Two days after becoming the second-leading scorer all-time, LeBron James returns to his hometown once again as the Los Angeles Lakers face the playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Lakers and Cavaliers have both defied expectations during the 2021-22 season, but for opposing reasons. The Lakers — after starting the year with championship expectations — are barely holding on the 10th and final spot in the Play-In Tournament.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers — who were criticized for their offseason decisions and roster construction — are the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, sitting just three games back of the No. 2-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. They are currently fighting to avoid the Play-In Tournament altogether, as they have a one-game cushion on the Toronto Raptors.
Many assumed that James would find a way to pass Karl Malone on the all-time scoring list during this game in Cleveland. However, by securing the No. 2 spot in the Lakers’ Saturday night loss to the Washington Wizards, he faces the Cavaliers with no agenda other than getting a win.
Among the Lakers that were on the injury report, James, Wayne Ellington and Wenyen Gabriel are all playing despite their designations. Meanwhile, Talen Horton-Tucker is out as he continues to nurse a minor ankle injury that has had him in and out of the lineup in recent weeks.
As for the Cavaliers, Collin Sexton is out for the remainder of the season, while Jarrett Allen is out as he rehabs a fractured left middle finger. Dean Wade and former Laker Rajon Rondo have both been ruled out for Monday night as well.
However, the Cavaliers still have plenty of firepower. Behind All-Star Darius Garland, Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen, the Cavaliers are coming off a massive win over the Denver Nuggets and have done just enough to maintain their No. 6 seeding.
The Lakers have not seen the Cavaliers since October, their sixth game of the season. That night, the Lakers pulled together a 113-101 victory, but each team has taken a serious turn — for better or worse — since then.
For L.A., a win would not only bring them to 2-2 on their current road trip — a road record that has been hard to come by for the Lakers this season — but it would hopefully show their ability to beat teams in the playoff picture and build some momentum.
But guards like Garland have had their way with the Lakers this season, as a lack of perimeter defenders has come back to haunt L.A. on numerous occasions. And for the Cavaliers, a win would mean they’re one step closer to avoiding the Play-In Tournament.
Lakers (30-41) vs. Cavaliers (41-30)
4:00 p.m. PT, Mar. 21, 2022
Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland, Ohio
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Austin Reaves
PF: LeBron James
C: Wenyen Gabriel
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Stanley Johnson, D.J. Augustin
Projected Cavaliers Starting Lineup:
PG: Darius Garland
SG: Isaac Okoro
SF: Lamar Stevens
PF: Lauri Markkanen
C: Evan Mobley
Key Reserves: Caris LeVert, Kevin Love, Cedi Osman
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