Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA.
7:30 p.m. PST
TV: ESPN, CSN Bay Area | Radio: KNBR 680
Buddy Blog: Fear The Sword
Fresh off of a win against a Central Division team that's exceeding expectations this season, the Warriors play another Central team that has been doing the opposite, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Friday night's game could have been thought of as a potential Conference Finals matchup before the season, but a couple of things have changed between then and now. The first difference is that the Cavaliers have not been as good as expected, past the point of growing pains, it seems. The second difference is that LeBron James is expected to sit this one out.
On Thursday LeBron said this:
LJ: "I would have played a week ago if it was a playoff game"— Rick Noland MG/CT (@RickNoland) January 7, 2015
Assuming the Cavaliers aren't pulling what Steve Kerr pulled Wednesday night and being coy about a player being ready in time for an upcoming game (in Kerr's case he said Bogut was "close" when he was good to go), there will be no LeBron at Oracle this regular season. This is bittersweet because LeBron is a joy to watch play, but he's also a terror to watch play:
The above video makes me wonder about the above tweet, because it looks to me like LeBron treats Oracle like a playoff venue, and with his team at a middling 19-17 and incorporating new players, his quick return is imperative to the Cavs.
Cleveland may be without LeBron, but they do have some new pieces on the table. They recently acquired JR Smith, Iman Shumpert (who is out), and Timofey (Russian for Timothy) Mozgov, all through trade. Mozgov should be the biggest addition with regards to playing the Warriors, as he will help patrol the interior defensively (a problem area for the Cavs) and put some pressure on Bogut as well. The Cavs have also made a big addition by subtraction in sending Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City. They had dreams of him becoming a Dwyane Wade imitation this season, but he has still been taking terrible shots, whining when he doesn't get the ball, and just not shooting well enough from three to be an off guard on a LeBron-led team. Smith may have similar attitude issues, but at least he can hit a catch-and-shoot triple.
Despite LeBron's absence and the integration of new players, the Warriors should not take the Cavaliers lightly. A team with both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving is a team to reckon with, as evidenced by both of their performances on Wednesday night against Houston, where Irving dropped 38 points and Love had 17 points and 16 rebounds. Just last season, Irving and Curry had an epic head-to-head battle in Cleveland and Love had an explosive first quarter shooting performance at Oracle. These two players can hurt the Warriors on offense, but can they stop them on defense?
While the Cavs have been above average on offense, their defense has been on the low end of the league. Luckily for the Warriors, they are well above average in both categories. The Cavaliers' weak spot defensively is in the paint, so hopefully recent returnees from injury Andrew Bogut and David Lee can shake some rust off and make them pay down low. Look for the Warriors bigs to have breakthrough games and Curry to get fired up by the matchup with Irving. Look for the Warriors keeping the hot streak at home going.
Mark Jackson is slated to be in the house on Friday night calling the game for ESPN. I'm inclined to think it won't end up too awkward on TV because Jackson is a professional commentator, but it will also be interesting to see if it is addressed at all at Oracle.