No Evan Mobley is a problem. But the Cleveland Cavaliers could use this one.
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse - Cleveland, Ohio
When: 7 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio
Dallas Mavericks Blog: Mavs Moneyball
Expected Cavs Starting Lineup: Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert, Lauri Markannen, Kevin Love
Cavs Injury Report: Collin Sexton (Knee — OFS), Jarret Allen (Finger — OUT), Dean Wade (Knee — OFS), Rajon Rondo (ankle — doubtful), Evan Mobley (Ankle - OUT)
Expected Mavericks Starting Lineup: Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell
Mavericks Injury Report: Tim Hardaway Jr. (Foot — OUT), Sterling Brown (COVID-19 — OUT), Theo Pinson (Finger — OUT), Trey Burke (COVID-19 — OUT)
Three Things to Watch
THE CAVS HAVE A BIG PROBLEM. Jarrett Allen is out for potentially the rest of the season and, based on what J.B. Bickerstaff has said, we should expect just that. Evan Mobley, in a cruel twist from the basketball gods, left Monday’s game against the Magic with an ankle sprain. While ESPN reported X-rays were negative, it seems unlikely that Mobley will play out of an abundance of caution for the Rookie of the Year candidate. What was once a clear strength for the Cavs has now withered away into a glaring problem.
Cleveland will be relegated to starting recent signee Moses Brown or veteran big Ed Davis if they want to keep with a traditional center. The coaching staff could also opt for putting Kevin Love at center with Lauri Markannen at the four for a maximum shooting lineup at the expense of rim protection. Regardless of how it is handled, the Cavs now have a big problem. While Dallas does not have a plethora of bigs who could expose Cleveland too heavily, it will undoubtedly be something to watch.
IN DEFENSE. In losing both of the bigs, the Cavs will be light on the other key component to their success this season: defense. Allen and Mobley are both excellent interior defenders while also being able to go out and play on the perimeter as needed. It has worked well, and the versatility has given opposing teams fits. But now, that advantage is gone. Isaac Okoro is an excellent defender, and he usually gets tasked with the best opposing offensive player, but he cannot anchor the defense by himself with no support behind him. And given that Okoro will likely be tasked with Luka Doncic, he will already have his hands full. Markannen has actually played some fine defense lately, and he will definitely need to keep that going, but that has not traditionally been his strong suit. Lamar Stevens has the connotation of being a scrapper and capable defender, things the Cavs will need in full force to beat a good Dallas team.
The Mavericks are dead last in the league in pace, but 4th in turnovers - slow play, but they do not turn the ball over. Dallas is, however, sixth in defensive rating but 18th in offensive rating. The Cavs may need to turn it into a rock fight and force the Mavericks to play out of their comfort level. That includes defensively. After Allen went down with the finger injury, the Cavs watched their defense plummet. Without him and Mobley in the rotation, it could lead to an even more precipitous fall. At a really bad time.
I NEED A(N) (UNSUNG) HERO. Dylan Windler, Cedi Osman, Caris LeVert and Brandon Goodwin. All of these players have either been hurt, recovering from injury or outright benched. For the Cavs to have a chance and beat Dallas, at least one of these players needs to step up in some way. Bickerstaff has gone to Windler more lately, perhaps the last gasp effort to remain on the Cavs roster next season. The 25-year-old played 16 minutes against the Magic, chipping in five points and nine rebounds while tacking on two steals. If he can maintain the “do a little bit of everything” persona and knock down some shots, that gives Cleveland a little dynamism. Osman has mysteriously been relegated toward the end of the bench, not even hitting the floor against Orlando and only logging five minutes the game prior. We know Osman can hit shots, but the defense leaves a lot to be desired. Bickerstaff has opted to go with the scrappier Windler, but he may not have a choice if the offense starts to sputter. Goodwin should not be asked to play significant minutes, but he has shown he can do some nice stuff in short bursts.
The big one here is LeVert, who has by all measures been a disappointment since coming over from Indiana. His shooting has been mostly cold, and in the most recent instance very cold (4-15, 0-4 from deep). The offense, which was the glaring weakness of this team, has not translated at all. The Cavs have a lower effective field goal percentage and have a minus-three differential with LeVert on versus off the court. He pounds the air out of the ball and can turn into a chucker, something the Cavaliers cannot afford right now. A team with significant offensive problems does not have that kind of margin for error. We know he can go nuclear on offense and carry a team to victory. Now would be a tremendous time for LeVert to get hot.