LAST TIME OUT
A win! The Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic 87-81 Thursday, snapping a 6-game losing streak at home. The Cavs played sluggishly without Kyrie Irving, struggling to have any offensive flow in regulation. Orlando held a 79-72 lead with a little over 20 seconds left, but the Cavs erased that as Dion Waiters took over, scoring the game-tying bucket to send it to OT at 79. In the extra period, Anderson Varejao had 6 points and 3 rebounds, taking his total up to a franchise record-tying 25 rebounds for the night, and the Cavs pulled off an ugly win.
THIS TIME UP
The Opponent: Brooklyn Nets
Record: 11-21 (6-9 home)
Tipoff: January 4th at 7:30 p.m. – Barclays Center
Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass
Where you can listen: WTAM 1100
Previous Matchup: 98-94 Cavaliers victory at Quicken Loans Arena – Oct. 30
Opponent’s Blog: From Russia With Dunk
Nets: F Andray Blatche (OUT, Personal Reasons), C Brook Lopez (OUT, Foot surgery), G Tyshawn Taylor (GAME-TIME DECISION, knee)
Cavaliers: PG Kyrie Irving (OUT, knee)
Missing: Cavaliers Offense, Please Call This Number If Found
I know the Cavaliers were missing Kyrie Irving on Thursday, but even without him, the offense has been nonexistent over the last two games. The Cavs scored 76 points against an admittedly juggernaut-esque Indiana defense, then 87 points in an OT game against a mediocre Orlando D. It appears that the Cavs really lose their ability to create shots without Irving, as only Waiters can really create off the dribble. Earl Clark was terrible Thursday shooting the ball, and the team just could not hit threes. The Nets’ defense is hilariously inefficient, giving up 109.7 points/100 possessions, but if the Cavs can’t get a strong offensive showing, the Nets might be able to have some success in limiting the Cavs too.
Same Record, Different Paths
This is a crossroads game featuring two teams with identical records, but much different paths of achieving these records. We know the Cavs’ struggles; a young core developing slowly while the veterans have struggled mightily. The Nets, however, are more of a product of a rookie head coach in way over his head, aging veterans getting hurt, and a lack of depth. Both teams will be without their best player as well, as Kyrie sits with a knee injury, and Brook Lopez is lost for the season with a foot fracture, his third in three years. These two teams represent cautionary tales of team building, as neither has been as good as expected. The Cavs have rushed a rebuilding plan, while the Nets had a veteran squad implode due to injury (Coincidentally, the Nets’ few young guys, especially Mason Plumlee, have played pretty well). Maybe one of these teams can rebound, but right now things look bleak for both, regardless of their roster buildup.
Attack the Glass
The Cavs hung around in the Orlando game because they got a monster effort from their rebounders, particularly Varejao. That allowed them to stick around until the final minute when Dion went off. Against Brooklyn, that strength is going to be key once again. With Lopez gone and Andray Blatche also possibly out, the Nets will be playing Plumlee, Garnett, and Reggie Evans a lot against the Cavs. Those three are all good rebounders. The Nets haven’t been a great rebounding team, likely because Evans rarely played early in the season and they’ve missed Andrei Kirilenko, but any time Garnett and Evans play together, the Cavs will have to be on their game. It will be important for the Cavs to get good rebounding efforts from Andy and Tristan Thompson, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of Earl Clark, Thompson and Varejao all playing together to capitalize on the rebounding battle.
Brooklyn’s actually playing decently right now, losing competitive games with Indiana and San Antonio this week before ripping off a huge comeback and beating Oklahoma City on the road Thursday. Without Kyrie to go up against Deron Williams, the Nets could have a huge advantage in the playmaking department, which will be tough to make up for. However, the Nets play at a terribly slow pace, and their defense is so bad, that the Cavs could stick in this one easily. I think this will be another grindy game, but Brooklyn’s actually looked half-decent this week, so I think the Nets pick up this win, and the Cavs will (hopefully) have Kyrie back for Sunday against Indiana.