Wednesday’s matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers (14-21) and the Indiana Pacers (15-18) is a tale of two teams in different states of play. Cleveland is riding a four-game winning streak. Indiana is on a four-game losing streak. The Pacers are the definition of average – 17th in the league in offensive rating and 14th in defensive rating. The Cavs have momentum and play with tenacity. But one thing they do have in common is injuries.
The Cavaliers will be without Kevin Love (calf), Larry Nance Jr (hand), Matthew Dellavedova (abdomen), Andre Drummond (not injury-related), and Taurean Prince. The Pacers will not have Caris LeVert (abdomen) and TJ Warren (foot) and may be without Doug McDermott and Jeremy Lamb. Heading into the All-Star break, it is not surprising to see teams take precautions. Cleveland will have to wait a little long for Love, who seems to be inching his way back on the court.
Cleveland and Indiana played earlier this season, with the Pacers winning 119-99 on New Year’s Eve. But that was then, and this is now, and both teams are in different positions.
Dean Wade at power forward has given the Cavs a nice boost. He has played well in his last four starts, hitting at least one three-pointer and showing active hands-on defense. A few times in the Houston game he stone-walled defenders in the post and stayed in front of his man. Both Wade, and Jarrett Allen for that matter, will have a tall task handling All-Star Domantas Sabonis and defensive stalwart Myles Turner.
Darius Garland and Collin Sexton have really turned things on lately, and it should be no surprise that the Cavaliers as a team ebb when they do. Sexton is coming off a masterful 39-point outing but, like his frontcourt teammates, will have a tougher matchup – this time Malcolm Brogdon. Isaac Okoro should continue starting at small forward picking up the opposing team’s best defender.
Things to Watch for:
And all the Big Men
Sabonis and Turner will make things difficult inside for the Cavs, who really did not have much resistance against Houston. Sabonis is an All-Star averaging 21.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while shooting 35.3% from deep. Turner has cooled from a very hot defensive start to the season but is still a stretchy big who can protect the rim. The Cavaliers, who are missing their two best power forwards, a center, and a wing (who started at power forward once this season), will need to be vigilant on the interior.
This Land is Garland
Collin Sexton is deservedly getting the praise for the Cavs recent hot streak, scoring at least 22 points in each of his last nine games. But Darius Garland has quietly been playing very well. He has at least seven assists in each of his last five games and is averaging 5.9 per game. Garland is also getting the rim much easier, displaying a level of comfort in the pick and roll that was simply not there last year. The outside shooting is not quite there, though he is drilling 37.2% of his three-pointers. A lot of times Garland looks hesitant to shoot, forgoing the three-pointer in favor of getting to the rim. 33% of his shots are coming from the short mid-range (between 4-14 feet from the basket), fourth highest in the NBA, but is only hitting 44% of them per Cleaning the Glass. That being said, his ability to maneuver picks and manipulate defenses opens things up offensively.