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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Spurs close a brief homestand against a long-lost rival.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs
Basketball: a truly majestic sport
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs have endured a bumpy ride all season long. Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Joffrey Lauvergne have all been sidelined with various maladies for differing periods of time. These injuries have forced Pop into strange rotations that have yielded inconsistent results.

San Antonio Spurs (30-18) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-18)

January 23, 2018 | 7:00 pm CDT

Watch: TNT; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Rudy Gay (heel), Kawhi Leonard (quad tendon), Pau Gasol (right wrist sprain), Manu Ginobili (right thigh contusion)
Cavaliers injuries: Derrick Rose (ankle), Iman Shumpert (knee)

Cleveland has been in much the same boat. Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and most importantly Isaiah Thomas have missed time. They have oscillated between looking like a title contender and a fringe playoff team four or five times already this season. Despite their issues, they have stayed afloat because...

LeBron is still LeBron

Hot take, I know. But my goodness, his production is absolutely unreal for his 15th year in the league. It really doesn’t even need that qualifier – any season where a player nearly averages a triple double should be considered incredible. On top of that, he’s basically reached the pinnacle of efficiency, shooting 55% from the field, including nearly 37% from three.

Despite his Herculean stat line, a strange phenomenon is taking place for the first time in his career: LeBron’s team is playing better with him off the floor… in terms of on-off production at the very least. While Cleveland scores at a prolific clip with James (offensive rating of 113.5), they also allow any and every opponent to put up absurd numbers (defensive rating of 113.7). Both of these numbers fall drastically with LeBron sitting, but the defense improves to a much greater extent than the offense falters.

Some may attribute the poor defense with LeBron to the fact that he simply doesn’t care all too much in the regular season. Regardless, there should be some concern regarding the state of the Cavs because...

His teammates are frustrated

A recent article by Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has gone viral for some concerning remarks regarding the state of the Cavs:

Players have grumbled that James has slowed the ball movement, holding onto the ball until he sees an “assist” pass, rather than moving it quickly.

Yikes. Let’s break this down into the two main gripes. First, players have argued that James has slowed the ball movement. While LeBron controls the ball slightly more than he did last year (from 6.4 seconds to 7.1), he has actually seen a slight drop in his touches (88.1 to 87.3). Then there’s the fact that LeBron is actually playing at the fastest pace of his career.

On the other hand, the second gripe has some more truth to it. James is posting a career high assist percentage by a pretty sizable margin (43.7%, roughly 4% above his previous career high). Such a high assist percentage could be an indication that he has been hunting for assists, but it’s generally hard to find definitive proof for or against this using data only.

Perhaps James’ teammates view his supposedly ball-dominant style this season as a slight to their talent; several pundits have speculated that this Cavs team does not have the same firepower as the 2016 roster to upset the Warriors, and perhaps his teammates think he feels the same. It is understandable why they would feel this way, but...

The defense is a far greater area of concern

Ugh. Their defense is so infuriating. They are near the bottom of every defensive category, highlighted by 28th in the league in defensive rating. Honestly, I could just fill this section with tons of lazy transition and pick-and-roll defense gifs. Actually, you know what?

and

and

and

and

This is just from one quarter of a game. Yeesh.

Matchup to watch: Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James. Rudy Gay vs. LeBron James. Kyle Anderson vs. LeBron James. Well, this certainly could have been much more entertaining.

Vegas prediction: Spurs by 2.

Game prediction: Spurs by 5.

For the Cav fans’ perspective, visit Fear the Sword.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.