When: 11:30 AM PST
Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
Radio: 95.7 The Game
Merry Christmas everyone! I can only imagine the thousands of fans watching this game, sporting freshly gifted Christmas team gear that still smells like it just came from the factory. Hopefully I will be one of those fortunate folks (if my wife was kind enough to get me that Iguodala jersey I asked for!). Every season there are some games that we circle on the calendar and today’s matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers is definitely one that was noted by nearly everyone who watches the NBA.
This will be the first time these teams have faced each other since the Finals, and promises to be a clash of two titans of the NBA. Both teams are at the top of their respective conferences and both teams have been winning of late - the Warriors are on a seven game victory streak, and the Cavs are on a four game streak. Will the addition of Kevin Durant sway the balance of power in this matchup?
Here’s the team statistical comparison (you can scroll for more details):
Welp, LeBron James is still good. Really, really good. He leads this Cavs team in points, assists and steals per game and is destined to go down as one of the greatest players to ever don an NBA uniform. Next to him, Kyrie Irving is riding a confident high since burying a three point dagger into the Warriors collective soul to end the Finals last year. Irving may be playing the best basketball of his career right now, averaging 24 points, and 5.3 assists per game on 48% shooting (42.7% from three).
The Cavs have some injury problems, so don’t expect this to be any sort of telling matchup between these two powerhouses but it will still be fun. J.R. Smith suffered a fractured thumb that required surgery last week, so he’s out. Filling the 29 minutes per game he accounted for is going to be a tough problem for Cleveland to solve.
Likewise out (albeit less important to the team’s success) is backup center Chris “Birdman” Anderson who is done for the season (and possibly his career) after a catastrophic knee injury suffered in practice.
Adding to these woes, the Cavs have a systemic problem at backup point guard. Mathew Delavedova is gone, off chasing a large contract with the Bucks that the Cavs chose not to match. In his stead, the Cavs had hoped to lean on wily veteran Mo Williams, but in one of those odd NBA stories, he appears to have taken his guaranteed contract and quasi retired after off-season knee surgery, leaving the Cavs in the lurch - beholden to pay his salary, yet powerless to get him to suit up.
They did bring in ex-Warrior Mike Dunleavy jr., but neither he nor Iman Shumpert are well-suited to run the point for any length of time. As a result, expect the Cavs to throw rookie Deandre Liggins into their starting lineup. I don’t know much about this kid, but we should quickly learn what he’s made of as he will have to defend one of the NBA’s most lethal offenses (and more specifically, one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in Klay Thompson).
The biggest question Warriors fans have right now is what the addition of Kevin Durant means to this matchup. So far, he has been everything fans could have hoped for. He’s averaging approximately 26 points per game (on an absurd .652 true shooting percentage), 8.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, as well as a team-high 1.5 blocks. While coach Steve Kerr will certainly be judicious in his use of super sub Andre Iguodala, I think a lot of how this game develops will be defined by the Durant vs. James battle on both ends of the court.
Historically, Durant has not fared all that well when matched up against James. In the regular season, Durant has a 3-13 record vs. James. And that includes 0-8 when James wears a Cavs uniform, dating all the way back to LeBron's first stint in Cleveland.
Keys to the game
Both of these teams are beyond potent, offensively. The Warriors are the #1 ranked offense in the league, both in terms of raw points output, as well as offensive efficiency. And the Cavs aren’t far behind, coming in at #4 in points, and #3 in offensive efficiency. The Cavs are shooting a lot more threes, but both teams are equally adroit at attacking the rim off the dribble and scoring from the outside using a variety of weapons.
The real question is going to be on the defensive end. After some early hiccups, the Warriors defense has become nearly as dominant as their offense. With a defensive rating of 102.9, the Golden State Warriors rank second in the NBA and they will be prepared to face their toughest test of the season behind the ever impressive Draymond Green.
The Cavs defense is decidedly middle of the road and so we will have to see if their 13th ranked defense is up to the task of defending the Warriors monster offense. Kevin Love is back in action after recently being out with a knee issue, so keep a careful watch on the Warriors plan of attack where he is involved.
Beyond that, the Cavs will miss the length of J.R. Smith and the tenacity of Birdman Anderson, and the Warriors will be ready to attack this weakness. Remember that the Warriors motion-oriented offense could wreak havoc on a Cavs team that will be without one of their primary rotation players today. The rookie starting in place of J.R. Smith could be in for a stocking full of coal on the court if he gets lost in the shuffle on defense.
At the risk of angering the basketball gods, I am going to go ahead and predict a win here. The line is only two points, but the odds makers do favor the Warriors, in spite of the Cavs strong performances at home. I’m going further. I think once the Warriors put their foot on the throttle in the 3rd quarter, the Cavs will fold.
Warriors 115, Cavs 102
(I also predict that I get the Iguodala jersey I asked for. I was pretty good this year.)