This will be the first time in the 2016-17 season that the Cleveland Cavaliers face a top team from the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers started the season 14-2 before losing three straight to Eastern Conference foes (namely Detroit, Indiana and Brooklyn) just prior to this game.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (13-3) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (14-5)
When? 8 p.m.
Where? Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
The Clippers enter this game with both their offense and defense ranking among the top five in the league. Chris Paul, in particular, has been sublime. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 20.5 points (on 60.4 percent true shooting!), 10.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 steals and just 2.7 turnovers. He scores efficiently everywhere on the court, which makes him exceptionally difficult to guard considering his basketball IQ and passing skills are a step up from his scoring abilities. Defensively he’ll do a better job guarding Kyrie Irving than most other point guards.
Blake Griffin is also having a great year, re-establishing himself as one of the elite power forwards in the NBA after his 2015-16 season was ruined by injury. His defense, in particular, seems to be a notch or two above anything he’s shown in the past. Add in the rebounding and shot-blocking of DeAndre Jordan, the long-range sniping of J.J. Redick and an improved bench, and this iteration of the Clippers is proving to be more dangerous than the past couple years.
But they don’t have LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Those three are averaging nearly 70 points per game at better than 59 percent true shooting, and the Cavaliers’ offense as a whole is dominating. LeBron, in particular, presents a terrible match-up problem for the Clippers. Their small forward, Luc Mbah a Moute, is a defensive specialist that is little to no threat on offense. This is fine when he can actually defend the opposing small forward effectively, and while he is a very good defensive player I certainly don’t like his chances against LeBron one-on-one. His offensive ineptitude will allow LeBron to roam as the ‘free safety’ on the other end of the court.
Fear the Sword fearless prediction: J.R. Smith breaks out of his funk with seven triples. Cavs roll, 120-107.