(Salt Lake City, UT) — The Cleveland Cavaliers (1-2) will continue their west coast swing Wednesday night, as they take on Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz (1-3) in Salt Lake City at 9 pm E/T.
The Cavs, following a disappointing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, will play in their second back-to-back of the young season. It was an off shooting night for two of the ‘Big 3’ in Portland, as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving went a combined 7-29 from the field.
Defense has also been an issue for the Wine and Gold. As of today, Cleveland is allowing 101.3 points per game, seventh worst in the NBA.
“We just weren’t getting stops. We were scoring, we just weren’t getting stops,” Cavs coach David Blatt told reporters after the Tuesday’s game. “We never took a stand defensively tonight at all.”
The Jazz have endured a rough start to the year as well, winning just one of their first four games while giving up at least 104 points in each contest.
One of the lone bright spots for the Jazz has been fifth-year forward Hayward, who has increased his point production each year since being drafted ninth overall in 2010. Center Derrick Favors has also impressed, posting an impressive 17.8 points per contest while leading the team with 7.5 rebounds per game
Up-and-coming star Hayward understands the importance of not allowing a player of James’ stature to have early offensive outbursts that may lead to big runs for the Cavs. A fast-break dunk or open three in the first quarter, a rarity to this point for Cleveland, could contribute mightily to big scoring runs for the Cavs.
“Can’t really let him get a rhythm going,” commented Hayward when asked how to guard LeBron. “Hopefully we can keep him off the line. . . It’s gonna be big, for me personally, to try to defend him without fouling.”
The fairy tale off-season had by the Cavs has yet to translate into offensive success on the floor. Under Mike Brown a year ago Cleveland tallied 98.2 points per game. After three games this season that average has dipped to 95.3.
A meeting with the Jazz may be exactly what the Cavaliers need from an offensive standpoint, as Utah is currently giving up 110.3 points per game.
Much of the blame for the team’s recent scoring woes could, and should, be placed on James. A three game sample hardly represents an entire season, but it’s worth noting that James is a career 49 percent shooter, including a 54 percent shooting clip as a member of the Miami Heat the past four years. James is currently shooting just 40 percent from the field, and his 42 percent on two-point attempts is the worst of his 11 years in the league.
“I’m just trying to do other things to instill what it takes to win,” James told the media following the Cavs loss to Portland. “My mission is not a one game thing. We have to do multiple things in order to win, share the ball, we gotta play defense, we gotta sacrifice in order to ultimately win.”
“I don’t hold him responsible,” Blatt told reporters when asked about LeBron’s lack of offensive production over the first three games. “We have to help him get loose. It’s not only about him.”
Managing the rotation is also something that will be ironed out as the season progresses. Finding more playing time for veterans Shawn Marion (14.3 minutes per game) and Mike Miller (9.7 minutes per game) should aid in the Cavaliers defensive efforts and offensive lapses. Their bench averages just 19 points per game, second worst in the entire NBA.
The Cavs won both games against the Jazz last season and three in a row overall, however, Utah owns the series record 51-41.