The Charlotte Bobcats have the Cavs number. After last night, including preseason, the Cavaliers are now 0-3 against Michael Jordan's team. Weird. The Cavaliers are 1-1, and if we are honest with ourselves, that is exactly where we probably all thought we would be heading into our third game against the Indiana Pacers. We just got here in a way people weren't expecting. The Cavaliers have a lot of variables. We all know about the myriad questions the Cavaliers will have to find answers for this season. And like any issue with a lot of factors that play into a result, it's complicated and takes time. The Cavaliers will probably be all over the place while they figure out what they have in players like Earl Clark and Anthony Bennett, while Anderson Varejao works into shape, while Dion Waiters figures out an offensive role, etc. So, for now, we need to be patient. There will be some really fun wins, and there will be some upsetting losses. Lets hope for the former tonight.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (1-1) at Indiana Pacers (2-0)
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
How can I watch? Fox Sports Ohio
What to watch for from the Pacers:
The Indiana Pacers are, in my mind, a real title contender. David West and Roy Hibbert form an excellent combination inside, Paul George should hover around superstar status for the next 8 years, and a bench that was a pain for the Pacers all last season appears to be upgraded. Their window for title contention starts now and will last at least as long as David West can remain effective. Depending on how the Bulls integrate Derrick Rose back into things, they are a decent bet to win the Central division. In other words, if the Cavaliers were looking for an easy bounce-back game they won't find it in Indiana.
Paul George is a fascinating player. I want to tell you he is overrated and limited in respects (ball-handling) that I think are hard to improve on, and the latter part might even be true, but I can't. He is a fantastic defender and was well-deserving of his first all-start bid last season and the max contract extension he got received from the Pacers over the summer. You know, the one Kyrie Irving will get in August. The Pacers get a lot of credit for getting to title contention without tanking, but it isn't as though they were able to build without drafting. They made great picks in Hibbert and George, and even Lance Stephenson. It's awesome they were able to hit home runs later in the draft, but having a higher pick would have made things easier.
The matchup I am most curious about will be the battle of the frontcourts. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson played West and Hibbert really tough in the preseason. Whether that can carry over into tonight's game is another matter entirely. Varejao has looked tentative and lost offensively for most of the first two games. The Cavaliers offense needs him to be making good passes and keeping the ball moving. They need him rolling hard to the rim. I haven't seen it yet and it doesn't figure to be easy against Hibbert, an early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. If Varejao and Thompson can hold their own, though, the Cavaliers have a shot in this game.
What to watch for from the Cavaliers:
Who is going to show up? Last night it appeared that Tristan Thompson and C.J. Miles were the only ones who made the trip to Charlotte. Kyrie Irving got off to a fast start but didn't respond well to Charlotte adjustments. Kemba Walker got the best of him. George Hill is not particularly good but he is a fine point guard that can make shots and operate a functional offense. Kyrie has had trouble finishing thus far and it won't get any easier with Hibbert in the middle.
Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and Earl Clark (and Varejao but I already mentioned him) have to play better in the time they are given if the Cavaliers want to win basketball games. That isn't a statement about how they will play, or what their futures are in the league, or anything predictive at all. But Mike Brown has given them minutes in the first two games. In the first game, Waiters and Clark played pretty well and the Cavaliers played well. In the second game, all three were bad, and the Cavaliers struggled. I am not jumping to any conclusions, just stating that if the Cavaliers want to be a good team, and those guys are going to get minutes, they have to play better than they did last night. Did I thread the needle on that? Am I overreacting? I don't know.
Really, I said before the season, as goes Varejao, so go the Cavaliers. For as good as Tristan Thompson has been, the team needs Varejao operating out of the high post effectively and working with Kyrie Irving and finding Thompson around the basket. Thompson isn't ready to pass on Varejao's level yet. Defenses are loading up on Kyrie and the Cavaliers can move the ball around to make teams pay. Varejao could be the solution.
Prediction: I don't know. I think the Cavaliers defense can keep them in it. Pacers 89, Cavaliers 85 sounds about right.