How much has Cleveland’s roster changed since these two teams last met, you ask? Only six players from the Cavs’ opening night roster are expected to suit up against the Lakers on Sunday, including Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Ante Zizic and of course, LeBron James. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are still with the team, but aren’t expected back until late-March.
The Cavaliers will also be without Rodney Hood, who had recently been inserted into the starting lineup, and rookie Cedi Osman. Kyle Korver will be a game time decision after aggravating a bruise on his right foot Friday against the Clippers, per CBS Sports’ injury report.
Making their returns to STAPLES Center on Sunday will be Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., who spent the entirety of their careers wearing the purple and gold before being dealt at the trade deadline for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland’s own 2018 first-round pick.
The two former Lakers have had no problem settling in with their new teams, averaging a combined 25.4 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 steals since the All-Star break. Even their individual points per game averages only trail LeBron James, who averages a team-high 29.3 points per game.
But their success hasn’t always spelled team success, as the Cavs has lost three of their last five, including a loss to the Clippers on Friday. They’re hurting for a win and are hoping they can get it done against the banged up Lakers, but even with a few key players sidelined, Los Angeles should feel confident about their chances going into this one.
While their recent fourth quarter meltdowns haven’t exactly been encouraging, the progress they’ve shown in the face of adversity has been. Even without Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, two of their most valuable two-way players this season, the Lakers have nearly upset Western Conference playoff hopefuls in two of their last three games despite playing mostly sloppy basketball. If I’m an opposing team, that terrifies me.
The Lakers might not be the most skilled team (yet), but they’re feisty and can sneak up on you if you’re not too careful. Those are the types of teams Cleveland has struggled most against this season.
With repercussions that go beyond Sunday at stake, expect the Lakers to come ready to play. Enjoy the game!
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet