So......how we all doing?
Given the events of this west coast road trip, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I'm really glad that this is the last stop before the Cleveland Cavaliers come back to Ohio. They have a back-to-back against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, with the Lakers coming tonight.
The Cavs have maybe been the league's most depressing team over the last couple of weeks. Their defense hasn't been good, their offense has been wildly inconsistent, and there has been enough drama that I'm not totally sure this team isn't a sports parody of General Hospital anymore. This has all mostly come against teams that are either red hot right now or in the top tier of the league, though (Minus the Kings; even the Sixers have won three of five, and that's a supernova streak for them). Their most likely win of the entire road trip likely comes tonight, against the performance art that is the Lakers.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers
When: 10:30PM ET
Where: Staples Center - Los Angeles, California
Television: Fox Sports Ohio and TNT
Musical Accompaniment: Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?
There were some positives from Tuesday night's loss. While the national media has spent the time since Tuesday night's loss to the Phoenix Suns dissecting the Cavs' chemistry and proclaiming everything is on fire, there were some positives from that game that I'd like to see carry over to tonight's game. First, LeBron James looked very solid throughout the game, looking healthy really for the first time all year and carrying the offense early and late. He finished with 33 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in his return. The Cavs also unearthed a very strong lineup late, coming back from a 17-point deficit to take a lead with a lineup of LeBron, Tristan Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Shawn Marion, and J.R. Smith for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. The Cavs ran LeBron/Tristan PNR almost exclusively, and that lineup both played effectively (Net rating of +65.5) and more importantly, looked effective. It was a lineup that in theory makes a ton of sense - surround the LeBron/TT PNR with shooters, Marion steps in to rebound as a weird small-ball stretch four, and just let LeBron cook off high screens. I want to see more of this lineup here in the next few games.
The Lakers defense almost encourages good offense. The Cavs have had some struggles with defense all season, and lately it seems like nearly every team they've played has had a banner offensive night against them. While that's been frustrating, tonight the Cavs will be helped by that also being the Lakers' defensive M.O. this year. That patented Byron Scott Defensive Preparation has basically just translated into the Lakers' D being a chauffeur for opposing offensive success. The Lakers' per game rankings defensively: 29th in assists allowed, 25th in three-pointers allowed, 28th in three-point percentage, and 29th in free throw attempts allowed for a ghastly 111.4 defensive rating. Not only are the Lakers allowing terrible percentages shooting the ball, they allow teams to move the ball all over the place freely and set up good shots. This seems important given that the Cavs are struggling to hit open shots lately; the Lakers defense could be a perfect remedy by giving them a ton of practice at hitting open shots.
Most Importantly, SWAG DUEL. IN ONE CORNER, WEIGHING IN AT 52.1 PERCENT TRUE SHOOTING ON A 25.9 USAGE:
AND IN THE OTHER CORNER, WEIGHING IN AT 49.2 PERCENT TRUE SHOOTING ON 23.5 USAGE:
J.R. has a significant 11-3 advantage in all-time games vs. Swaggy P, and also has a 40-point game against Nick Young's Wizards in 08/09. And while the Cavs do have some experience with these types of whimsical competitions (Dion/THJ forever), but given how J.R.'s playing lately (two 27+ point performances as a Cav), and how the Lakers don't have many other options, tonight could get magical.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: It's the Lakers. Even at their absolute worst level of chaos, IT'S THE LAKERS. Cavs 115, Lakers 100.