The Cleveland Cavaliers, in the midst of an eight game win streak, finish up a short home stand with a game against a struggling Sacramento Kings team. Led by DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento is one of the more fascinating teams in the NBA this season due to Cousins' emergence and the oddly timed (to say the least) firing of Mike Malone.
The Kings also have a win this season over the Cavs, a 103-84 win for Sacramento where Boogie scored 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Like tonight's game, the Cavs were without LeBron. Still, the Cavs' loss to the Kings was two games before the Cavs beat the Los Angeles Lakers and began the current win streak. And with Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert at least reasonably integrated with the Cavs at this point, it's safe to predict that this game will be different than the first.
What: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Sacramento Kings
When: 7:30 p.m.
Television Information: Fox Sports Ohio
Music: Flyin' High - Marvin Gaye
Chosen in honor of Kyrie's awesome 55 point performance, I pick this Marvin Gaye song in honor of Irving's smooth game.
DeMarcus Cousins should have been an All-Star. And in my book, Cousins has been first team All-NBA through this point in the season. Entering tonight, Cousins is sixth in the league in scoring, third in the league in rebounding and he's an unguardable force down low due his sheer strength and ability as a finisher inside. Some of the bad habits that plagued him earlier in his career (taking possessions off, taking bad angles, etc.), particularly on defense, have resurfaced under interim head coach Ty Corbin but come in smaller doses this time around. On top of that, Boogie is insanely important to the Kings. The offense often looks like a mess when he's not on the floor - the Kings are 6.4 points better per 100 possession with Boogie - and while he's not a prototypical rim protector, Cousins is a big body inside that alters shots.
If the first game between these two teams is any indication - and this the one aspect of the game that shouldn't change - Mozgov is going to have his hands full with Boogie. He'll have his moments, but Mozgov will likely struggle against Cousins. That being said, the Cavs can do some funky things, like throw doubles at Cousins this time when he gets the ball within a few feat of the hoop, particularly with a Mozgov/Tristan Thompson front court, but Boogie is going to get his. What matters is that the Cavs slow him down, make him work and attack him on defense. Kyrie Irving/Mozgov pick and rolls, depending on how the Kings defend PNRs, could be a way to make Cousins work inside and get him into foul trouble.
The Cavs' rotation sans LeBron was sort of interesting. Shawn Marion started in LeBron's place at shooting guard, although Shumpert started off the second half playing small forward next to Irving and Smith. In the end, Marion only played nine minutes and Blatt leaned heavily on a few select players. And although he didn't play much, Mike Miller saw his first relatively extended action in some time as he played 10 minutes against the Trail Blazers.
The Kings' roster probably mean that Marion or Shumpert will see the most minutes at the small forward spot. Rudy Gay, the Kings second scoring option, plays roughly 35 minutes a game and is a reliable 20 point per game scorer who can be a useful post up player at times. As a result, it might be harder for the Cavs to get by playing smaller lineups where Smith shifts to the three and Matthew Dellavedova, who played 20 minutes against the Blazers, at the two guard spot.
Don't forget that Kyrie did this in Cleveland's last game.
It can't be overstated that the Cavs absolutely needed Irving to take get the win vs. Portland. Without LeBron, Kyrie was often the lone player on the floor able to fully initiate the offense, and once he found his rhythm after his slow opening start, he was relatively hard to defend. Only three other Cavaliers - Love, Mozgov and Smith - scored in double figures and bench provided just 11 points. That's going to happen when a player goes off like Irving did, but with both scenarios, neither is likely to happen again. Barring another insane scoring performance from Irving, the Cavs are going to need Love, Smith and one other player to score. Love, in particular, would be a player the Cavs could desperately benefit from getting consistent scoring from. Establishing Love early against Jason Thompson and at least attempt to lean him when Irving is out of the game.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
The Cavs are rolling right now and it would be sort of hilarious if the Kings of all teams ended Cleveland's winning streak. Expect Boogie to go off and scored at least 25 points, but the Cavs should roll here, with or without LeBron. And remember: Kevin Love had one of the best games of the season the last time these teams met. Cavs 103, Kings 95.