The Cleveland Cavaliers tip off against the visiting New York Knicks in their season opener tonight. Tip off is 8 pm ET, and the game will be nationally televised on TNT.
After one of the most intriguing offseasons in NBA history, the entire Cavaliers roster was overhauled a few times over, and we can finally witness the team’s first test under regular season pressure. The hometown favorite has displayed glimpses of greatness in its fine preseason campaign and look to take on the new look Knicks and their revamped triangle offense. New head coaches David Blatt, a proven winner at every professional basketball level except the NBA, and Derek Fisher, a highly respected NBA player who has won multiple championships, will also show the NBA what they’ve got. Here are the starting lineups each rookie coach will be deploying tonight:
PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Dion Waiters
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao
New York Knicks (Most likely)
PG – Shane Larkin,
SG – Iman Shumpert
SF – Carmelo Anthony
PF – Amar’e Stoudemire
C – Samuel Dalembert
Go to the Next Page for Matchup Keys, Game Schemes and Keys to the Game for tonight’s highly anticipated season opener:
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving will have his way with Larkin who is not known for his on ball defense due to his lack of experience. However, any starting Knick point guard not named Raymond Felton should be somewhat of an improvement. Kyrie will be able to wheel and deal whichever way he pleases. While on the other side, Larkin is a quick point guard who likes to penetrate and also has a knack to pick up pesky steals. We will likely see improved shooting percentages from Kyrie as he has had to deal with constant double teams, but will now encounter more honest defenses with LeBron, Kevin Love, in addition to more high quality shots on the wing. Look to see Pablo Prigioni be asked to take on this matchup for much of the game. Last time Kyrie played the Knicks, this happened:
Shooting Guard: The matchup of Dion and Shumpert will be entertaining to watch. You have two hardnosed, competitive players who bring it every night. Dion, who is a bull on the offensive end will take it against Shumpert who is an elite wing defender. It will also be interesting to see if Shumpert, who has put in a lot of work this offseason on his offensive game and has shown more confidence in himself this pre-season, can showcase those improved skills against Dion. Shumpert’s primary defensive assignment will probably be LeBron, however. But in the meanwhile, let’s see if Shumpert’s defense on either will be as good as his rap:
Small Forward: Now, this is the key matchup of the game. Regardless of their season or the teams, LeBron vs Melo is always entertaining to watch. Carmelo Anthony seems to always bring it against his close friend, and he also loves playing on the big stage that is a nationally televised game. In their previous ten outings against each other in which LeBron and his Miami Heat have gone 6-4 against Carmelo’s Knicks, LeBron has averaged 30.2 ppg and Carmelo with 28.9 ppg. We will look to see how well LeBron can contain New York’s premier offensive talent. Even though Melo has seemingly bought into the triangle offense, we can expect to see him carry the offense with frequent isolation plays. It will also be interesting to see how LeBron will change up his game, given that he now has an elite point guard to take care of primary ball handling and distributing duties. We can, however, expect to see him to still dish out many assists as well as hockey assists. No matter what, it’s going to be beautiful basketball from both players. Here are some highlights that provide a glimpse of what’s in store for both players.
Power Forward: Kevin Love will be matched up with Jason Smith, a tough big who has a polished mid-range game. Jason Smith is a relatively under-the-radar NBA player, but you may remember him for bulldozing Blake Griffin back in 2012.
Love will be stretching the New York defense with his long range shooting and will pull Smith out from the post, where he is comfortable. It will be getting gritty and aggressive in the paint, as both players fight hard for rebounds, so do expect some physicality.
