By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 31, 2013
Over the past two offseasons, the New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers have been the biggest beneficiaries of the NBA draft lottery process. Cleveland won the rights to the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, which resulted in the selection of point guard Kyrie Irving. New Orleans hit the lottery jackpot in 2012 and chose power forward Anthony Davis.
Sunday’s holiday game in New Orleans was supposed to be Round 2 this season between the past two NBA draft headliners, but Irving is not expected to play in the Easter contest. After suffering a shoulder injury on March 10, Irving could potentially miss the remainder of the season, though the Cavaliers are hopeful that he can return at least for some games.
Irving was undoubtedly the biggest difference-maker on Feb. 20, when these interconference foes met for the only time previously in 2012-13. In a game that was televised nationally by ESPN, the Duke University product racked up 35 points on 13-for-22 shooting. New Orleans entered the fourth quarter with a 69-68 lead, but Irving took over the fourth quarter of a 105-100 victory. Davis, who has often been outstanding since the February All-Star break, experienced a relatively quiet game in Ohio, finishing with 12 points and four rebounds in 29 minutes.
The Easter game marks the final time New Orleans will face an Eastern Conference opponent this season. In yet another example of the disparity in competitiveness between the conferences, the Hornets were 11-17 against the East entering the weekend (compared to 14-29 vs. fellow West clubs through March 25). The Cavaliers’ record provides an even more jarring example. Cleveland is only 6-23 against the superior West, but was a respectable 16-24 while facing the East.
Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. Tristan Thompson
Like Davis and Irving, Thompson was recently chosen in the lottery portion of the draft. The fourth overall selection by Cleveland in 2011, Thompson is a 6-foot-9 jumping jack who thrives around the basket. A native of Canada, the 21-year-old is a nightly double-double threat, averaging 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. Davis has also become a frequent 10-and-10 guy, blossoming into a force in recent weeks. The 20-year-old averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds in the first 11 games of March.
Just about everything revolving around the Cleveland franchise has changed since the fateful summer of 2010, when longtime superstar forward LeBron James opted to sign with Miami during the dubious “The Decision” TV special. The Cavaliers have a new general manager, head coach and uniforms – not to mention a roster full of youngsters. The organization began to start to turn the page in June 2011, when the Cavaliers used the No. 1 draft pick on point guard Kyrie Irving, who made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in just his second NBA season. Cleveland is making gradual progress in the standings, going 19-63 during the painful first post-LeBron campaign, followed by 21-45 a year ago. The Cavaliers were 22-47 with 13 games remaining in this regular season.
Irving has quickly emerged as one of the league’s premier point guards. A tremendous shooter from multiple spots on the floor, he is over 40 percent in his career from three-point range and 85 percent from the foul line. The one negative has been injuries. He played in 51 of 66 games during the lockout-shortened season and has made just 51 appearances this time. Injuries are an unfortunate familiar story in Cleveland. During some games, the Cavs have been without all three of their leading scorers (Irving, rookie Dion Waiters and veteran center Anderson Varejao).
On the rise
The Cavs have several up-and-coming players, but injuries have kept Irving and Waiters out of the mix recently. Rookie first-round pick Tyler Zeller has gotten an opportunity to play significant minutes, proving to be a solid option in the paint. The 7-footer from North Carolina has started roughly two-thirds of Cleveland’s games.
Cleveland acquired Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington in a trade with Memphis, greatly improving the Cavaliers’ previously underwhelming depth. The acquisition proved even more critical after the Cavs sustained several injuries in recent weeks, pressing Speights and Ellington into larger roles.
On the sideline
Cleveland head coach Byron Scott led the Nets to a pair of NBA Finals appearances in the early 2000s, the only such trips by that franchise to the league’s championship round. Scott was also at the helm for New Orleans in 2007-08, the Hornets’ best-ever regular season. Partly as a result of those turnarounds, Cleveland hired Scott to help guide the Cavaliers back to prominence in the Eastern Conference.
Did you know?
Hornets point guard Brian Roberts and assistant coach Randy Ayers both played college basketball in the state of Ohio, at Dayton and Miami, respectively.
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