It’s the eve of Christmas Eve. The Cavs are not gearing up for a Christmas Day showdown. They’re limping along, trying desperately to get healthy, and want to see growth. We’ve focused in these parts on the developing offensive games of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, and others. At some point, though, the team will have to show extended commitment to defending. We’ll see if starts with the Chicago Bulls.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (8-25) vs. Chicago Bulls (8-25)
When: 6:00 p.m.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena — Cleveland, Ohio
Enemy Blog: Blog a Bull
TV: Fox Sports Ohio
Online: Fox Sports GO, NBA League Pass
Cavs status updates: Tristan Thompson (out - foot sprain), Kevin Love (out - foot), John Henson (out - wrist), J.R. Smith (out - not with team), Matthew Dellavedova (day-to-day) Rodney Hood (day-to-day), David Nwaba (doubtful - left ankle sprain)
Bulls status updates: Cam Payne (day-to-day), Zach LaVine (out), Bobby Portis (out).
Three keys to the game
- Which is worse - the Cavs defense or the Bulls offense?
The Cavs have the league’s worst defensive rating, per nba.com/stats. The Bulls have league’s worst offensive rating, per nba.com/stats. They’re missing Zach LaVine to an ankle sprain. Cleveland has been able to put together stretches of competence defensively, but when the wheels come off, boy do they come off. If Matthew Dellavedova plays, that’s a perimeter defense upgrade almost by default. Ditto for David Nwba, but he’s likely to miss Sunday’s game. Still, the Cavs miss a lot of defensive know-how with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love missing. If the Cavs can dial in, they should be able to get stops against a team that really just hasn’t scored. Can you count on that? No.
2. Do tanking implications matter?
I still think once the Cavs get healthy they’re likely to win some games. With Love, Thompson, Dellavedova, and David Nwaba, you’re just starting to add some useful players. Maybe that’s wrong. But I’m not talking about a playoff push, I’m simply talking about some stretches where you match losses with wins over 10 games or so and put your tank in danger. They aren’t there yet, though, and heading into Saturday night’s games, the Bulls and Cavs are tied with the Suns and Hawks for the league’s lowest win total, at eight.
Will these team’s rest some guys to try and lose? The guys that play will play hard, of course, but each organization may make their own calls. It’s early enough in the season that you can still enjoy wins while telling yourself losses are ultimately helpful.
3. What kind of Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton will show up?
Arguably, these are each team’s most important player’s moving forward. They look great some nights, not so good in others. They’re young, talented, and still learning the game. Markkanen’s skill set feels a bit more valuable, but Sexton is young and athletic.
Conclusive judgments about Sexton’s age-20 season would be silly at this point, but you’d probably be forgiven for wanting to see a bit more. His Player Efficiency Rating, assist rate, and true shooting percentages are all lacking, though he’s not turning the ball over a whole lot. His energy level has been good for most of the year and it seems like after some early issues his teammates are on board. The Cavs need him to start attempting more threes.
I don’t know how much they’ll guard each other, but Larry Nance Jr. vs. Markkanen feels most important. Nance has been pretty good since stepping into the starting lineup for Tristan Thompson. He’s stepping into a leadership role that the team needs, and is rebounding and distributing in an encouraging manner. If he’s clearly the best player in the game, the Cavs will likely win. If Markkanen gets going, though, that would solve some Bulls offensive problems.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
The Cavs play with energy and defend enough to get a win. Cavs 99, Bulls 91.