Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (4-8) at New Orleans Pelicans (5-6)
When: 8:00 PM
Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana
Honestly guys, this is going to be a tough one to pull off. New Orleans Pelicans backup point guard Brian Roberts is a terror, and I don't think Cleveland has an answer.
Okay, that isn't exactly why this one will be tough for the Cavaliers. Anthony Davis is amazing, the Pelicans are in win-now mode, and while they haven't been great thus far, they could challenge for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.
To help introduce us to the Pelicans, I asked Joe Moore (@joe_m543) of SBNation's The Bird Writes to answer some questions, and he was nice enough to oblige.
So first things first, the Pelicans have been active on the trade market over the last couple years, adding Eric Gordon in moving Chris Paul as well as Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday this summer. All three guys like the ball in their hands. Which addition do you like the most? Which one is the most disappointing? How do they look so far?
Joe: Eric Gordon, though he came at the price of Chris Paul, was my favorite addition. Of the three guards, Gordon is most capable, when healthy, of consistently creating efficient offense, and can be an effective pressuring presence on defense. Unfortunately, Gordon has, in some ways, been the most disappointing. His first two seasons in New Orleans were ravaged by knee and ankle injuries, and, though they do not appear to have crippled him physically, he has never seemed to be fully integrated in the offense. Of course, Gordon's issues do not excuse Holiday and Evans, who have both struggled since joining the Pelicans. Holiday has made an impact defensively and has developed some synergy with Davis in the pick and roll, but, as was feared, has struggled to score efficiently. His true shooting percentage so far is a disgusting 49.1 percent, in large part because of the same focus on mid-range jumpers that plagued him in Philadelphia. And Evans, well, Evans has been terrible without the positive attributes of the other two. Evans struggled to do much in the constrictive spacing of the second unit created by Ryan Anderson's absence. Anderson's return provides some hop for Evans, but the fact that a player so adept at attacking the rim could generate so few decent shots is discouraging, though he was reportedly suffering an ankle injury. Here's a deeper look at Evans' struggles.
Anthony Davis looks like a burgeoning superstar. Who does he remind you of? What does he need to get better at? What position, if it matters, is best for him?
Joe: Davis, with his long arms, face up game, and defensive movement reminds me of a young Kevin Garnett (and certainly not the older version). For all his improvement, I still think he has room to grow defensively. He often positions himself closer to his man than necessary, forcing him to leap for a block rather than cut off a driving lane. Taking the Roy Hibbert approach to the defensive three seconds rule (ignoring it), and spending more time in the middle of the court would likely allow the Pelicans' wings to spend less time attempting to crash down to defend driving lanes. While he has the foot speed to stay with guards, I would also like to see him hedge less often. He is more than capable of executing the hedge, the problem is that this draws him out of the paint, and teams are able to swing the ball and take advantage of other defenders as Davis makes the longer recovery to the rim. I trust Davis enough at both power forward and center that I care more about ensuring that the best players see the most minutes possible than accommodating Davis.
Are the Pelicans making the playoffs?
Joe: I try to be optimistic, but I would not bet on this team making the playoffs. Despite outscoring opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions through 11 games, the Pelicans do not seem to be taking advantage of the talent on this roster, a problem Cavs fans may understand. The offense has had minimal off ball movement and the defensive "stop the drive at all costs" strategy has resulted in a barrage of open threes. Anthony Davis is incredible and the roster is talented, but this team will have to drastically exceed the expectations set by the first few weeks to make the playoffs. With Minnesota, Portland, and Dallas all playing well, Western Conference playoff spots are scarce.
Joe is pretty great.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Brian Roberts and Kyrie Irving each go for 40 in an instant classic. With the Cavaliers down one and with the ball, Irving puts Roberts on his hip and gets into the lane. Anthony Davis rotates over but it is too late, Irving gets into his body and the officials send Irving to the line. He calmy makes both free throws with 1.1 seconds on the clock. Cavaliers win, 101-100.