Cavaliers vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer
Cavaliers (36-15, 14-10 road) vs. Thunder (30-23, 18-7 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 103.9 (22nd), Cavaliers – 110.5 (4th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.4 (7th), Cavaliers – 106.2 (19th)
There was a time when I cared about the opponent being at full strength when the Oklahoma City Thunder played them. For the last couple of seasons, if a team sat their star player/players for the Thunder game, it always bugged me a bit. I honestly didn’t mind the “easier” game, but I also didn’t want to hear the only reason the Thunder won was because Player X sat out for resting purposes.
But now, I’m really in don’t care mode. You want to rest your star players? Go ahead. You want to rest your entire roster and bring up 8 players from the D-League? I’m all for it. You want to play a couple 10-day contract players who only got the chance by winning a team-sponsored essay writing contest? I’m game. I don’t care about that anymore. The Thunder need all the help they can get. And if Cleveland wants to sit their Big 3 of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, well then more power to them.
At the end of the season, no one nitpicks at records and says what the record should have been. No, they take the record at face-value. So if the Thunder finish with 46 victories, no one is going to say, “Well, it should be only 45 victories, because Cleveland rested their stars for their game in Oklahoma City.” A win against a depleted Cavs teams counts the same as a win against a fully-rostered Cavs team. The Thunder won’t get 2 W’s in the win column if they beat Golden State on Saturday. They’ll get one. So if every team in the league wanted to rest their stars when they face the Thunder from here on out, I would definitely welcome it. Besides, knowing the Thunder’s track record against teams resting their stars, they’ll likely play down to the level of their competition and be in for a close game the entire evening.
Season Series Summary
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Cavaliers. The Cavs won the first meeting in blowout fashion, 107-91, as Russell Westbrook triple-doubled, but couldn’t will the Thunder to victory after a bad 2nd quarter.
The Cavs come into this game with a 36-15 record, having won 6 of their last 7 games. The East leaders will reportedly be without the services of their Big 3, who will sit out for rest purposes. LeBron James is averaging the 2nd most minutes in the league this season, while Kyrie Irving is tied for 15th. With the Big 3 sitting out, the Cavs will likely depend on rookie point guard Kay Felder and former Thunder player (and XBox enthusiast) DeAndre Liggins to run the team. Just looking at this, I kind of agree with James that the 2nd unit definitely needs a (expletive) playmaker.
Outside of the two possible point guards, the team will heavily depend on Kyle Korver’s shooting (48.2% on 3’s since joining the Cavs) and Tristan Thompson’s rebounding (9.7 per game, 3.7 on the offensive glass). In addition, the Cavs just signed former No. 2 overall pick, Derrick Williams to a 10-day contract. Williams is one of those players that can immediately step in and contribute, until teams get a scouting report on him stating he can’t shoot, is too short to play the interior, and doesn’t do much of anything else on the floor if he isn’t scoring. Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Iman Shumpert will also likely play heavy minutes for the Cavs tonight.
- Enes Kanter (forearm)
3 Big Things
1. Trap Game Potential
The wind got taken out of the sails a bit for this game when it was announced that Lue would probably sit his Big 3. In addition, the Thunder have kind of a big game on Saturday. So, less competitive fire in today’s game and looking forward to Saturday’s game may result in the Thunder coming out lackadaisical to start this game. They’ve done it before when teams have rested their stars. The Thunder have to come out from the jump ready to pounce on the Cavs. They can’t let them hang around because a lot of the players on the Cavs have been there and done that. They won’t be scared of the moment if the game is close at the end.
Tristan Thompson always seems to have huge rebounding games against the Thunder. In his last 3 games against the Thunder, Thompson has averaged 13.3 rebounds. And that’s against the likes of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka. This guy knows how to rebound and can change the dynamics of a game with just a couple key offensive rebounds. With Kanter out, Adams and Joffrey Lauvergne will have to do a much better job of keeping Thompson off the boards.
3. Russell Westbrook
The team will completely vibe off of how Westbrook comes out in this game. If he comes out disinterested and turnover prone, then the team will follow suit. If he comes out focused, ready to put this game away early, then I believe the team will also do the same. It’s kind of hard to gauge where Westbrook’s head will be for this game. Will he be completely focused on this game or will he be looking forward to Saturday?
I sometimes joke that Westbrook is a machine, but in reality, he’s a human just like us. And for as much as we (the fans) probably put this game in the rear view once it was announced the Big 3 would sit out, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine some of the players doing the same. Hopefully they won’t though.