Update: Dwight Howard will start for the Los Angeles Lakers tonight.
Records aside, the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-29, 5-17 away) may have a worthy opponent in the race for most frustrating NBA team to watch this season. After making moves for All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard – and Cleveland favorite Antawn Jamison – you would think that by 36 games through the season that they would have figured things out already, right? Sitting at 15-21, good for 11th in the Western Conference, they have been a reoccurring joke so far in their time together. Whether it’s Kobe Bryant putting up 30 to 40 points in losing efforts, Howard being sent to the free throw line or the failings of Pau Gasol, this team is a downright mess.
Think that the Cavaliers are any better? I could make an argument for that. With Gasol and Howard (along with backup center Jordan Hill and guard Steve Blake) out for Sunday’s matchup with the Cavaliers, the Wine and Gold may stand a chance inside. Although an embarrassing defensive performance from Tyler Zeller on Kosta Koufos may say otherwise, I would give Zeller and Tristan Thompson the advantage over Laker starters Robert Sacre and Earl Clark respectively. Before we speak more on the matchup that head coach Mike D’Antoni labeled the start of “the biggest thing in (their) season,” here is some information to get you ready for the game:
Opponent’s Blog: Lake Show Life (15-21, 10-9 home)
Venue: STAPLES Center – Los Angeles, California
Tipoff: Sunday, January 13 at 9:30 p.m.
Betting Line: Lakers by -7.5
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio
Where you can listen: WTAM (1100 AM), WFUN (970 AM)
This will be the last time that Kobe and Kyrie face off each other before they (hopefully) play for $50,000 this upcoming summer. After Irving turned heads as a member of the USA Select Team – the squad that pushes and challenges Team USA before Olympic matches – he then went on to talk some trash to one of the NBA’s all-time greatest scorers. Since then, Irving has had the best of the Laker star in regards to the scoreboard. Cleveland came away with a 100-94 victory despite sputtering in the second half earlier in the season. Behind Kobe’s 42 points (16-of-28 from the field), he received little to no help from his teammates.
Dwight Howard did, however, dominate Anderson Varejao on the boards (Lakers outrebounded Cavs 54-43), but neither will be suiting up tonight. With Gasol also on the bench and Thompson finally coming into his own, it will be a good chance for the sophomore power forward to show off his strength in the paint. He will have the advantage down low, as the Lakers have struggled defending the low post. They have allowed 48.0 points per game in the paint over the last three contests, ranking them second to last in the league. The Cavaliers have performed well in that same capacity and time frame, ranking fourth overall in the Association.
Something that will stay the same in the second and last matchup between the two teams this season is the starting role of C.J. Miles. With Waiters out when the units met on December 11, Miles took over at the two and recorded his second-best game of the season offensively. His hot hand from three (5-of-10 from beyond the arc) accounted for over half of his 28 points. Irving, who had the same scoring output, also chronicled 11 assists and six rebounds. The starters did their part, but with the way that Alonoz Gee has been playing as of late, Cleveland’s weakness will be at the three on both ends of the game.
Metta World Peace is still one of the more aggressive and pesky defenders in the league; not to mention he has been doing his part on offense as well, averaging 13.8 points this season. Every other starting positional matchup, depending on who head coach Byron Scott wants to match up against Kobe, doesn’t have me worried besides whatever the man in charge decides to do with Gee.
Gee is, according to Scott, the team’s best on-the-ball defender, and we saw flashes of that on Friday against the Denver Nuggets when he would force an opponent to his weak side. I don’t think he will be able to do that with much success on Sunday. A team that already ranks 25th in the league in terms of points allowed will have to work the backups in order to sweep the Lakers and send them into further turmoil.