After splitting their home-and-home back-to-back with the Grizzlies this week, the Cavaliers play four of their next five at The Q – beginning with Saturday’s matchup against the Lakers.
On Wednesday night, the Wine and Gold – sans three-thirds of the Big Three – dropped a 93-85 decision to split their season series with Memphis. The Cavaliers welcome another Western Conference foe to Cleveland on Saturday night, but it’s definitely not the Lakers of years-past.
Luke Walton is running the show and Kobe Bryant has given way to L.A.’s youth movement, spearheaded by Julius Randle, former Buckeye D’Angelo Russell and this past June’s No. 2 overall pick, Brandon Ingram. After getting off to a 5-4 start, it’s been a tough transition in Tinseltown – with the Lakers dropping eight straight before their 100-89 victory in Philly on Friday.
The rested-and-ready Cavs have taken four straight against the Lakers – averaging 117.3 points on 52 percent shooting, dropping at least 120 on them in each of the last three matchups.
In previous years when the Cavaliers and Lakers faced off, there was ONE storyline – and then a bunch of other smaller ones.
But after a soon-to-be Hall of Fame 20-year career that saw him win five titles, one MVP award and 18 All-Star appearances, Kobe Bryant is no longer the face of the Lakers.
On the other side of that equation, LeBron is currently playing some of the best ball of his own future Hall of Fame career. The four-time MVP and current Eastern Conference Player of the Week comes into Saturday’s tilt netting at least 20 points, five boards, and five assists in each of his last six games – averaging 30.0 points on 58 percent shooting to go with 7.0 boards, 8.8 assists and 2.0 steals. One week ago, LeBron dropped a season-high 44 points on the Hornets at The Q and he’ll have fresh legs after three nights off.
Against the Lakers last year, James averaged 26.5 points on 53 percent shooting, adding 6.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists. And he hasn’t lost to the Lakers since returning to Cleveland.
The Cavaliers were without the Big Three on Wednesday night, but one starter that was guaranteed to be in the lineup was Tristan Thompson, playing in his 393rd straight contest.
Thompson was supposed to get a light workload, but wound up logging 28 minutes, leading the squad with 11 boards. It was the fourth time in his last six outings that Double-T has grabbed at least 11 – and is averaging a career-best 10.2 rebounds per game.
In two matchups with the Lakers last year, the former Longhorn averaged a double-double – 12.5 points and 13.5 boards, going a combined 9-for-11 from the floor and 7-of-9 from the stripe in the two wins.
Tristan will be going up against a familiar face on Saturday night, as Timofey Mozgov rolls in with the Lakers and leaves with a sparkling new piece of hardware he earned with the Wine and Gold last season.
In his first season on the Left Coast, Timo has been pretty underwhelming – averaging 8.5 points and 5.0 boards per contest, posting his first double-digit rebound game of the season in this past Wednesday’s loss in Brooklyn. But the big, loveable Russian will certainly get a nice ovation when he takes the floor in Cleveland tonight.
The Lakers are hoping their centerpieces for the future are Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. But their two leading scorers are reserves Jordan Clarkson, a former second-rounder, and Lou Williams – who’s looking to recapture the Sixth Man Award by averaging a team-best 19.2 points per contest.
Williams has been outstanding and is the main reason the Lakers – a team in which no player averages more than 30 minutes per game – have the top scoring bench in the NBA. Earlier this month, the electric 12th-year guard from South Gwinett High School notched 40 points off the bench against the Thunder and put up 38 more two nights later against Utah – part of a four-game stretch in which he amassed 137 total points, an NBA record for a reserve.
The Cavaliers don’t have a weapon like that off the bench – (not many teams do) – but they do have Iman Shumpert – one of the few guys who can slow Williams down and who’s having a career season shooting the ball across the board – and Channing Frye – the second-ranked three-point marksman in the Eastern Conference.
With the Cavaliers at full strength, Coach Lue will also have the luxury of bringing DeAndre Liggins off the bench against Williams as well.
The Cavalier who should have the freshest legs on Saturday night is Kyrie Irving, who got a solid seven-day layoff and should be ready to rumble against L.A.
After posting at least 20 points in a career-best 12 straight games, the three-time All-Star cooled off from the floor last Saturday night against Charlotte. But even with a quiet performance, Kyrie has been deadly from three-point range – especially over his last three games, going 8-for-13 from long-range.
In Irving’s last four matchups against the Lakers, he’s averaged 27.8 points and 7.3 assists – shooting 61 percent (45-of-74) from the floor, including 40 percent (10-of-25) from beyond the arc.
D’Angelo Russell will get the start for the Lakers, but once again, the young Lakers are a malleable squad with Luke Walton relying heavily on his bench. Lou Williams has been outstanding this year, but Jordan Clarkson has also been very good off the bench – averaging 14.5 points, netting double-figures in 21 of L.A.’s first 28 games. And if that’s not enough, the Lakers will bring Marcelo Huertas in for a stretch just to make Kyrie’s night a little more difficult.