The Cavaliers are in Boston for a matchup with the Celtics, and it’s a case of neither team really being where they wanted or expected to be. The Cavs have been the worst team in the NBA, and it hasn’t really been close. We know that. The Celtics find themselves in the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, and many expected them to be one of the two or three best teams in the league this year. They’ve won four straight games, but have at least in part filled the void the Cavs left in terms of “successful but dysfunctional” teams. The Warriors tried to do it earlier in the year with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, but every piece of drama from over there feels contrived — even if it’s based in something real, it would take something manufactured from nothing to derail them.
The Celtics, though, are something else. To have any shot at a title, let alone getting out of the East, they really do have a very small margin for error. They do need the Kyrie Irving they’ve gotten on the court, and they don’t need the one they’ve gotten off of it. They need Al Horford to be something he hasn’t been in the playoffs. They need young players to do things that they generally don’t do - be playoff difference-makers.
It all leads to a January game the Celtics can’t really afford to lose.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (9-39) vs. Boston Celtics (29-18)
When? 7:30 p.m. EST
Where? TD Garden Arena — Boston, Massachusetts
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
Cavaliers status update: Kevin Love (Foot - OUT), John Henson (Wrist - OUT), J.R. Smith (Not with team), Tristan Thompson (Foot - OUT), Larry Nance Jr. (Knee - OUT), David Nwaba (Ankle - OUT)
Celtics status update: Al Horford (Rest - OUT)
Three Keys to the Game
- The Cavs are just extremely hurt. Even if healthy, a road game against an almost-desperate Celtics team would be tough sledding. But they aren’t. They’re missing their three best players in Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance, Jr. There’s an argument to be made that David Nwaba is their fourth best player. We can lament the Cavs not getting the player development they and we want, we can pick on Dan Gilbert and Koby Altman for being misguided about what this season would really look like, but the fact of the matter is they couldn’t exactly have foreseen only getting a handful of games from Love. They promised big money to Nance and Love in the summer, and already pay Thompson a healthy sum. It’s a lot of money wrapped up in not very much production.
It’s quite obviously going to impact the game.
2. The Cavs defense was the worst in the NBA, but appears to be getting worse. It’s hard to know what the plan will be at the trade deadline because they need bodies, and it’s not clear they need to “tear down” the roster in any way. One of the things with having young guys is they are trying to figure out how to score and operate in the NBA. There’s a lot of pressure to get to a decent level of performance.
Defensive performance often suffers while the player gets his feet wet. The Cavs have guys in roles they aren’t ready for up and down the board. Eventually, you want Cedi Osman to be a three-and-D guy who can spot handle the ball. He’s not getting spot-ups, and he is doing a lot of ball-handling, and it’s likely impacting his defense. I guess the theme of the preview is excuses, but that’s where we are. Collin Sexton is similarly getting stretched beyond his current capabilities. Then he has to defend NBA point guards and fight through screens before a full NBA offseason workout regimen? That’s not going to work.
3. Does Kyrie Irving want to show off against his former team? It’s silly, but it could help us understand just how much pain we’re in for.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless prediction
I’ve guessed at a few wins recently but I’m not doing it tonight. It would be fun to see the Celtics meltdown if they blew it, but it’s difficult to see the upset happening. Celtics 110, Cavs 91.