Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 3/7/12

Cavs will try to snap streak against Ty Lawson and the Nuggets

It’s time for this losing streak to stop. The Cleveland Cavaliers (13-23, 10th in the East) head west to take on the Denver Nuggets (22-17, 7th in the East).

Denver is a really solid team. The Nuggets managed to somehow look like a better team, in many ways, after trading their franchise superstar. They look like a really good team that will give someone a tough run in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. But you know what? Matchup-wise, I think the Cavaliers have a shot to snap the streak tonight.

The Nuggets will feature a projected starting lineup of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Corey Brewer, Kenneth Faried, and Timofey Mozgov. Denver is a fascinating team. Their leading scorer is Danilo Gallinari off the bench. They have 7 players who average double digit scoring per game. They have 2 PGs averaging almost 7 assists per game each (Lawson and Andre Miller). They score the most points per game in the NBA and they give up the 3rd most points per game. Based on Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System (adapted from Pro Football Reference’s algorithm), Denver is the 8th best team in the NBA.

So why do I think the Cavaliers might have a good chance in this game? First, the Cavaliers have frequently given better efforts on the road. The numbers say the Cavaliers are 5-11 on the road and they score the same amount both places and they give up 1 more point per game on the road. But there’s just something about the energy they bring on the road that often seems stronger than at home.

Second, the Nuggets do their damage in the open court and from the backcourt mostly. Al Harrington plays PF very much like Antawn Jamison. Of those 7 Nuggets averaging double digit points, Nene is the only one who does most of his damage from the post. Otherwise, Denver likes to push the tempo, and in their half court sets they look to drive and kick. Most of their shots are either layup attempts or three pointers.

The style of basketball the Nuggets play is something the Cavaliers can matchup with. Cleveland has shown themselves to be one of the best conditioned teams in the NBA, a big reason why they are able to make so many 4th quarter comebacks. So the Cavaliers will not be intimidated by the Nuggets’ style of play.

This could be a game where Ryan Hollins’ relative athleticism at C will help the team. While Ryan may not have good hands or be particularly coordinated, he does run the floor well and compared to Erden and Samuels, that will be a plus. I think Tristan Thompson will potentially have a big game as well, as I think he is really suited to play at Denver’s pace. The Cleveland PGs in Irving and Sessions are both also able to play at this speed.

I didn’t like the Utah matchup at all. I made it pretty clear in that preview that I felt the Cavaliers were in over their hands against the Jazz. Even though Denver is a better team than Utah, I like this matchup significantly more.

The Cavaliers need to be cognizant of getting back on defense and cutting off the driving lanes. They also need to extend the defense on the Nuggets’ three point shooters. Running their shooters off the 3 point lane and making them take long distance 2 point jumpers will make Denver a little less comfortable even in their own style of play.

Finally, on offense, the Cavaliers need Kyrie Irving to establish himself early. I always like to say that rookies who start every game are no longer rookies after the All-Star break. This season is slightly different due to the lockout, but still, I don’t feel Kyrie is a rookie anymore. This is his team. It’s going to be his team for a long time. The Cavaliers offense often runs through Jamison early, leading to a ton of less-than-great jumpers. It’s time for Irving to look to establish his own offense first and then start setting up his teammates.

Cleveland needs to get off to a quick start in this game to get their heads into a matchup early. If that means we need a more selfish Irving, then so be it. He’s the best player on this team, and this team needs him to be that in the first quarter and not just save it all for the 2nd half.

Denver is a great team, they love their fast style of play, and they dare teams to keep up with them. It won’t be easy, but Cleveland has a real chance to hang in there with Denver. Cleveland’s youth and athleticism (not counting Anthony Parker…no offense AP) will give them every opportunity to pull out a win if they can come out and play their best game in 3 weeks. Hopefully they do. Otherwise, this streak is probably sticking around a while.

_____

Image credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

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