The Cleveland Cavaliers officially entered panic mode last week, swinging two major trades, which brought in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov. The cost? Dion Waiters, two future first-round picks and a 2019 second-round pick. Shumpert has yet to appear in a single game due to a dislocated shoulder, but his presence is unlikely to swing things around for the struggling Cavaliers who have dropped six straight games. LeBron James’ absence for five of those six games is no excuse either, as two supposed superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should suffice against lowly opponents such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings.
Frontcourt: A familiar foe to the Los Angeles Lakers, Timofey Mozgov, has quickly earned the starting center position by default. With long-time Clevelander Anderson Varajeo out for the season, the Cavaliers simply do not have another formidable big-man on the roster to play alongside a very poor defender in Kevin Love. Mozgov has a lengthy history of performing well against the Lakers. This can be partially attributed to Los Angeles lack of interior defense over the past few years, but even so Mozgov is an average player at best. In the previous five matchups, Mozgov is averaging 16 points and 8.6 rebounds vs. the Lakers, both of which exceed his career averages by a landslide.
A Los Angeles native and former UCLA Bruin, Kevin Love is playing arguably the worst basketball of his seven year career averaging 17.7 points with just 10.4 rebounds, the lowest mark since his rookie year. The Lakers were seemingly the most logical destination for Love until the epic collapse into mediocrity scared off the free agent prospect. As crazy as it sounds, the Lakers may be better off without Love’s services, as he continues to prove he is wildly overrated and destined to be a good stats, bad team player. Love constantly shies away from the limelight, allowing both James and Irving to overshadow him on a national scale. Additionally, albeit his outstanding offensive abilities, Love is an abominable defender who is consistently out-muscled by his opponents. His paltry effort on defense has played a major factor in the Cavaliers inexcusable (19-20) record.
Despite a knee injury that forced LeBron James to miss nearly two weeks of action, the small forward has once again displayed a tremendous level of excellence on the court. Though the alleged rift between he and head coach David Blatt has tarnished James’ perceived character a bit, the way he is attempting to revive basketball in his hometown is an honorable task. The above the rim, explosive LeBron James appears to be fading away, yet he still averages a respectable 25.5 points, 7.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game, although his shooting percentage has dipped quite a bit. Perhaps the pieces do not properly fit as they did with the Miami Heat, but general manager LeBron will surely map out a path either prior to the trade deadline or during the offseason to get this team back on track. Until then, beware as James is likely inching towards taking over complete control of the Cavaliers similar to how he did in the waning years of his first stint in Cleveland.
Backcourt: Until Shumpert returns in about a week, J.R. Smith is likely to hold down the starting shooting guard job by default. The Cavaliers are extremely thin at the two-guard, especially defensively. Smith has played fairly well in four games alternating awful outings with flashes of brilliance. This inconsistency is nothing new to Smith, though, as the main issue with him has always been his consistency. Smith is a trick-or-treat player, meaning one night he is the next coming of Michael Jordan, then he follows up that performance with an absolute dud. His time in New York magnified this glaring flaw, ultimately leading to his abrupt departure.
Kyrie Irving is clearly an offensive genius. He possesses the rare ability to score at will whether it is driving to the basket, from mid-range or from behind the arc. However, the former Duke Blue Devil has caught a ton of flack in his four-year career for being unable to make his teammates better, or in other words doing his job as a point guard. Sure, positional duties could be irrelevant if the unit is cohesive, in that everybody shares the ball, gives up a good shot to get a great shot, etc. But, when Irving is the primary ball-handler, rather than James, he tends to over-dribble and look for his own shot before he looks to facilitate. Thus, his teammates’ body language appears sour and they soon become uninterested in the game. No matter the person, everybody enjoys receiving their fair share of offense. In pickup basketball, for example, if a particular person is froze out by his teammates he or she is almost guaranteed to check out mentally at some point.
Keys to Victory:
Attack The Paint: When Mozgov is substituted out of the game, the Lakers must take advantage of the undersized Tristan Thompson. Carlos Boozer is easily the most polished offensive big-man for the Lakers, so he must use his strong frame to bully Thompson and/or Love when given the opportunity. Los Angeles has relied way too heavily on the perimeter game and must look to earn efficient points in the paint right off the bat.
Find Kobe Bryant In The Post: Bryant has admittedly played “on the perimeter too much” lately, resulting in an embarrassing 16.1 percent shooting in his last two contests. He has jacked up a combined 12 three-pointers during that span, laying the framework for back-to-back inefficient games. Head coach Byron Scott must make it a point of emphasis for the team to feed Bryant the ball in the mid-post where he can utilize his advanced footwork to earn some easy baskets.
Ronnie Price’s Defense: As previously mentioned, Kyrie Irving is skilled enough to score at any spot on the floor. Therefore, the feisty point guard Ronnie Price should see an increase in minutes tonight, as Irving will eat Jeremy Lin alive. When Irving is on the floor, Price must stick to him like a shadow.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 6.5-point underdogs against the Cavaliers via Sportsbook.ag.
Cleveland Cavaliers (19-20) at Los Angeles Lakers (12-27)
7:30 PM PST, January 15, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Cavaliers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Love
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: SG: Shawn Marion SF: James Jones C: Tristan Thompson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Nick Young Thanks Fans