The Cleveland Cavaliers have won 8 of their last 11 games. They are 3 and a half games out of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. Tonight, they'll have a tough task ahead of them. Cleveland travels to Memphis to play the Grizzlies. Both teams are on the second night of a back to back. Of course, the Cavs are on the road. Can they stay hot against the Grizz? We shall find out!
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (24-36) at Memphis Grizzlies (32-25)
When? 9:00 PM Eastern
Where? Fedex Arena -- Memphis, TN
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio / NBA League Pass
The Cleveland Cavaliers made quick work of the Utah Jazz last night. Tonight is a totally different challenge, however. You have to play a pretty strong team, on the road, and deal with fatigue at the same time. As I said earlier, the Grizzlies played last night as well (they got crushed by the Oklahoma City Thunder). But there's always something different about playing the second night of a back to back on the road. It's going to be tough, but we're at the point in the season where the Cavs just can't make excuses anymore. You can't have "schedule losses" when you're fighting for the playoff spot like the Cavs are. They dug themselves too big of a hole earlier in the year with those stupid losses against teams that they should have beaten. Now, you have to get some wins against teams that you should probably lose to. They did that against OKC the other night...let's see if they can do it again.
Kyrie Irving was obviously fantastic last night -- and he's been fantastic for a while now. Since the Cavs got rid of Andrew Bynum, he's been putting up 20 points per night with just under 7 assists. His shooting stats have been 44/40/90. That's pretty darn good. But I think his improvements go beyond those surface statistics. He's showing more trust in his teammates, his passing has been awesome, and he's trying harder on defense. He still has a long way to go to reach his full potential, but this is a kid that can win you games all by himself. We've seen it over and over again and it's super fun to watch.
Spencer Hawes has been great since joining the Cavs, averaging 14 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. But the biggest thing that he's brought to the Cavs is...spacing. He's knocking down a ridiculous 47% of his three-point shots in 5 games with Cleveland. That's creating a lot more room for the Cavs to operate. It will be especially useful against a strong defensive team like the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizz want to pack the paint and force you to take bad midrange shots. If Hawes can force Marc Gasol to pop out onto the perimeter more, it will give Kyrie and Luol Deng better opportunities to get to the rim. Since Hawes joined the Cavs, Kyrie is averaged 8.8 assists per game. Small sample size, but it's nice to see.
If the Cavs can move the ball and play tough defense again tonight, they'll have a chance. They won't get a 20-point win like they did last night, but they'll have a chance to grind out another win against the Grizzlies just like they did at the Q a few weeks ago. Keep in mind, however, that the Cavs had Anderson Varejao in that game. He played 43 minutes because that game went into overtime. Cleveland won't have Andy this time. It will certainly be a test for the Cavs' available bigs.
Head over to Grizzly Bear Blues for some Grizzlies perspective.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction:
I think the Grizzlies are going to be too much tonight. As much as I want the Cavs to keep this momentum going, the Grizzlies are in a playoff race of their own. They're going to be fired up in front of their home crowd. Memphis wins, 89-83.