1. How will the Kyrie Irving/Russell Westbrook showdown play out?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: Although a fully healthy Westbrook is without question a better player than Irving right now, I don’t think the gap is as large as it would appear. Irving is usually given fits when the point guard he is going up against is physical with him and can match his every move. Westbrook is definitely an elite athlete but I don’t know if he’s capable of fully slowing down Irving and I doubt that even more considering he is still working himself back from knee injury. And with Westbrook still having his minutes limited, expect this be a rather aniclimatic showdown between two of the league’s very best.
Andrew Kennedy, Thunderous Intentions EIC: Russell is still just in his third game back. He’s on a minutes restriction of around 24-25 per game so we won’t see a ton of him. Westbrook’s still been agressive defensively in the last few games, making plays for the Thunder and I think he will be able to do some of the same tonight. Kyrie is very savvy and has had success against the Thunder before. I think Kyrie will be able to take advantage of the Thunder when they gamble on defense. Overall, OKC probably won’t allow Kyrie to go off.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: Well, Russ can actually play defense, so I’m leaning towards Westbrook destroying Kyrie. Really, the only chance Irving has of beating Westbrook is with his quickness, but Westbrook has demonstrated so far that his knee looks fairly healthy. Even though he’s still on a minute restriction and he doesn’t look completely cohesive with the team, he’s still far more athletic than Kyrie is, and has something to prove after listening to “ARE THE THUNDERZ BETTER WITHOUT WESTBROOKS????” idiocy for two months. I do not have high hopes for Irving in this matchup.
2. Jeremy Lamb has made huge strides in his second NBA season. What’s been Lamb’s biggest area of improvement, and how can he hurt the Cavs the most?
CM: Lamb is finishing at the rim better and actually seeing consistent playing time – both of which are huge improvements. However, he will do most of his damage against the Cavaliers as a spot-up shooter. The Cavaliers struggle as a team when rotating on defense enough as is and they are still without Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles. Without Miles and Waiters, Cleveland will be relying on the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Jarrett Jack to limit Lamb and keep their eye on him at all times. If the Thunder can exploit this, Lamb could potentially have a huge night – especially from deep.
AK: Well, the biggest area of improvement is simply that he is on the floor. We always knew he was talented and he’s been confident enough this season to be productive at times. He is as smooth a shooter as you’ll find in the NBA and may be able to hurt the Cavs with spot-up three-pointers if left open. He is still developing a nice two-man game alongside Nick Collison with the second unit. Lamb has been quiet since Russell’s return so he may be due for a bigger game tonight.
TM: Lamb’s biggest improvement this year has been an area that fellow 2nd-year guy Dion Waiters has really struggled with this year: finishing at the rim. In limited action last year, Lamb hit 40 percent at the rim, which is really, really bad. He flashed a really strong outside game, but this seemed like a big weakness. This year, he’s finishing 69.5 percent at the rim, a fantastic number that Cavs fans might find unfathomable given the team-wide struggles in this. In addition, he’s shown an improved mid-range game and is beginning to figure out defensive basketball.
3. Kendrick Perkins will be out about six weeks with a groin injury. How will the Thunder adapt and are they more dangerous with him not on the floor?
CM: The Thunder will adapt by playing to the strengths of their roster and playing at a high pace with Kevin Durant playing the four. They will struggle on defense at times since Steven Adams is still very green, but I wouldn’t expect a large drop off on that end. Offensively, now the Thunder will have five players on the floor that can make shots for the majority of the time. But above all, Durant at the four means the Thunder are going to be almost impossible to defend and will be able to attack from everywhere. That’s scary for the rest of the NBA.
AK: They certainly can be more dangerous with him off the floor, but not necessarily with the player who will be replacing him in the starting lineup, Steven Adams. Adams is a far better rebounder but is still learning on the defensive end. The Thunder will undoubtedly unleash more small lineups with Durant at the four, which makes them much tougher to defend but leaves them more vulnerable defensively. Overall, the ceiling is definitely higher for the Thunder with Perkins not in the lineup holding them down.
TM: This is exactly what Scott Brooks needed, in my opinion. He’s been starting Perk unjustifiably forever, mainly due to what he brings on the defensive end and his locker room presence, the latter beig his biggest contribution. Now, Perk will still be around the team, but Brooks literally cannot play him! There’s no excuse for the Thunder not to run out their devastating small-ball lineups for large portions of games, and in six weeks, I can definitely see Brooks getting enough positive results from this that he may finally see that Perk playing so much against teams that lack a dominant center. Prepare for lots of Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka at the center position with Kevin Durant at the four. Hopefully this is the new norm for OKC.