Boston: 107.0 points/100 possessions (13th)
Cleveland: 111.2 points/100 possessions (5th)
Boston: 101.7 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Cleveland: 103.9 points allowed/100 possessions (8th)
Probable Cleveland starters:
Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Free Agent #1
Thumbnail: The C’s host the top team in the East, their first game against the Cavs since winning in Cleveland on opening night. This will be Antawn Jamison 4th game with Cleveland, and the C’s will have to find a way to defend LeBron James without Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels. Yup. See Brendan Jackson’s piece in today’s Daily Dime on ESPN.com for more on the Who Guards LeBron? issue.
WHAT THE CAVS DO WELL:
Like most elite teams, the Cavs are good at pretty much everything they choose to be good at. They’re a mediocre offensive rebounding club and they force very few turnovers, but that’s mostly by choice; Mike Brown is a Gregg Popovich disciple, and like Pop’s Spurs, Brown’s Cavs stress transition defense over offensive rebounding and staying in front of shooters over gambling for steals.
Here are some things Cleveland does really well:
• Shot selection: If you’re among the growing contingent of fans that believe the best shots in basketball are those taken from at the rim and beyond the three-point line, the Cavs are the kind of team you’d like. They take significantly fewer shots than league average from between the rim and the three-point line, according to Hoopdata. Despite LeBron’s affection for the occasional heat-check 20-footer, this is a team that (when going well) gets a relatively high percentage of its points from three places: 1) near the rim; 2) from three; 3) at the foul line. Damn the mid-range game to hell.
• Three-point shooting.
Last season, the C’s hit 39.7 percent of their three-pointers. That was the 12th-best single-season team mark in league history. The Cavs this season are shooting 39.8 percent. All of the following players are shooting at least 39 percent from deep: Delonte West, Boobie Gibson, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker.
Rasheed Wallace is shooting 28 percent from deep, and he’s attempted more three-pointers than three of those players. Dial it back, Sheed.
Seriously: The whole “surround LeBron (and Shaq) with shooters” thing? It works. But not because of Shaq. Because of LeBron.
• Control the rim. The Cavs convert 66.4 percent of shots at the rim, the highest mark in the league, according to Hoopdata. (Boston is 2nd). On defense, only three teams allow a lower shooting percentage on shots at the rim. Good news: One of those three teams is Boston.
Not to go all dumb TV analyst on you, but whichever team yields to the other in the battle for the paint will probably lose this game.
• Defensive Rebounding. The Cavs collect 77 percent of available defensive boards, the 3rd-best mark in the NBA. The C’s are among the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams, so if Boston gets more than five tonight, consider it a major victory.
• Having annoying hair and flopping around the court like a beached fish of some sort.
WHAT THE CAVS DO POORLY:
As previously mentioned, not much. Unlike the Celtics and Nuggets, who allow low shooting percentages in the paint and from three-point range but soften up a bit in the middle, the Cavs are stingy from everywhere; they hold opponents to a below average field-goal percentage from every section of the court, according to Hoopdata.
If you’re looking for chinks in the armor, though, you can look here:
• Screen/roll defense. Shaq’s reputation for being a bad screen/roll defender is well-deserved; he hasn’t hedged or jumped out to help on ball-handlers in about five years. Of course, the C’s primary ball-handler on screen/rolls is still coming into his own as a shooter, and Rajon will do even more of the ball-handling than usual with Paul Pierce out.
It will be fascinating to see how Cleveland defends Rondo. LeBron may spend some time on him, and they’ll almost certainly dare him to shoot, which is a) the conventional strategy around the league; and b) a strategy that can help make up for Shaq’s inability to jump out much past the foul line. If the Cavs won’t guard Rondo beyond 15-feet, that means the C’s will have to run their screen/rolls for him near the foul line—in Shaq’s comfort zone.
• Turnovers. Only nine teams turn the ball over more often (per possession) than Cleveland.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY (OTHER THAN LEBRON):
• Anthony Parker. Quietly shooting the lights out from three. He’s hitting 45 percent from deep. You can’t leave him open.
• Shaq. After averaging about a 10-7 per game on 50 percent shooting through December, Shaq is having a little renaissance. Over the last two months, he’s averaging a 14-6.5 on 63 percent shooting. It’s always fun to watch Shaq and Perk go at it.
• Leon Powe. Our old pal may make his debut tonight. Of course, we wish him the best. And we hope our big guys are ready for an offensive rebounding machine.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
• Jamario Moon. Hugely disappointing season for Moon, who may be shooting his way out of the post-season rotation.
• Delonte West. His per-minute stats haven’t changed much, but he’s playing just 23.8 minutes per game (down from 33.6 last season), and we all know he hasn’t been there consistently.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM THE C’s TONIGHT:
• Some progression from Nate Robinson;
• A better performance on defense when KG is taken away from the rim. KG will start out on Jamison, and we saw against New York what can happen to the C’s screen/roll defense when their best back line helper has to follow the other team’s power forward out to the three-point line. The rotations will have to be better.
• How well can Perk handle Shaq without help?
• A net plus for the second unit. John Krolik at Cavs the Blog writes about it a lot: The Cavs start fast, and teams often catch up when Cleveland brings in its back-ups. The Celtics bench has been inconsistent, and it won’t be at full strength tonight without Pierce and Daniels. But still: Nate Robinson, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace are here so that the C’s can make up some points against opposing back-ups, even against the league’s best teams. Let’s see it.
Yes, the C’s are (likely) missing Pierce and Daniels. Yes, that means Tony Allen is going to have defend LeBron James. Yes, the Cavs are 44-14. But I’ve got a feeling. The C’s are sick of hearing about how they play worse at home (even though they, you know, play worse at home), and the Cavs have been shaky lately (they’ve lost three of four). Like I said. I’ve got a feeling. C’s 99, Cavs 97.