home openers….perhaps that’s a factor in how and why the Cavaliers beat the Nets in the first place [↩]