When thinking about how to try and score a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the first instinct is wanting to figure out rein-in budding superstar Kyrie Irving. After all, he does lead the Cavs in points, assists and steals per game.
However, when it comes to the Charlotte Bobcats, their plan should not involve a plan for stopping Irving. On the contrary, they should focus on crashing the boards and containing Cleveland’s frontcourt.
In regards to Irving, the Bobcats don’t really have any defensive-minded guards that are up to the task of stopping the second-year sensation. Because of that, they have to rely on controlling the post and the big-men of Cleveland.
There are obviously no stars in the Cavaliers’ frontcourt rotation of Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson and the newly acquired Mareese Speights that need to be a primary focus of Charlotte. But as a collective whole, they’ve been playing solidly in the absence of Anderson Varejao.
In the month of January, the team’s first full month without Varejao, the Cavaliers were had a rebounding differential of -2.5 while the Bobcats posted an NBA worst for the month at -5.5. On top of that, the Cavs only had Speights for three games in January.
On the season, Speights has a rebound rate, which calculates the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds, of 18.6. That’s the 23rd best rate in the league. That’s also not considering Thompson who has the 39th best rebounding rate in the NBA at 16.8.
The closest player to either of those rates for Charlotte is Jeff Adrien at 16.4, with the next closest being Bismack Biyombo at 15.4.
After seeing all of that, it’s not surprising that Cleveland has the 19th highest team rebounding rate at 49.2. The Bobcats however, are tied for the 27th highest rate at only 47.9 percent.
Given those numbers, it seems like a safe bet that Bobcats are set to get beat on the boards. When these teams met on Jan. 4 though, the Bobcats out-rebounded Cleveland 43-40. Consequently, they were in the game at the end before falling victim to an Irving game-winner.
Given how much of a factor rebounding was in the first contest, the Bobcats have to step up in that area tonight.
With Byron Mullens, another big body to grab boards, playing in his second game back from injury, Charlotte has to get back to fundamentals on the glass. They have to find men when shots go up and box out to secure the boards. If they get outrebounded, they’ll be in an uphill battle all night.
As far as stopping the offense of the Cavaliers frontcourt goes, Charlotte has to contest their low-post shots to prevent them from scoring. The Bobcats struggle mightily in regards to getting offensive production from their frontcourt, so they have to limit their opponents’ points in the paint to enjoy success.
In their previous meeting, Thompson and Zeller combined for 28 points on 61.1 percent shooting. For the Bobcats, they had six frontcourt players combine for only 11 points on 33.3 percent shooting. Had they been able to lessen that disparity, they might have been able to escape with a win.
But now, Speights is added to the mix for the Cavs. In his five games with Cleveland, he’s averaging 15.4 points on 53.4 percent shooting. Meanwhile, as the Cavs adjusted to life without Varejao, Thompson improved his production averaging 15.1 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting for the month of January, both of which are above his season averages.
Having said that, the Bobcats need to play them tightly in the post, keep a hand in their face and stay on the ground on pump-fakes. If they are able to do this, which isn’t something that can be taken for granted, they should be able to limit the effectiveness of the Cavs’ frontcourt offensively.
If they aren’t able to crash the boards and defend at a higher-level though, the combination of Irving and an efficient frontcourt for the Cavs will probably spell another loss for the Bobcats.