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Game On: Cavaliers @ Hornets
New Orleans wraps up their longest home stand of the season with a game against Cleveland which could have major ramifications for the NBA draft lottery in May.
The Cavaliers come to town on Easter Sunday riding a seven game losing streak, though five of the losses were against certain playoff teams, and another was against a team making a furious late-season climb to try to get there (Dallas). They have been without star point guard Kyrie Irving has been out for the team’s past eight games with a shoulder injury, and according to teammate Luke Walton, there is a chance that he may return tonight (though I seriously doubt it). In addition, rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters has also been out for the past four games due to loose cartilage in his left knee, so it is highly doubtful that he will play this evening either. Plain and simple, this Cavs team is a disaster without them, so adding them both (especially Kyrie) back to the lineup would make a major difference in this game.
Three Keys to the Game
- Crash the offensive glass. Ever since Anderson Varejao suffered a season-ending injury back in mid-December, the Cavaliers have been the league’s fourth worst defensive rebounding team with an DRR of 71.9%. In the month of March, the Hornets have been the NBA’s best offensive rebounding team with an ORR of 34.6%. Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez’ ORR of 13.4% and 15.6% respectively in March have been the catalysts for this effectiveness, and they have an ideal match-up to continue their recent success tonight.
- Don’t foul them. From the start of the season until Kryie Irving’s most recent injury, the Cavaliers averaged a free throw rate of .274, in the top half of the league. Since his injury, that free throw rate has fallen to .230, which is bottom-10 in the NBA. Without Irving in the lineup to both attack the rim and set teammates up, Cleveland has a very difficult time getting good looks, so it’s tough for them to get to the free throw line. The easiest way to let them stay in the game is by committing pointless fouls that get them to the line more frequently than they should.
- Protect the ball. Much like their free throw rate, Cleveland has been in the top half of the NBA in points off of turnovers this season, but is in the bottom 10 in the league in the 8 games since Kyrie was sidelined. Missing Irving and Waiters takes about 2.5 steals per game out of their lineup, making them much less tenacious on defense. Any team can turn the ball over if its players are careless enough, though, so the Hornets can’t give the Cavs easy opportunities when they’ll likely struggle to create those opportunities for themselves.
Full disclosure – I am unquestionably rooting for a (one point) Hornets loss tonight. New Orleans is just two games ahead of Cleveland right now, but a loss tonight coupled with the Hornets’ more difficult remaining schedule could be huge from a draft lottery perspective. As much as I was rooting for the Hornets to beat Miami on Friday night in front of so many terrible bandwagon Heat fans, I just can’t get excited about the thought of victory in a Sunday evening match-up against a struggling Cavaliers team. That being said – regardless of your desired outcome tonight, enjoy the game!
Update 4:00Pm: Kyre Irving will play tonight against the Hornets.