First place Cavaliers take on last place Nets

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

First Place Cavaliers Take On Last Place Nets

Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Location: Barclays Center
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Watch: YES Network
Listen: WFAN 101.9 FM, 660AM

In a classic best versus worst scenario, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take their talented lineup to the Barclays Center in hopes of continuing their hot streak, particularly so following their trade for sharpshooter Kyle Korver late last night.. Both teams are on a three-game streak of sorts, with the Cavaliers featuring a winning streak and the Nets facing down another dismal losing stretch. The Nets have fallen under the Philadelphia 76ers and now dwell at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers (26-7) find themselves with a 3.5 game lead over the Toronto Raptors for the Conference lead and one of the best records in all the NBA.

Previewing this lopsided contest may be a tough feat, but below we’ll detail a few key areas of success for both teams and highlight what each team must do in order to reach victory in this mid-season contest.

The Cavaliers have had some good spacing with their schedule as of late. The team won’t face a back-to-back set until the 10th and the 11th of this month. This is ultimately the worst news for the Nets as it will likely keep LeBron James relevant and starting for the team, while there’s a strong possibility that Brook Lopez will sit on the second night of their back-to-back. The key to beating the Cavaliers is containing LeBron James while keeping Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love off their game — a feat that is beyond easier said than done. Factor in that the Nets are allowing an NBA-worst 114 points per game and you have your recipe for disaster.

Containment of James is something that will be especially difficult for a team that lacks a defensive presence. Looking at size and the potential starters, it’ll likely leave either Sean Kilpatrick or Bojan Bogdanovic guarding James — something that has gone poorly in the past, i.e. Jimmy Butler’s game-winner after Christmas. Unless Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returns from an injury that kept him out against the Indiana Pacers last night, the Nets may be out of good options.

This will put the pressure on Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez to limit James when he drives to the basket. So, picking up early fouls will spell a quick defeat for the Nets at the hands of James and company.

Stopping Kevin Love begins with limiting a hot start — if he strings together consecutive buckets, he will remain hot throughout the contest. Love is finally playing like the Kevin Love we knew in Minnesota, as he is one of eleven big men who are averaging a double-double this season, with his 21.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG. The Nets need to shake him up early and hope to limit his scoring production, which falls heavily on Booker’s shoulders. 

The Cavaliers have  lost J.R. Smith for somewhere in the area of 12-14 and were leaning heavily on DeAndre Liggins up until now. The Cavaliers bench relies heavily on seasoned veterans like Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye to step up. The Cavaliers aren’t the only ones dealing with injuries and illnesses, though. Jeremy Lin remains without a timetable of return for the Nets, leaving Isaiah Whitehead and Randy Foye to split the point guard duties. 

This contest is one that will be decided early based off the tone of production in the game’s first quarter. Can the Nets get any of the Cavaliers’ stars into foul trouble or frustration? Can the Cavaliers feature continued production from their veteran bench players? Can Brook Lopez play for longer than 30 minutes? Will he even play at all?

3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Cavaliers:

1. Lopez in the paint

Brook Lopez must defend the paint better than he did in the last matchup on December 23rd. Love went for 14 points and 15 rebounds and Tristan Thompson recorded 16 and 11, well above his 7.1 and 9.9 season averages.

2. Executing at the free throw line

The Nets lost to the Chicago Bulls by two points while leaving tons at the free throw line by shooting just 75%. They can’t afford to not cash in from the charity stripe against a team like the Cavaliers. The Nets currently rank 12th in the NBA with a 78% free throw percentage.

3. A well-rested squad

The Cavaliers will be coming from a day off, a situation in which they rarely lose this season. Of their seven losses this season, only three have cpme with one or more day’s rest. That means we’ll see plenty of Irving, James, and Love at full-strength against a Nets team that was blown out in Indiana less than 24 hours ago — you’ve all been warned.