What the heck is going on with the Cavaliers? First the blowout loss to the Orlando Magic, then only a few nights later, a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James has been ballin’ out but the support around him has been lackluster to say the least. James is fourth in points per game with 27.6 and is shooting a masterful 61% from the field and a lofty 45% from three.
His next best cast mate, Kevin Love, is putting up decent numbers in some categories (17.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game) but his percentages have been less than spectacular at 41.8% from the field and a paltry 24% from the perimeter. Outside of LeBron, the Cavaliers have no identity and they’ll need to find it fast to ensure they maintain a top four status out east.
DeMarcus Cousins had himself a night against his former team, the New Orleans Pelicans. He posted a monster 41 points and 23 rebounds in their win over the Kings and in the absence of franchise teammate, Anthony Davis, he’s been a shining light.
Injuries have played a big part in the Pelicans start to the season and the fact they’ve been able to garner a couple wins despite the lack of any real depth has been admirable. Alongside Boogie, Jrue Holiday and newly signed Jameer Nelson will need to sustain their form to continue the Pelicans’ winning ways.
Three keys to the game
Stopping LeBron – The Pelicans weakest position is the wing spot. Too bad that’s also Cleveland’s best position. Dante Cunningham will likely see plenty of time on The King and with the fact Cuningham isn’t known for his offense he’ll be able to hone in on shutting LeBron down. The best he can hope for is limiting the damage he does because, at the end of the day, LeBron is so dominant that really no player in the league can fully nullify him.
Stopping Boogie – Right now Cousins is the league’s best center, at least on the offensive end. Tristan Thompson, while an elite rebounder, isn’t exactly a lockdown defender. Look for the Pelicans to feed DeMarcus early to get him in a groove and leave the Cavaliers on the back foot.
The three-point shot – New Orleans were lights out from the perimeter in their win against the Kings, shooting over 40%. In their loss to Brooklyn, Cleveland were by no means terrible but certainly subpar by their standards, shooting a tad over 34%. The team which can nail its shots from the perimeter will likely be the one who gets the win.
Matchup to watch
Tristan Thompson vs DeMarcus Cousins – As mentioned above, Thompson is going to have his hands full keeping Cousins quiet. What Thompson can do is stick to his guns and focus on punishing him on the glass. DeMarcus has the versatility to force Tristan out of the paint with his reformed three-point shot. He shot ridiculously well from the perimeter in his standout performance against the Kings, going 3-5 in the win.
Cleveland Cavaliers projected starting lineup
PG – Derrick Rose | SG – JR Smith | SF – LeBron James | PF – Jae Crowder | C – Kevin Love
New Orleans Pelicans projected starting lineup
PG – Jrue Holiday | SG – E’Twaun Moore | SF – Dante Cunningham | PF – Darius Miller | C – DeMarcus Cousins
LeBron doesn’t like to lose singular games let alone two in a row. He’s always likely to put up a near 27 points triple double and dominate the box score. The resistance from the Pelicans will be shaky at best so look for James to put in another vintage performance.
While no odds are available at this stage, you’d be a fool to bet against LeBron losing two games in a row. The Derrick Rose ankle injury is a minor worry but his lack of a three-point shot also hurts Cleveland’s spacing. Take the Cavaliers in this one, with or without Rose.
Coach Tyronn Lue will be sweating on the health of Derrick Rose to help ease the offensive load off of LeBron James. Expect big nights from the two stars, LeBron and DeMarcus, and also keep an eye out for the recently signed Josh Smith.
Smith was signed to the Pelicans in a deal to help fill the void left by Anthony Davis’ injury. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in, but he’ll at least help their bench depth which has been a major weakness so far this season. Taking all that into account, expect LeBron to lead his team to a relatively comfortable win over the Pelicans.
Catch this one on league pass and local providers. Tip off is at 7pm ET at the Smoothie King Center.
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