So, the first week of the NBA season has been frustrating for both Cleveland (1-3) and Denver (1-3) fans. Their fun teams that were supposed to be fun haven't been fun at all. Dang, for the most part, they've actually been the opposite of fun. They've been really tough to watch.
Denver beat Detroit on opening night (whoopdee friggin doo, amirite?) but has since lost to an injury-ravaged Oklahoma City team, Sacramento at home in a nail-biter, and Sacramento on the road in an absolute butt-kicking. Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, who compose four of the top-7 in the Nuggets' rotation are shooting a combined 47-for-150 from the field, or 31%. They're in the bottom third of the league at defending the restricted area. Brian Shaw is threatening to start messing with rotations and is already talking about players having a lack of fire.
The Cavs? Yeah, they're in rough shape, too.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Denver Nuggets
When: 10:30 PM EST
Why: In case the Cavs start figuring things out, you want to be watching, right?
Where: Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
Where to watch: ESPN, Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass, Ball Stream, or whatever shady third-party website you can find. Just keep an eye out for those unwanted pop ups. The internet can be a disgusting place.
I don't know what to make of either team at the moment. Denver was a sexy preseason pick to take a step forward. They're entering the second year in Brian Shaw's system, which many players seemed to buy into at the end of last season. They acquired Arron Afflalo, a quality 3&D wing and theoretically decent complement to Ty Lawson, for the low price of Evan Fournier. Danilo Gallinari, as gifted a shooter as you'll find, was back and ready for the start of the season. The returns of Nate Robinson and JaVale McGee ensured plenty of depth.
About that - they're 1-3, the new pieces are struggling to gel, Gallinari is clearly working his way back from the knee injuries that robbed him of his entire 2013-14 season, and the depth is looking more like a curse than a blessing. Two of the three losses are to the Kings, who might be better than people think, but the start is concerning nonetheless.
The Cavs? Yeah, they have some problems, too.
Historically, Denver is a tough place to play. Tonight marks the end of the Cavs' four-game road trip. Between tonight and December 4th, they play outside the Q just twice; 9 of their next 11 are at home. Speaking of being at home, the Nuggets are awesome at the Pepsi Center, where they've won nearly three-quarters of their games (.733) over the past five seasons.
Shameless name-drop: I was chatting with Stan Love (Kevin's dad, who played four seasons in the NBA in early 70s) at a game last season, and when the subject of difficult places to play came up, he immediately mentioned Denver. "The altitude has an effect on you," he said. "It drains you. By the third quarter, you really don't feel normal. Your legs are gone. You get tired quickly, so you have to play short stints."
Well, yeah, so David Blatt will just handle the rotations intelligently, and... wait. Rookie players have learning curves, and so do rookie coaches. Blatt's had some difficulty figuring out substitution patterns and managing minutes through four games. In light of Denver's historical dominance at home and Love's comments about how tough it is play there, it's important the coach makes improvements in those areas tonight.
Kyrie's lack of assists has provided hot-take producers with a decent stockpile of gasoline and matches. Does Irving need to get better at distributing and look for his own shot a little less? I mean, sure, but the lack of off-ball movement and cohesive offensive flow is a bigger problem than just the point guard. There were plenty of instances of Kyrie passing to open or semi-open shooters, only to see them pump fake and put the ball on the floor. To me, that's a sign of a lack of comfort with the system and each player's responsibilities.
It's an extreme example, but when the Spurs are going right, their shooters read and react when they catch the ball with an open look available. They don't think. It doesn't matter if it's early in the shot clock or in transition or part of a broken play, because shooters shoot when they get a chance. Period. It's unlikely the Cavs will ever quite get to San Antonio's level of offensive brilliance, but they can certainly get better than they've been through four games.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
This is a tough one; both teams ought to be playing angry, coming off disappointing losses. Denver is great at home historically, but were just 22-19 at the Pepsi Center last season. LeBron James (hey, how did I make it more than 800 words into this thing without mentioning LeBron James?) will probably come out with something to prove. Cleveland still has a lot to figure out, but I expect them to win a close game in the Mile High City over a Nuggets team with problems of their own.
So, Cavs 107, Nuggets 100.
If I'm wrong and the Cavs lose, will anyone even show up at the next home game? Will they trade Kyrie for Kobe Bryant? Was this all a mistake? Should they fire David Blatt? Do you actually want these stupid questions to be asked any more than they already are? No? Then really, really pull for a victory tonight. Because losing isn't fun, and losing when your team has high expectations is downright depressing.