March 11, 2018, 5:25 pm
The Lakers (29-36) host the shorthanded Cavaliers (38-27) in a game loaded with subplots.
Sunday will be the first time the two teams have met since they completed a blockbuster trade deadline deal on February 8. The Lakers sent Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers in return for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick.
Cleveland has gone 7-5 since the deal while Los Angeles has earned a 6-5 record. It is hard to truly evaluate each team after the trade as both franchises have been hampered with significant injuries — the Cavaliers missing a laundry-list of players including Kevin Love and the Lakers missing key cogs Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart.
One can clearly assess the play of Nance Jr., who has been tremendous for Cleveland with averages of 11.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks since joining the Cavaliers. Since joining the starting rotation three games ago he has averaged 18.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals while shooting 62.9 percent from the floor and 70.0 percent from the line. Unbelievably, Nance Jr. has only three turnovers in his entire 11-game tenure with the Cavaliers, a number that Thomas doubled in his first game with the Lakers.
Clarkson has also been a positive contributor for the Cavaliers, contributing 13.3 points per game while bolstering their bench unit. He has improved his 3-point shooting to 42.2 percent while with Cleveland compared to 32.4 percent during his time with Los Angeles.
Thomas will be motivated tonight as he was scapegoated as a primary cause of the team’s struggles during his very short tenure with the Cavaliers before being jettisoned to the Lakers. He is also coming off a poor three-game stretch during which his is averaging 14.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.0 turnovers but shooting 32.6 percent from the field.
Another huge story line will be the Lakers’ reported interest in acquiring LeBron James this offseason. Los Angeles has made it no secret that they have made roster moves to avail enough funds to try and attract two max players this summer — James being a primary target. The Lakers can only offer James four years and $152M whereas the Cavs can offer five years and $205M, so he would have to incur some personal sacrifice to join a young and unproven Laker core. However, he does own two homes in Los Angeles, aspire to have a significant career beyond basketball and the endorsements to overcome such a loss in revenue. One can be certain that the Laker faithful will make sure James knows he is wanted during tonight’s game.
The final caveat is the 2018 draft pick that was transferred to the Lakers as part of the trade. That pick could range between the early 20’s to late 20’s based on how strong the Cavaliers are able to finish the season.
With all those factors included, this game may have serious ramifications for the future of both these franchises.
-The Lakers are much more prodigious in hustle categories with 8.1 steals per game (11th) and 4.9 blocks per game (13th) vs. the Cavaliers who are near the bottom of the league in both categories with 7.1 steals per game (24th) and 3.8 blocks per game (27th).
-Los Angeles struggles with turnovers on the season with 15.9 turnovers per game (29th) compared to 14.0 turnovers per game (12th) for Cleveland.
-The Cavaliers are the better shooting team over the course of the season with averages of 47.5 percent from the field (sixth), 36.6 percent from 3-point range (12th) and 78.1 percent from the free throw line (10th). The Lakers shoot 46.2 percent from the floor (46.2 percent), 34.4 percent from 3-point range (29th) and 70.5 percent from the free throw line (30th). However, the Lakers have shown significant improvement since the blockbuster deal between these two teams (11 games); shooting 49.0 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from 3-point range (third) and 75.9 percent from the free throw line (19th).
-The Lakers are the better defensive team with a defensive rating of 105.6 (13th) vs. 109.5 (28th) for the Cavaliers. Since the trade, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 110.5 (24th) compared to Cleveland whose rating has improved to 107.7 (14th) over the same stretch. The Lakers dealt the Cavaliers one of their most important team defenders, Nance Jr., in the deal.
-The one rotational player that the Lakers added in the deal, Thomas, has earned an excellent offensive rating of 113.3 but has been poor on the other end of the ball with a 116.2 defensive rating during his short tenure with Los Angeles. Consequently he has accrued a net rating of minus-2.9.
-In comparison, Nance Jr. has been absolutely stellar during his 11-game stint as a member of the Cavaliers on both ends of the ball with a defensive rating of 103.4 and an offensive rating of 114.3 He has had a remarkable net rating of plus-11.0. His already amazing numbers would be far more impressive if not for a difficult matchup with DeAndre Jordan on Friday in which he allowed a 128.5 defensive rating, earning a minus-25.1 rating on the night.
Projected Starting Lineups
Lonzo Ball (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Kyle Kuzma (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
George Hill (PG)
J.R. Smith (SG)
Jeff Green (SF)
LeBron James (PF)
Larry Nance Jr. (C)
Brandon Ingram (groin) – OUT
Josh Hart (finger) – OUT
Channing Frye (appendectomy) – OUT
Rodney Hood (back) – OUT
Kevin Love (hand) – OUT
Tristan Thompson (ankle) – OUT
Cedi Osman (groin) – OUT
Kyle Korver (foot) – DAY-TO-DAY
Time: 6:00 PM PST, 9:00 PM EST
Television: ESPN, SPECSN/SPECD, FOX SPORTS OHIO, TSN5
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, WTAM 1100, 100.7 WMMS / 87.7 FM (ESP)