Steve Blake and Steve Nash come back, and Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks go down. The Lakers can’t catch a break and continue to deal with a thin bench. While not many people expected the Lakers to be very good this year even with a healthy roster, the Cleveland Cavaliers were expected to be a playoff team in a weak Eastern Conference. The Cavs’ season has gone about as bad as it possibly could have up to this point. With all-star point guard Kyrie Irving entering his third year as well as lottery picks Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson expected to continue their development, the Cavs were supposed to improve from a season ago. The losses have continued to mount up for them, not to mention the unsuccessful signing of Andrew Bynum and the historically bad start for last year’s number one overall pick Anthony Bennett. Let’s see how the Lakers match up with them.
Frontcourt: Though power forward Tristan Thompson still was likely taken too high with the fourth overall pick back in 2011 (can’t say that for certain yet, since he is only 22 years old), he has developed into a solid player. He averages close to a double-double on the year with 11.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He is strong in the paint, and can hurt the Lakers on the offensive glass if they do not put a body on him. While he strangely changed his shooting hand from left to right in the off-season, he has shown an improved touch on his shot from the outside. Keeping he and starting center Anderson Varejao off the offensive boards is a key to victory for the Lakers in tonight’s game.
The recently acquired Luol Deng starts at the three for Cleveland. Deng, a two-time all-star with the Chicago Bulls, is as steady as ever and is averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the season for both the Cavs and Bulls. Deng is unquestionably a top ten small forward in the league, and will likely be a Laker free agent target this coming summer. He remains one of the best wing defenders in the league and is a very good midrange shooter. While the acquisition of Deng was supposed to put Cleveland in the playoff picture, the team has continued to sputter despite his valuable contributions.
Backcourt: The Cavs go as their franchise point guard, Kyrie Irving, aka Uncle Drew, takes them. Irving was voted in as an all-star starter despite the team’s poor record. The former first overall pick has one of the best handles in the league and can work his way to the basket in almost any situation. He is equally effective from outside, though his shooting percentages are down across the board this year. Irving is a shoot-first point guard who has drawn some criticism this season for not getting his teammates involved, but it must be remembered that he’s only 21 years of age and playing within the confines of Mike Brown’s offense. Irving is a capable passer and comes in averaging 6.2 assists a night to go with his 21.7 points. This is a tough matchup for whichever Laker point guard draws the majority of the minutes tonight.
It has been somewhat of a revolving door for the Cavs as to who starts at the other guard spot. Most recently, Jarret Jack, who is a point guard, has started alongside Irving. Jack has had a disappointing season after having an outstanding regular season and postseason for the Golden State Warriors last year. Jack is only averaging nine points per game on 40% shooting, his lowest average in the last five seasons. Dion Waiters is a player the Lakers must be aware of at all times when he comes in off the bench. Though he appears to be in coach Mike Brown’s doghouse at the moment (only played 11 minutes last game), Waiters has Jamal Crawford type ability to put up buckets in a hurry off the bench. He averages 14.1 points per game in only 28 minutes.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Defensive Glass: With Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out, the Lakers, already a poor rebounding team, could be in for a struggle on the backboards with a Cavs team that ranks twelfth in the NBA in rebounds per game. Varejao and Thompson, as discussed earlier, are both very active, particularly on the offensive end. The Lakers cannot afford to lose the battle on the glass by a significant margin or they will likely be playing from behind all night.
Trap Kyrie: The Cavaliers offense has struggled most of the year. Their sets are predictable, and Coach Brown has not done a good job of utilizing his personnel on that end. However, in tight games down the stretch, Irving has shown the ability to take over a game and have huge fourth quarters. If it is a close game and Kyrie starts to catch fire, the Lakers should consider sending a double at him or trapping him off ball screens. The Cavs are not a great outside shooting team.
Fast Start: On the second night of a back-to-back, a slow start is always a concern for the Lakers. The Cavs are currently mired in a five-game losing streak and there have also been rumors floating around of Irving wanting out and Deng being unhappy since arriving. If the Lakers come out quickly, the Cavs could unravel and have a tough time getting back in the game.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are +6.5 against the Cavaliers via Sportsbook
Los Angeles Lakers (16-32) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-32)
4:00 PM PST, February 5, 2014
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Cavaliers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jarret Jack
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Anderson Varejao
Key Reserves: SF Earl Clark, SG C.J. Miles, G Dion Waiters
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Steve Blake
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Robert Sacre
Chris Kaman Finally Getting Some Playing Time With Pau Gasol Out