Frontcourt: LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world and he has shown it in his second stint with the Cavs. The team went into a tailspin when James opted to miss time to get his back and knee right. Since his return however, the Cavs have gone 12-2 and are in the thick of the Eastern conference playoff race. James is having a pretty pedestrian season by his standards, but is still his team’s leading scorer and set-up man at 26.1 points and 7.4 assists a game. His presence on the court has served to stabilize the offense of a talented but at times dysfunctional Cavs team. Defensively, he frequently guards the opponent’s best player, but the acquisition of Iman Shumpert has scaled that back a bit.
Another player mid season acquisition is Timofey Mozgov. The Russian center has filled a gaping hole for the Cavs at center and has played very well. He has posted averages of 9.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in a limited 26.3 minutes a game as a Cavalier. With all the offensive talent surrounding him, Mozgov has thrived focusing on playing defense and rebounding the ball.
Kevin Love is the most scrutinized player on the Cavs’ roster as he has struggled despite being their prized offseason acquisition. The cost was steep as the Cavs shipped out Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick who now looks to be blossoming in Minnesota. That said, Love is a proven star who just hasn’t figured out how to adapt to playing alongside other talented players. He is shooting a dismal 42.4 percent from the field and is shooting just 13.1 shots a game. He will be looking to get it going today against a thin Lakers frontcourt.
Backcourt: At lead guard, Kyrie Irving is a great fit next to a playmaker like LeBron James. Irving is very much a modern guard in that he has a score first mentality. In a secondary role, he is able to take care of the basketball and create for shorter stretches of the game. He may have the best handle in the entire league and it allows him to be a shifty and efficient scorer despite being significantly less athletic than some of his contemporaries such as John Wall or Russell Westbrook. He is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc and can put up points in a hurry from that range.
A pair of former New York Knicks soak up most of the remaining backcourt minutes. J.R. Smith gets the start and is yet another scorer capable of heating up on any given night. He is a capable playmaker, but his role will mostly be limited to spot up shooting on the Cavs’ stacked roster. Iman Shumpert, who was traded to the Cavs with Smith, gets a handful of minutes backing up Irving and Smith. He is far and away the best defender of the three and would probably see more floor time today if the Lakers had a more reliable perimeter scorer.
Keys to Victory:
Defense: Against an absolutely stacked offensive squad like the Cavs, playing disciplined defense is critical. Of course it is far easier said than done to stop the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving possession after possession. And often times, great defense will be trumped by even greater offense. That said, the Lakers need to focus on defense for the remainder of their games as they are giving up 106.0 points a game, which puts them at 29th in points allowed. Win or lose, holding the Cavs under 100 would be a step in the right direction.
Get Carlos Boozer on the Floor: The power forward position is one of the favorable matchups for the Lakers as Kevin Love is a below average defensive player. Unfortunately, starter Tarik Black has a virtually nonexistent offensive game. However, Carlos Boozer has been on a tear as of late, averaging 19.3 points over his last four games. He is fully capable of getting the better of Love in this matchup and the Lakers will need to feed him as often as they can.
Limit LeBron James’ Playmaking: The Cavs’ offense has a tendency to stagnate whenever LeBron James isn’t in distributor mode. In many of these cases, Irving tends to play somewhat selfishly, which compounds the issue. The Lakers should strive to keep James from getting his teammates involved, which will put a damper on the potency of the Cavs’ offense.
Los Angeles Lakers (13-37) at Cleveland Cavaliers (31-21)
12:30 PM PST, February 8, 2015
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Cavaliers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kevin Love
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: SG: Iman Shumpert, SF: Tristan Thompson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Tarik Black
C: Robert Sacre
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