Quiet dominance. The Spurs have mastered the art of lurking in the background of the NBA headlines while simultaneously taking apart the rest of the league. The organization has done it since Tim Duncan arrived on the scene well over a decade ago. It has become so understood that the Spurs are out to one, if not the best start in the league, but one would never know outside of San Antonio. The Spurs' own players didn't hype the 10-1 start and eight-game winning streak it had leading into the game with Memphis last night. It is understood that success is not the goal, it is the requirement.
On the second night of a back-to-back, San Antonio will take on a Cleveland team searching for identity and passion under head coach Mike Brown. The Cavaliers entered last night's contest with New Orleans at 4-8, mostly due to a lack of consistency and effort that has been acknowledged by the coaches, front office, and the players. When Cleveland is focused, playing efficiently, and hard on both ends of the court, this is a pretty solid team. When it isn't, Cleveland turns into one of the pumpkins of the NBA.
As with most Mike Brown led teams, one of the issues is ball-movement on offense. Even with a young top-flight point guard in Kyrie Irving, the Cavs are 24th in the league in assists per game with 18.8. Irving averages a team-high 6.9 assists a game, and that means there is too much one-on-one ball in the Cleveland offense that averages 92.4 points a game, good for 27th in the league. The slow, clunky style does help the defense, however, as Cleveland gives up 99.4 points per game - 17th in the league.
Cleveland hit the lottery a year too early, as number one pick Anthony Bennett has been so bad that many people are calling for him to be sent to the D-League to build his confidence and work on his game. The first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft is averaging .351 points PER SHOT and has a PER of 0.9. For a team that was really missing just one piece on the wing to at least compete for a strong playoff spot each year, Bennett has been a colossal failure to this point and appears to be a non-factor moving forward on the court.
The biggest factor for Cleveland remains Uncle Drew. Irving is averaging a team-high 21.8 points per game to go along with 6.9 assists and close to four rebounds a game. He is joined in the backcourt by Dion Waiters, a player with outstanding game but a tendency to disappear at times. Waiters is averaging the second-most points on the team with 13.1 a game, and averages 1.6 steals, as his time on the floor has increased with C.J. Miles being out with a calf injury. Jarrett Jack has produced well off of the bench, adding 10.2 points per game as the current Sixth Man.
The issue for Cleveland comes when the Cavs try to create points outside of the guard position. Out of the team's five players that have averaged double figures this season, only power forward Tristan Thompson is a non-guard. Bennett was supposed to be the answer at small forward, but with him being a dumpster fire, the pressure has fallen on Earl Clark to handle a lot of those duties. Clark just isn't well-rounded enough to be an offensive threat on a nightly basis. Same with Thompson, who is averaging 12.2 points a game and leads the team with 9.4 rebounds a game.
The center position is deep on paper, but Tyler Zeller is day-to-day on this current road-trip and Andrew Bynum missed the New Orleans game with an injury. That leaves Anderson Varejo as the only true center with any real experience before this season. Henry Sims may get more run if Zeller and Bynum are unable to go. Matthew Dellavedova is the guy to watch at shooting guard when Waiters isn't on the floor.
Look for the Cavaliers to play a lot of three-guard rotations with Irving, Jack, and Waiters on the floor at the same time with Thompson and Varejo. It is a double-edged-sword-lineup that Brown has no choice but to use at times to create points and attitude. San Antonio should be able to handle Cleveland, but if a fired up Cavs team shows up and the Spurs limp into the back-to-back with too much confidence, it could become a close game, especially if Cleveland can create some ball-movement and get out in the open court to run and create lanes. The Cavs do not have the offensive efficiency to beat the Spurs in a half-court game.
Matchup to watch: It has to be Kyrie Irving versus Tony Parker. This is arguably a matchup between two of the top-five point guards in the league. Irving has the youth and athleticism, but Parker is crafty in his own right and has a tendency to play with something to prove against young, upstart point guards that are perceived to be more athletic. In a game that may become a blowout, this matchup will be must-watch television at times.
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