The post-LeBron apocalypse Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t looking too shabby in the beginning of a new era.
Led by No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving, the Cavs face the fellow 4-5 Phoenix Suns tonight in US Airways Center. For the Suns, it’s a grand opportunity to shake off their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that came by way of an ugly six minutes ruining an otherwise strong effort. On the Cavs’ end, it’s the fifth game of a road trip that has been quite unkind.
Veteran forward Antawn Jamison leads the Cavaliers with 16.7 points per game, but it’s Irving that’s bringing all the hype. The 6-foot-3, 191-pound point guard out of Duke has been averaging 15.6 points and 5.1 assists per game, and his role within the offense is only growing, according to Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
But it’s how Irving scores that could pose problems for the Suns.
The rookie has an elite initial burst of speed that’s embarrassing NBA-level defenders, writes Reed. Irving hasn’t been shy about getting around his defenders and to the basket, and he’ll be counted upon to take around 13 shots per game, all while keeping his teammates involved. Per Reed:
“Irving (6-3, 191) has demonstrated a fearlessness, however, in getting to the basket and not letting a few bumps or blocked shots deter him. Utah’s Gordon Hayward swatted away one shot Tuesday which led to a Jazz transition basket. Moments later, Irving was attacking the lane again.”
In 26.8 minutes per game, Irving is putting up a PER rating of 19.86 — for perspective, Steve Nash currently has a 20.96 PER. Likely, either the 39-year-old Grant Hill or the 37-year-old Nash will have the task of slowing down the 19-year-old speedburner. Hill could also defend Jamison — these possibilities show how versatile he is — so how Gentry decides to handle Irving will be an interesting development.
And limiting Irving could do the Suns wonders. Like Phoenix, Cleveland doesn’t have many pure scorers, as backup point guard Ramon Sessions is third on the team with an average of 10.3 points per game.
One for the taking?
The Cavs could be vulnerable coming into US Airways Center tonight. Aside from the 13-year veteran in Jamison, eight-year NBA journeyman Anthony Parker and seven-year rebounding guru Anderson Varejao, Cleveland is an inexperienced team.
They have two players in their third NBA seasons, four players in their second, and three rookies. Add in the fact their game against Phoenix is the fifth of a seven-game road swing, and all bets should be on the Suns.
Cleveland lost the first game of the trip to the Raptors, beat the Timberwolves, then lost to Portland and Utah. Meanwhile, they’ve given up no less than 28 points to opposing big men, though it’s never an easy task to silence Andrea Bargnani (31 points against Cleveland), Kevin Love (29 points), LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points), and Al Jefferson (30 points).
Redd could see time
Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic wrote Wednesday that Phoenix shooting guard Michael Redd might debut against the Cavs, though Gentry wasn’t set on anything quite yet.
If the Suns play as well as they did against Portland and Milwaukee, the fourth quarter would probably be the best time to give Redd a trial run. Sure, it would be nice to see how he meshes with the starters, but the guy has just 28 games of NBA-level competition in the last two seasons.
There’s plenty of rust to shake off, although hitting a few jumpers in garbage time could twist Gentry’s wrist into quickening the process of Redd’s return.
Paola Boivin writes on the Blue Devil connection between Hill and Irving.