Welcome to the Luol Deng era. Okay, it isn't quite here yet. And the Cavaliers didn't give up anybody from their current roster to acquire Deng. The team that dons the Wine & Gold tonight will be virtually the same one we have been seeing all season. But this game matters all the same, and the Cleveland Cavaliers enter this game 11-23. There simply isn't time left in the season to continue piling up losses if they seriously want to make a run at the playoffs.
Tonight presents a good opportunity for a win.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers (12-22) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-23)
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, Ohio
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio or NBA League Pass
The biggest question regarding this game involves whether Kyrie Irving will play. I saw him getting shots up before the Cavs played the Pacers Sunday night, and then he told me in the hallway after the game that he was feeling okay when I asked him how he was feeling. My feeble reporting aside, he participated in today's shootaround but his status is still up in the air for tonight. My guess is that he will play. Jarrett Jack's status is also unknown.
I think we have seen from the Cavaliers offensive struggles while Irving was out that he (shocker!) is not in fact the reason why the team has been terrible on that end of the floor this season. Could the Cavaliers ball movement be better with Irving on the floor? Yes! Is Irving's usage rate a little too high? Yes! But he is the best offensive option the team has, has made an All Star game, has been playing unbelievably well since exploding on the Knicks in early December, and is not anywhere near the top of the list of problems Cleveland has.
The Cavaliers have put together a few solid games of good defense lately. The 76ers are a team that likes to push the pace (they play at the fastest pace in the league, per basketball-reference.com) so if Cleveland isn't ready to play hard from the beginning they could fall being quickly. Evan Turner is a player who really isn't that good, but tends to kill the Cavs anyway. It's really frustrating. Philadelphia is a really bad team, but a really bad team that has won 4 straight road games. They aren't going to lay down, and likely see Cleveland as a team they can pick up a win against.
Still, this is an important game for Cleveland. They have to prove that acquiring Deng wasn't a team shuffling the chairs on a sinking Titanic. You can lose tough games at home to the Indiana Pacers and you get some leeway. You can't do it against the 76ers and expect the same. Given that the 76ers are playing their 5th game in 7 nights, the pressure on the Cavs is even greater.
I'll be covering this game, so let me know if there is anything you want me to ask Mike Brown or anybody. No promises but I will do my best.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Cavs get a solid home win with Irving pacing a 106-94 victory.