The honeymoon just ended for the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers (34-23). They suffered their first loss in three games as currently constructed as they fell at home to the Washington Wizards last night, 110-103. LeBron James led the way with his typical 32 points (13-18 FG), nine rebounds, and eight assists.
However, he didn’t quite get the production from the supporting cast that he had received in the last couple of games. Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson combined for just 17 points off the bench, while the team shot a mere 8-of-35 from beyond the arc.
The Cavs will look to immediately bounce back against the struggling Memphis Grizzlies (18-38), who are tanking their season away. They entered the All-Star break on a seven-game losing skid and have dropped ten of their last 12 games overall. Although, they were reasonably competitive in a 121-114 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Tyreke Evans looked back to his best in his second game back after being shut down by the team. He had 23 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Meanwhile, Andrew Harrison had a career-high 28 points, breaking his previous best of 23 points which he set just a couple games ago.
Three keys to the game
Cavs retaliation – Last night’s loss was obviously a setback for the Cavs, who looked impressive in their wins over the Celtics and Thunder. However, don’t expect LeBron to allow them to start the second half of the season with back-to-back defeats. Look for them to come out with a bit more aggressiveness against the Grizzlies in order to get back on track.
Grizzlies motivation – It should be pretty clear at this point that the Grizzlies aren’t all that interested in winning. They need to lose as many games as possible in order to get a top pick in the draft. They are already at a distinct talent disadvantage against the Cavs, and if they fail to compensate that shortcoming with effort, they won’t stand much of a chance.
3-point shooting – The Cavs were ice-cold from 3-point range against the Wizards, going just 8-of-35. However, that’s a bit of an anomaly. They’re one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the league and should bounce back following their rare off-night. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league and will struggle to keep pace with the Cavs if Cleveland’s threes start to fall.
Matchup to watch
JR Smith vs Tyreke Evans – Smith has been on fire of late. He’s averaging 14 points this month while shooting an absurd 55 percent from beyond the arc. However, he'll also be asked to put in a bit more effort defensively against Evans. The Grizzlies guard had a great game in his first meeting with the Cavs and will be instrumental in Memphis’ chances of ending their skid.
Cavs projected starting lineup
PG – George Hill | SG – JR Smith | SF – LeBron James | PF – Cedi Osman | C – Tristan Thompson
Grizzlies projected starting lineup
PG – Andrew Harrison | SG – Tyreke Evans | SF – Dillon Brooks | PF – JaMychal Green | C – Marc Gasol
Defending opposing shooting guards has been a big weakness for the Grizzlies for most of the year. That could open the door for Smith as well as Rodney Hood off the bench to do more damage from the perimeter.
As for the Grizzlies, Harrison will be an intriguing pickup. He’s averaging 16 points and close to four assists this month as he’s fully established himself as the team’s starting point guard. The Cavs continue to have problems containing point guards as Tomas Satoransky proved by burning them for 17 points (6-7 FG) and eight assists last night.
This just has to be a Cavs win. LeBron isn't going to allow the team to drop back-to-back games right out of the gate following the break, and the Grizzlies will likely be all too happy to oblige. Take Cleveland to cover the five-point spread as road favorites.
The Cavs condemn the Grizzlies to an eighth-straight defeat as they run out 115-101 winners.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast – Memphis and Fox Sports Ohio. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.