Game 36: Cleveland Cavaliers at Utah Jazz Preview

Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

LAST TIME OUT

The Cleveland Cavaliers (12-23) took on the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday and routed Philadelphia by a score of 111-93. C.J. Miles set the franchise record with 10 threes in the game and Kyrie Irving also made his return from a left knee contusion to chip in 16 points. And in their last game of extended minutes, Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee combined to play 14 minutes and two points. All in all, this was a great night for the Wine & Gold.

THIS TIME UP

The Opponent: Utah Jazz

Record: 12-25 (7-10 home)

Tipoff: January 10th at 9:00 p.m. – Energy Solutions Arena

Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio/NBA League Pass

Where you can listen: WTAM 1100

Previous Matchup: January 9th, 2013 (Last Season) – Jazz 109, Cavaliers 98

Opponent’s Blog: Purple and Blues

Injury Report

Jazz: Gordon Hayward (QUESTIONABLE, hip flexor)

Cavaliers: Jarrett Jack (QUESTIONABLE, Back spasms)

Luol Deng makes his debut

It’s going to be a very interesting night in Utah, no matter what happens for the Wine & Gold and you can think Luol Deng for that. First and foremost, he is going to bring some legitimacy to the Cavaliers worst position and I think he will make this team instantly better on both ends. Deng just has a different skill set than anyone else on the Cavaliers roster and is a veteran who has won games when it really matters most. He doesn’t solve all of the Cavaliers problems and certainly doesn’t make them a real contender, but it’s still exciting to see the Cavaliers making moves that set them up to be more successful than they have been.

I also think it’s good because Deng will be making his debut on the road, away from Quicken Loans Arena. He can acclimate to his teammates in a relaxed setting and do so slowly. Although the personnel is somewhat the same in Chicago and Cleveland, the culture is different. The Cavaliers aren’t winners. They are dysfunctional and don’t really have a culture cohesive to winning. Deng represents a culture shift and it starts in Utah. I have a feeling this will start on a positive note.

The start of an important road trip

The Cavaliers are starting a five game road trip with their game agains the Jazz, and it’s an important stress for the Wine & Gold. As it stands, they have the fifth worst record in the NBA and would a lottery team with a decent chance of winning their third top pick in four seasons if the season ended today. However, under Dan Gilbert, his team is committed to winning right now – no matter how much they actually win – and having a successful road trip is their first step in making a push for the playoffs. And considering how dreadful the Eastern Conference is, a 4-1 or 3-2 trip could take the Cavaliers from bottom dwellers to a team on the verge of making the tip eight.

And as I alluded to above, this trip is important in building team chemistry and culture. There are four winnable games on this trip – with this Jazz game being the first. Over the course of these next few games, this team needs to acclimate Deng and get him into the flow as fast as possible. The sooner he meshes with the rest of the roster, the better. A win in Utah that sees the Cavaliers win convincingly would be a positive step for the Cavaliers as they try to start making a push for basketball after April.

Hayward is a litmus test for the Cavaliers defense

Of late, the Cavaliers have defended high usage wings well. In fact, since New York’s Carmelo Anthony went 12-19 from the field for 29 points against the Wine & Gold on December 10th, the Cavaliers have defended opposing wings well. Let’s take a look, shall we? (Note: All three of these players at Top-15 in usage at the small forward position).

  • January 4th, 2013 – Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets: 34 minutes, 6-14 shooting, 2-6 from three, 17 point
  • January 5th, 2013 – Paul George, Indiana Pacers: 36 minutes, 4-10 shooting, 2-6 from three, 16 points
  • January 7th, 2013 – Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers: 13 minutes, 2-13 shooting, four assists

Amongst shooting guards, Utah’s Gordan Hayward is tenth in usage (For comparison, Dion Waiters comes in at sixth). If that statistics are correct, then the Cavaliers appear to be a team that is fairly good at defending opposing wings. Granted, Pierce and George both scored a decent number of points, but below their season averages. Turner – who torched the Cavaliers for 26 points in the first Cavaliers-Sixers matchup – was taken out of the game. Hayward, while a nice player, is somewhere between George and Turner in terms of his ability. If the Cavaliers can limit him offensively and hold him in check, it will be a good indication that this team has improved on defense, especially on the wing. A year ago, the Cavaliers would have been ripped part by all of these wings. Even earlier this season, attacking on the wing would be sure way to score big on the Cavaliers. Considering their improvements of late, I think Hayward is a good test where this team is actual defending on the wing.

Prediction

Even without Deng, I think the Cavaliers are a far superior team than the Jazz. They have the ability to abuse them in every area and can take advantage of all of their weaknesses. Deng makes the gap between the teams even larger and Cleveland should take this game easily behind big nights from Irving, Deng and Waiters. Expect some struggles as Deng tries to get into the flow, but the Cavaliers will win this handily.  Give me Cleveland 100, Utah 92.

Topics: Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson

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