Well, first of all, the Hornets are a better team. They’re probably going to win this game. Why?
- The 3-pointer. They’ve embraced the new 3>2 approach, shooting a *lot* of threes, and making a *lot* of threes. Their make% isn’t off the charts, but they shoot so many that it makes a noticeable difference. The Cavs were… arguably the worst 3pt shooting team in the league last year. The Hornets are likely going to get a few points advantage from deep shots alone. If the Cavs can keep this number close that’d be huge.
- The Rubio factor. This is a really tough matchup for Rubio. His effectiveness is based on skill not athleticism, and really fast/strong/explosive guards like Lamelo Ball are a tough cover for him. He’s also a better team defender than a "stopper" so guys like Scary Terry or Graham can have some good games against him. I expect him to struggle this game based on match-ups. Hopefully Sexton put their superior athleticism on full display to make this irrelevant.
- They'll have the best player on the floor. As much as I've wanted to hate the Ball brothers because of their dad, I've become a big fan of their play. Lamelo is an incredibly versatile and effective player. He has 'warts' but dude is good.
So how do the Cavs nullify the 3-point shooting disparity and steal this one?
- Free throws. The Hornets suck at drawing fouls and getting to the line; the Cavs are actually pretty decent at that. They draw a lot of fouls, and get to the line a lot. Their new additions are pretty good at this as well. If the Cavs are able to make it physical and get themselves to the line for free points that'll make a big diffference in the outcome, especially if they're able to get crucial players in foul trouble by doing so.
- Turnovers. Controlling the basketball and making sure you get more possessions will be key in this game. Both teams are really loose with the ball and have high turnover rates, and both teams play the passing lanes well and have high deflection, steal, and loose balls recovered numbers. They’re young, active, erratic teams. Being careful with the ball and forcing your opponent into fastbreak-inducing TOs is a big factor in this game.
So what’s my prediction? Good game by Sexton, off game by Rubio, 1+ players foul out, and whichever team has more 3PA + FTA + OppTO wins