The Mavericks haven't been playing their best basketball lately, losing 3 of their last 5 games despite some great individual outings from Dirk Nowitzki. Luckily for them the Cavs have lost 6 of their last 7 and appear to be completely disjointed.
When? 8:30 pm ET
Where? American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio/ NBA League Pass
First of all I would like to thank the Dallas Mavericks again. It appears that their championship in 2011 is the closest thing to a Cavaliers title that we will see for a while.
Since their championship the Mavericks have seen an extraordinary amount of roster turnover. The only players that remain from that team are Dirk Nowitzki and the perennially underrated Shawn Marion. This year they have managed to put together a very entertaining collection of players. Monta Ellis is having arguably the best year of his career and solid veteran additions like Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert have put them in playoff position in the West. They likely are going to be a pain for any team to eliminate in the playoffs (should they get there) due to their surplus of players that can take over any game as well as their veteran savvy. You have to score to keep up with these Mavericks. They have the leagues 7th best offense but unfortunately for them, they have struggled at times to hang on to the big leads due to their putrid defense (25th ranked).
The Cavaliers need to have a strong performance on the boards if they wish to come away with this win. The Mavericks are not a particularly good rebounding team, but Shawn Marion is an exceptional rebounder for his position and the Cavaliers have shown that they struggle to handle teams with a small forward that rebounds well. The Trailblazers created countless second chance points off of offensive rebounds from their wing positions and in the debacle in New York (no not that awful Super Bowl) the Cavaliers gave up a lot of offensive rebounds to Metta World Peace and other Knicks wing players. As we've seen, though, just because a team isn't good at something doesn't mean they won't do it well against the Cavs.
The best defense against Dirk is usually prayer. He is one of the most dangerous shooters to play the game and with his high release point and knee to your face, it's nearly impossible to contest his shots. Usually what works best is fronting Dirk and doing your best to deny him the ball. If they manage to get an entry pass overtop of the primary defender a quick double team can work well in trying to get the ball out of his hands. If the Cavs can try and make someone else on the Mavericks beat them, they will have a much better chance of winning.
Now on to the Cavs... This really sucks right? We're all here because we love this team and this disastrous stretch of games seems to have amplified the frustration and disappointment that has ruined this season for us. For me I know this means an adjustment of my expectations. I clearly thought this was a playoff team coming into this season but now that over half the season has gone by and the team is sitting once again in the high lottery it's clearly counterproductive for me to get my hopes up and expect this ship to be turned around. So here's what I'm looking for from the Cavs tonight and for the rest of the season:
- How will they prioritize their individual stats/ performances against what the team is trying to build. Will Kyrie, Dion, Tristan, Bennett etc. just look to get their own numbers for the rest of the year? Or will they work towards creating a system and building a foundation for the future of this team. Simply trying to lose and releasing the players of the accountability they've been trying to create this season is not going to bode well for the 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers. The path to being respectable next season needs to begin now and the players, coaches and management all have to realize that. As we've seen this season, it's impossible to flip a switch and go from a losing mentality to a winning one. I said it before, Kyrie Irving is not ready yet to be the best player/ leader on a playoff team. He needs to work on growing into that leader even if it means struggles in the short term. The potential long term gain from doing this is far more important.
- How will they respond when they get hit? Whether it be a bad start to a game, a run by the other team, a bogus call or something else; how will the Cavaliers respond when things go their way. The players need to understand that nothing is going to be given to them. They are all young and trying to establish themselves in the NBA, they need to understand that this means they are entitled to nothing and are going to be fighting an uphill battle every night. So when things don't go their way are they going to continue to pout and allow the situation to get worse? Or are they going to dig deep and keep trying. If their shots aren't falling are they going to check out? Or are they going to take a charge, get a steal/ block, set screens and do other things to help their team win.
- As Kyrie said in this interview with Jason Lloyd "I needed this. It was more or less a wake-up call. I got away with so much my first two years. It wasn’t a breeze, but everything came easy. This is the first year where every single night it’s going to be a challenge. That’s one of the things I’m getting used to and I’ve accepted." The fact Irving admitted to what I alluded to earlier, that he had been getting by on his natural gifts, was allowed to get away with a lot and wasn't working as hard as others is a bid deal. That type of volunteered self reflection shows that he realizes he has been in the wrong and wants to change. In a season where players have not been accountable for their actions, this was a very encouraging sign to me. But I'll say this, if you tell me you got a wake up call and continue to sleep in and do the same thing, I'm going to be even more upset. It would be insane for me to expect Irving to change overnight and not have nights where he isn't a little less engaged on both ends of the floor or displays any of his other bad habits. But he can't quit like he did last season after saying that. He can't let one or two bad games turn into one or two bad weeks. That is going to be one of the main things I'll be looking at moving forward.