The Cavaliers road trip from hell ends tonight in Utah. Utah has won six of their past eight after a stretch of losing seven of nine.
When: 9 P.M. Eastern
Where: EnergySolutions Arena -- Salt Lake City, UT
Where On My Eyeballs: Fox Sports Ohio / NBA League Pass
Tickets: Cleveland Cavaliers' Tickets
I Believe from the Book of Mormon Musical on the 65th Tony Awards. (via Kevin price)
Why Should You Watch? This should be a fun one. The Cavs are coming off of a win at Portland on Wednesday and are well rested. Unfortunately, the Jazz are also well rested having somehow gotten basically another All-Star break since they haven't played since Monday. Two well-rested teams should provide solid basketball to watch. Plus, do you ever need a reason to watch the Cavs outside of Kyrie Irving?
Any Former Cavaliers to Care About? Sure! Mo Gotti plays for the Jazz! However, Mo Williams is going to be forced to miss this game as he tore a thumb ligament earlier this month. Such a shame too. I know that every Cavs fan was looking forward to seeing him lead the Jazz offense. Without him, this entire guard situation is an absolute mess, as their best point guard option is now Jamaal Tinsley. Or maybe Randy Foye. Earl Watson possibly? Ugh.
Key Matchup? The biggest matchup tonight is probably going to be Tyler Zeller on defense versus Al Jefferson on offense. Zeller has really struggled against physically strong players in the post this year, and there are very few centers stronger and more efficient in the post than Jefferson is. If Zeller is able to at least hold his own a little bit against Jefferson, that will go a long way towards a victory tonight. However, if he can't the Cavaliers are going to really struggle against this Jazz team.
Bench Battle? This game could be a problem once the benches reach the court. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Jazz have the fifth best bench scoring differential efficiency in the NBA at 8.3, and the Cavs have the second worst at -11.6. Starring off the bench for Utah this year are Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. Hayward is the Jazz' third leading scorer with 13.7 points per game. Dion Waiters will be tasked with matching Hayward's scoring off the bench. Waiters is pretty much a roller coaster and, to quote Ron Burgundy, I feel like I'm in a glass case of emotion every time I watch him play because of my varying reactions to him. Favors was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, and has been slowly developing just like Tristan Thompson. In fact, the similarities between Thompson and Favors are pretty uncanny, in that they're both really strong defensive players that are still developing offensively as obscenely athletic players. I'll really be looking forward to that matchup tonight if they're on the floor together.
Key Stats and Other Thoughts? -Along with that, this is a bad matchup for the Cavs inside, who give up the worst percentage at the rim in the league at 67.7%. The Jazz are 6th in the NBA shooting 66.9% at the rim.
-The Jazz have the sixth best offensive rebound rate in the NBA at 29.9%, and the Cavs have the sixth worst defensive rebounding rate in the NBA at 72.1.
-Paul Millsap has been his normal solid self this year, and has even added an occasional three pointer in this his contract year. He's averaging about 15 and 8 rebounds so he'll be another good test for Thompson tonight.
-Speaking of Thompson, his true shooting percentage is up about 5% since Anderson Varejao went out, even though his usage rate has gone from 15.1 to 18.7. This shows not only an increase in confidence but also a verifiable increase in efficiency even though he's been used more. It's a good sign moving forward for his offense.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction: I really don't like where this Utah team is right now. Actually, to be fair I've never understood why some people like this Utah team at all. The backcourt is an absolute mess when Hayward isn't in there at shooting guard, and there is no way Watson or Tinsley is going to be able to stop Irving. If Zeller can at least hold Jefferson to under 20 points, I think the Cavs can pull out a surprising win on the road. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening. I think Utah takes advantage of their home court (they're 12-4 at home this year) and squeaks out a close win. Cavs lose 107-101, even though Kyrie scores 33.