Cleveland’s loss to New York was perhaps the most disappointing of their last three. They had just come off an insipid performance against the Pelicans yet couldn’t even muster the effort to get within 19 points of a Knicks team that is expected to be lottery bound come the postseason. LeBron James just wasn’t himself in their most recent outing, despite playing heavy minutes (39). It was his poorest performance of the season so far, the King putting up 16 points, seven assists and 10 rebounds. In isolation those numbers aren’t that bad, but the impact James usually has on the floor just wasn’t there.
The Cavs’ 3-point shooting percentage was again horrible (30.3%) but perhaps even worse was the fact they conceded 46.4% from the same area to a team that’s also been struggling from the perimeter. There are worrying signs out in Cleveland and for once, James can’t fix it all himself.
The Pacers have been a stark contrast to the Cavaliers. Widely expected to struggle this season, they have been one of the surprise packets in the NBA, and all without their franchise center Myles Turner. The centrepiece to the Paul George trade in Victor Oladipo has been outstanding and is looking like an All Star. Coach Nate McMillan has transformed the team’s style of play to suit his personnel, and they’re getting out in transition while seeing contributions on all areas of the floor. That has translated into a 4-3 record so far this season, with the Pacers riding a two-game winning streak after disposing of the Spurs and Kings in their two most recent outings.
Three keys to the game
Supporting The King – James can only do much on a given night. He’s still leading the way in four major statistical categories: points, assists, blocks and steals, with Kevin Love picking up the slack in terms of rebounding. On paper Love’s numbers look good (19.1 points, 11.1 rebounds) but in essence they’re empty stats. He’s struggled adjusting to his role at the five though he isn’t helped by the constant lineup rotations coach Tyronn Lue has been making. Someone is going to have to lift to help James.
Stopping the Pacers’ offense – The Pacers have the third best offensive efficiency rating (103.8) in the NBA. They’ve also been lethal in transition, averaging over 15 points a game in that category. With the lack of youth and speed on the Cavaliers’ squad they’re going to struggle to stop a sprightly Pacers team. Additionally, Cleveland has the 27th worst defensive rating in the NBA and will have to change that to stop their recent rut.
Mid-range game – While a lot of teams have been taking a large majority of their shots from the perimeter, the Pacers have gone in a different direction and are second in the league for shots taken from mid-range. It’s working for them so far as reflected in their high-field goal percentage (48.3%). Cleveland will need to be wary of those jump shots and restrict the Pacers’ space in this game.
Matchup to watch
JR Smith vs Victor Oladipo – JR Smith’s form has been very poor lately, only averaging 5.4 points on the season and a terrible shooting percentage from the field (25.9%) and 3-point range (17.1%). Maybe a matchup with one of the best two guards in the game today will light a spark and force the best out of him. He’ll certainly need to be active defensively against Oladipo, who is averaging close to 25 points per game. Whether Smith will be able to keep with the lightning quick Oladipo in transition is another question.
Indiana Pacers projected starting lineup
PG – Darren Collison | SG – Victor Oladipo | SF – Bojan Bogdanovic | PF – Thaddeus Young | C –Domantas Sabonis
Cleveland Cavaliers projected starting lineup
PG – Derrick Rose | SG – JR Smith | SF – Jae Crowder | PF – LeBron James | C – Kevin Love
On the Cavaliers’ side you would be a fool not to go with LeBron, who is still averaging great numbers across the board despite his team’s struggles. Outside of James, and possibly Love, there are just no other viable fantasy options for the struggling Cavs. As for the Pacers, it’s got to be Oladipo, who is averaging career best numbers and is active on both ends of the floor for the Pacers.
The Cavs are -10.5 favorites which doesn’t do justice to both their recent struggles and the impressive Pacers. Expect a tighter contest than what the bookmakers have forecast; Pacers at +10.5 seems like the right play.
There’s been a lot of criticism of late of Cleveland, most of it warranted due to their lackluster play. The bounce back just has to happen at some stage, though, and there’s no better place to do it than in front of your home crowd. The Pacers lack real interior defensive presence so James should be able to attack them there. Even Derrick Rose, who’s had a shaky start to his Cleveland tenure, still has the ability to get to the rim. Look for Cleveland to get back on the winners’ list with a 114-106 win.
Catch this one on Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Indiana and League Pass. Tip-off is at 7pm ET at Quicken Loans Arena.
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