The Cavaliers are really good, a popular pick for NBA champion the last, what?, four years or so. The team sits at 21-8, just 4th in the East but probably 5th in the entire league. This is a really, really good team. It was, this week, the first to beat the Suns in Phoenix, and is working toward its mammoth Christmas showdown against the L*kers.
Cleveland bakes its bread in several key categories: it is fourth in the league in shooting, second in shooting defense and second in defensive rebounding. That, frankly, spells a bit of doom for our Kings, who need to shoot well (currently 7th) and rebound on offense (currently 6th) to get that offense humming -- you'd prefer if the Cavs did other defensive things well. One nice feature of this arrangement is that Cleveland isn't good at forcing turnovers (committing turnovers being a major Kings problem); however, it's plausible the Kings don't need the opponent forcing any turnovers, because they can force themselves to commit them just fine.
The huge problem, as it always is with the Kings, is on defense. Again, the Cavaliers shoot brilliantly, with almost every rotation player boasting an effective field goal percentage above league average. (Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West are the exceptions.) LeBron James is of course the amazing Alpha -- know that he is remarkably shooting at a 50 percent clip from the field. Add in his threes (4-1/2 per game at 37 percent) and free throws (nine at 79 percent) and, yes, he is at a remarkable 60 percent True Shooting, Kevin Martin territory while soaking up 34 percent of the Cavs offense while on the floor. Remarkable is just the beginning.
Beyond James, Mo Williams shoots brilliantly, Anthony Parker has been effective, and even Jamario Moon and J.J. Hickson have come up roses. That's a lot of Cavs to cover, and the Kings have a dearth of quality defenders. That's a problem. Expect, perhaps, some early zone, buckets of help on LeBron, and pray for luck.
THE KEY BATTLE
Tyreke Evans vs. Mo Williams. LeBron will be matching up against two and maybe three Kings at many points, so it's vital that those who aren't helping down (Evans to start, Beno at some point) make sure to limit shooters like Williams. At the other end, that's where this becomes most key: the Kings cannot afford to fall in any sort of hole to Cleveland, so Evans can't just turn it on in the second half. He needs to attack the smaller, weaker Williams early early early. LeBron will be there to help, and I suspect James will have at least one "Welcome to the league, son" weakside block, but that's no deterrent: attack, young Padowan. Attack.
I'm telling you, when Jon Brockman checks in ... you may want to turn the volume down a few notches if you have a sleeping baby in the room. Evans and Ime Udoka deserve kudos for their role in the Comeback Heard 'Round the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area And Also Sacramento, but Brockman is already a mascot fan favorite of sorts, and his game actually embodies the steez of this squad. It's easy to love this kid, and Sacramento clearly does. He will be rewarded for his effort tonight.
Shaquille O'Neal will be widely booed. And not just by Spencer Hawes.
7PM, ladies and germs, the only late-late game on the NBA slate. Game thread at 7, sequel at 8, post-gamer at 9:45, recap on Christmas Eve.