Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in a desperate attempt to claw their way back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers have fallen six games below .500, they've lost six games in a row and seven of their last eight in their trip to 11th place in the Western Conference.

They need a win terribly.

Cleveland, meanwhile, has put together its best 10-game stretch of the season. Granted, the Cavaliers are 4-6 in that stretch, but they are finally putting things together more frequently.

 

Time: 9:30 p.m. EST

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Los Angeles Lakers (15-21), Cleveland Cavaliers (9-29)

Betting Line: Los Angeles -8

Injury Report: Dwight Howard, Out (Shoulder), Pau Gasol, Doubtful (Concussion), Steve Blake, Out (Abdominal Surgery), Jordan Hill, Out (Hip Surgery), Anderson Varejao, Out (Knee Surgery), Daniel Gibson, Questionable (Concussion)

 

Key Storyline: Fading Playoff Chances

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers' playoff chances are fading fast. They're without Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and need to win a lot of games in the next few months in order for their team to stay in the playoff race.

If they continue to slide, they'll need to win even more games.

As of right now, the Lakers are "only" five games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, but that means they've got to compete with Minnesota and Utah on their way to that spot.

There is no parting gift for the Lakers if they miss the playoffs; they owe an unprotected pick to the Phoenix Suns should they end up outside of the top eight teams in the West.

 

Key Matchup: Kyrie Irving vs. Steve Nash

As the best player the Cleveland Cavaliers have to offer, Kyrie Irving will be looking to put on a show against one of the most media-centric teams in the NBA, something he's keen on doing this season.

Already he's put up 41 points against the New York Knicks, 34 points against the Brooklyn Nets, 28 points against the Golden State Warriors, 28 points (and 11 assists) against the Los Angeles Lakers and 24 points and 10 assists against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Irving is absolutely scorching this month, averaging nearly 27 points on 47 percent shooting (48.5 percent from the three-point line), six assists and three steals per game in January.

Meanwhile, Steve Nash is trying to find the best way to help keep the Los Angeles Lakers afloat, while dealing with the gun-slinging Kobe Bryant at the same time.

In the three games without Howard, Gasol and Jordan Hill, Nash isn't really doing much more, averaging 12.3 points and 8.7 assists while shooting over 53 percent, right along with his season averages.

He's going to have to watch out for Irving's much-improved defense over the past handful of games, and he needs to do his best to dictate the pace—otherwise, the Cavs could just shoot themselves to a win in this one.

 

X-Factors: Tristan Thompson, Metta World Peace

Coming out as an unheralded hero of the Cleveland Cavaliers since the fall of Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson is shaking his "bust" label faster than the Lakers are losing ground in the playoff race.

Without Andy on the floor alongside him battling for rebounds and touches, Thompson is averaging 13.3 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, all while shooting 51 percent from the floor.

If the Lakers aren't careful, Thompson could end up going wild on them in the post, gobbling rebounds and defending the paint with an angry edge.

Of course, the Lakers have one of the league's ultimate X-factors in Metta World Peace.

MWP is the kind of guy who will come out in the second quarter, knock down four three-pointers and score 16 points, only to finish the game taking just two more shots.

The Lakers desperately need him to play well on both ends of the floor, which he has been doing for the majority of the time they've been without Gasol and Howard.

If he doesn't play well, the Lakers might just have to kiss this one goodbye.

 

Prediction 

The Lakers are desperate, they're playing a team with nine wins and they've been spanked in two of their last three games.

Something tells me that Kobe Bryant is going to take a look at Alonzo Gee, smash the young fellow to the side and go nuts in this game.

It feels like a typical "Kobe game." They're up against one of the league's worst defenses, a team full of young players, while at home after six straight losses. Kobe will not let the Lakers lose this game.

However, don't get that confused with the thought that the Lakers will dominate this game. The Cavs beat the Lakers once already this year, and Cleveland has played in 10 games decided by three or fewer points. They won't cover the needlessly enormous spread.

Los Angeles Lakers 108, Cleveland Cavaliers 104

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