Center: The matchup of Anderson Varejao and Samuel Dalembert seems to be the least buzzworthy matchup amongst the starting five. Varejao will be expected to do “Wild” things, i.e., get offensive boards, make the right passes, and provide that constant high energy and activity in the high and low post, all while whirling his luscious long locks. Dalembert will provide rim protection (he averaged 2 blocks per game in 20.5 mins/game in a surprising preseason), presence on the offensive boards, and mid-range shooting, though it does seem that he has fallen in love with the short-mid ranged fadeaway in his preseason campaign. Varejao has looked good and healthy in preseason play, even eclipsing 20 points in one game:
Bench: The two deep benches feature many offensive sparks and solid role players. For the hometown team, we can expect many minutes to be distributed to resolute defender and fast-break fiend Shawn Marion, high-IQ sharpshooter Mike Miller, and the solid rebounder Tristan Thompson. We will see how Coach David Blatt will utilize promising rookie Joe Harris, who has shown consistent shooting and offensive versatility. The Knicks will bring in Amar’e Stoudemire who has looked strong and healthy in preseason and opening day play, Tim Hardaway Jr. who displayed a much improved offensive game in summer league and preseason play, J.R. Smith the offensive ǝnîǥɱå who still hasn’t completely bought into the triangle offense, and Quincy Acy (a Kenneth Faried type) who is hyperactive and hyper-athletic.
It will be captivating to see how well both teams utilize their new offenses. Coach Blatt and his squad will have a relatively easy test on Thursday night, before they face a real defensively imposing team on Friday night: the Chicago Bulls. Coach Blatt’s complex offense utilizes timely player and ball movement, weaves, screens, pick and rolls, and back door cuts (throwback to Blatt’s Princeton days) to exploit the defense, open up lanes for penetration, and to create many open three point looks.
Knicks head coach Derek Fisher, a tough defender in his playing days, looks to implement a different defensive philosophy from previous Knick head coach Mike Woodson. Fisher remains mum about his coaching strategies, but J.R. Smith gives a sneak peak:
“We are going to push everything to the sideline and keeping people out of our middle. Last year it was more forcing people to the middle. That right there is a mind-set that eliminates people not helping and who is supposed to be where.”
Derek Fisher has tried to implement his strong defensive mindset on his team, even though there are few players who are prominent defenders. This year, the team is trying to stay away from Woodson’s toxic strategy of constant switching.
The triangle offense is the famous set used by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers during their championship seasons. Phil Jackson now looks to use it to maximize on Carmelo Anthony’s offensive prowess. Expect to see a lot of penetration by passing, strong side pick and rolls, proper spacing, and player movement leading to interchangeability of positions. It is highly organized and systematic, and will probably not be so fluid this early in the season for the Knicks. It is expected to take months for the players to get fully acclimated to the system. Therefore, there will probably be a lot of offensive lulls and overpassing, leading to many Carmelo Anthony isolation plays and dreaded J.R. Smith long stepback jumpers in the winding shot clock, as evidenced by preseason play. It seems as though much of the Knicks season this year will be experimental and they will have an extended feeling-out process for all the new changes.
Keys to the Game
Another facet of the Cavalier’s gameplay to keep an eye out for is who is going to be the first, second and third option for them? LeBron has said:
“I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but this is Kyrie’s show. He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general and we need him to put us in a position to succeed offensively.”
The greatest player in the world will probably have the ball in his hands quite often, but we will see how both he and Kyrie orchestrate the offense. The ball distribution between Kyrie, LeBron, and Kevin Love as well as the other Cavs players will be intriguing, given that their roster is so saturated with talent.
This will be a battle of offenses, as the two teams’ weaknesses lie on the defensive side of the game. A lot of Coach Fisher’s more potent offensive lineups are also his weakest defensive combinations, and it makes it that much more difficult that his lineup features so few defensively inclined players. The Knicks offer little in the way of perimeter defense, which is where much of the Cavalier’s talent is concentrated. For the Cavaliers, they offer little rim protection, as Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson, averaged a combined 1.5 blocks per game last season. Luckily, the Knicks offense will be primarily funneled through their wing players. The Cavs’ perimeter defense will be anchored by LeBron James, whose leadership presence alone will motivate Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters to step up on the wings.
For those of you going to the Q, be sure to indulge into Kevin Hart and the Kendrick Lamar concert, the brand new HD center court scoreboards (which are the largest in the entire NBA), and of course the experience of being a part of the crazy Cleveland fan base; but even if you’re at home, enjoy watching the inaugural game for arguably one of the best lineups in basketball history.