Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 3/5/12

Cavaliers hope to fare better against Utah this time around

The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-22, 10th in the East) can officially kiss the playoffs goodbye. Not many felt the Cavaliers could actually make the playoffs to begin with, but the Anderson Varejao injury just made things that much more difficult. Now the Cavaliers find themselves on season high 5 game losing streak and everything is pretty much fallen apart.

Those who prefer lottery over winning games can rejoice in the fact the Cavaliers are actually closing in on a top 5 pick at this pace. The Cavaliers currently have the 8th lowest win PCT and have just one more win than the four teams currently tied for 4th fewest wins. A few more losses to teams the Cavaliers should be able to beat, along with a few timely wins from fellow bottom dwellers like Detroit, Sacramento, Toronto, and New Jersey, and the Cavaliers just might be in the hunt for a top 5 pick after all.

Those who would prefer to see the Cavaliers developing and winning games, this has been a rough stretch. A frustrating lack of focus and effort, things are starting to feel dangerously close to last season. The team is beginning to have that look in their eye again, where they know they’re going to lose before the game even starts.

Tonight the Cavaliers will try to snap out of this funk against the Utah Jazz (17-19, 11th in the West). The Jazz just beat LeBron James and his Miami Heat over the weekend, and they followed that up with a close loss in Dallas to the defending Champs. The Jazz come into this game with a lot of confidence and no doubt feel that they should be able to escape The Q with a win tonight.

With Anderson Varejao this is a tough matchup for Cleveland. Without Varejao, it’s another nightmare matchup. Al Jefferson (18.5 pts, 9.3 reb, 2.1 assists, and 1.5 blk) and Paul Millsap (15.7 pts, 9.0 reb, 2.0 assists, and 1.5 stl) are one of the finest frontcourt duos in the NBA and both are having really strong seasons. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are both making the most of the minutes they are given and are proving to be very efficient players. And then there’s slam dunk champ Jeremy Evans as well.

Without Varejao, the projected starting PF and C for the Cavaliers are Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins. Matched up against Jefferson and Millsap. Yikes. We’ll see if Coach Scott feels the need to play Tristan Thompson big minutes to matchup defensively with the Jazz. I would think Samardo Samuels would be a better physical matchup with Jefferson than either Hollins or Erden, but the Cavalier centers have been so awfully inconsistent that it’s tough to say that with any certainty. The point is, the Cavaliers are going to have their hands full in the paint.

The backcourt matchup is a little more favorable. Devin Harris is a really solid PG, but he has been surprisingly mediocre defensively in recent years. His effort in going around screens lags at times, and Irving should be able to take advantage and find some space to get off some good looks. On defense, the goal should be to make Harris shoot from outside, but Harris is so freaking good at getting around much better defenders than Kyrie Irving, so a lot of talk and help defense is a must.

Gordon Hayward’s scoring is up, but that’s a function of his minutes and usage increasing. His shooting overall and from 3-point range is down. He is one of the worst defenders on the Jazz, but I’m not sure either Anthony Parker or Daniel Gibson will be able to do much to take advantage of this. This is where Cleveland’s lack of an attacking wing scorer, particularly at the 2, really hurts them as they may not be able to take advantage of this particular weakness.

This is another game where, quite frankly, I don’t expect the Cavaliers to be able to win unless the Jazz come out and play poorly and don’t give a strong effort on the glass. With road games at Denver and Oklahoma City coming up this week, too, the Cavaliers’ losing streak could be in danger of stretching out longer than anyone wants to see. So I’m not sure how they can pull it off, other than just giving one of their best efforts of the season, but I really hope the Cavaliers can find a way to sneak out of The Q with a win tonight. Otherwise, I’m a little worried about this losing streak pushing 10 games, and I don’t care how badly anyone wants a high lottery pick, another brutal losing streak is the last thing this young team needs right now.

_____

Image Credit: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

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