Game 51: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Preview

Jan 28, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving reacts in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

LAST TIME OUT

The Cleveland Cavaliers put forth one of their better efforts in recent memory on Friday, taking down the Washington Wizards by a final score of 115-113. Behind standout games from both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers were able to get ahead and withstood a late push from the Wizards to hold on and win their first game in the David Griffin era.

THIS TIME UP

The Opponent: Memphis Grizzles

Record: 27-22 (14-8 at home)

Tipoff: 6 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Ohio

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

Where you can listen: WTAM 1100

Previous Matchup: Memphis 103, Cleveland 92 – March 8th, 2013

Opponent’s Blog: Beale Street Bears

Injury Report

Grizzlies: G Mike Conley (OUT – ankle)

Cavaliers: None

 Can the Cavaliers finish at the rim?

The Cavaliers have really struggled to score at the rim this season, as their Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters-centric offense struggles nightly in the restricted area. Both are shooting well below 50 percent at the rim. Part of that isn’t their fault, as the Cavaliers do often clog the paint and there isn’t any space for Irving or Waiters to rise up near the rim. Still, there is something to be said that the Cavaliers aren’t capable of scoring in the paint.

One thing that will help the Cavaliers is getting Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson going. If they can get Varejao going in the mid-range – or at least get him consistent touches at the elbow – they can use him as a facilitator. And if they can have Varejao facilitating, this can pull Marc Gasol away from the rim and potential lead to easy buckets. Then again, the Cavaliers don’t usually run plays that fit their personal.

Tristan Thompson vs. Zach Randolph – a case study

Tristan Thompson has been awful of late. He is playing some of the worst basketball of his career, particularly against athletic power forwards like Terrence Jones of the Houston Rockets. Earlier in the season, we saw Thompson take real strides on the defensive end and have some success in slowing down elite power forwards like Kevin Live and LaMarcus Aldridge. But of late, Thompson has regressed and it’s hurt the Cavaliers defense as a whole.

Today, against the Grizzlies, Thompson is set up for success against Zach Randolph. Randolph does a few things amazingly well, all of which come off how is able to place himself on the block and establish position. In theory, Thompson is strong and athletic enough to stop Randolph from getting in position and just overwhelming him on the block. If Thompson can slow down Randolph well enough, we can be a little less worried about his recent stretch of play. But if he gets beat up and destroyed? I think it’s time to worry about Thompson.

Pace, Pace, Pace, Pace, Pace, Pace

Memphis plays at the league’s slowest pace and they are excellent at getting teams to play their style – the grit and grind, dragged out style. This is how they were able to take down the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs last season and it makes them a tough out for teams if they can make the postseason again. Not having Mike Conley and Tony Allen obviously makes this more difficult for them to implement, but it’s still possible.

For the Cavaliers to win this game, they need to get out in space and push as much as possible. If they settle into half-court set after half-court set, they are going to get trounced by the Grizzlies. Although they have some personal capable of playing in a half-court set, each one of their players is truly better out in space. And with Gasol anchoring the Grizzlies’ defense at the rim, they need to beat him down the floor.

And their play space will even help their half court sets. For instance, if Thompson can get a few buckets out in space, maybe it gets him going on the block. It doesn’t solve every issue, but it can’t hurt.

Prediction

Even without Conley and Allen, the Grizzlies are tough shell for the Cavaliers to crack. I see Memphis controlling the tempo and stifling the Cavaliers attack on the inside, thus making the Cavaliers win by hitting their jumpers. And because this is the Cavaliers that just isn’t likely. I’ll take Memphis 98, Cleveland 90.

Topics: Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dion Waiters, Jarrett Jack, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson

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