LeBron James won’t be in the lineup Friday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Charlotte Hornets. Will the old-look Cavs be able to overcome the NBA odds against the new-look Hornets?
Jason’s record as of Dec. 31: 21-20-1 ATS, 1-3 Totals
Remember the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers? Unfortunately for Cavaliers supporters, they’re going to have flashbacks this Friday night (7:00 p.m. ET) when Cleveland faces the Charlotte Hornets at the Hive. The Cavs (18-14 SU, 12-20 ATS) announced on Thursday that LeBron James is expected to sit out the next two weeks with knee and back injuries. On top of that, both Kevin Love (back) and Shawn Marion (ankle) are listed as questionable.
Too bad the Hornets (10-23 SU, 13-18-2 ATS) won’t be at full strength, either. Al Jefferson has been ruled out for the next month or so after straining his groin on Monday. Lance Stephenson (pelvis) is also on the shelf for at least another game or two. It’s enough of a car wreck that the NBA odds for Friday’s contest have yet to be released as we go to press. Is that going to stop us from handicapping this game? Heck no.
They Shoot Bricks, Don’t They?
Of course, this won’t be exactly the same Cavaliers team that went 33-49 (40-42 ATS) last year. We could see Love (17.8 PER) and Marion (plus-1.0 DBPM) in action; Love isn’t having his best season by any means, but he’s still good for 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes, numbers that should go up in James’ absence. And Marion is one of a small handful of quality defenders in the Cleveland lineup.
Then you have the assorted veteran back-ups that the Cavaliers added to support LeBron in their title quest. Mike Miller (35.8 percent from long range) and James Jones (41.3 percent) both saw significant minutes during the past two games sans LBJ and Marion. And 7-footer Brendan Haywood was pressed into service on New Year’s Eve while Love sat out.
But this is hardly an ideal situation. Cleveland lost both games SU and ATS without King James, including Wednesday’s 96-80 defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks (–1 away). This was an absolute nightmare for the Cavs. They shot just 34 percent from the floor and allowed the Bucks to score both inside and out (11-of-25 from downtown). Not having Anderson Varejao (plus-0.8 DBPM) to provide rim protection is just killing the Cavaliers.
Bismack North, Decoder
So what can the Hornets do about it? We thought they might be worth a flyer last week against the Oklahoma City Thunder, based on the way Charlotte’s play had improved without Stephenson (10.3 PER) in the lineup. They didn’t get the job done. Then they lost three more games SU and ATS. Things got really bad on New Year’s Eve without Jefferson (19.7 PER); Charlotte fell 102-83 to the Houston Rockets as an 11.5-point home dog.
As important as James is to Cleveland’s success, Jefferson is the same for the Hornets. They became a playoff team last year at 43-39 (47-32-3 ATS) after Jefferson signed up as a free agent. His replacement at center is Bismack Biyombo (15.9 PER), who provides plenty of rim protection (plus-2.2 DBPM), but only 9.1 points per 36 minutes. Jefferson is Charlotte’s leading scorer among regular players at 20.1 points per 36.
With Cody Zeller (plus-1.2 DBPM) already in the starting lineup, there aren’t enough proper big men left on the Hornets bench, either. This is where they really miss Josh McRoberts, who was a useful stretch-4 last year before signing with the Miami Heat. Putting Zeller (minus-2.5 OBPM) and Biyombo (minus-3.6 OBPM) on the same frontline is pretty much an invitation for the game to go UNDER, which it has in back-to-back contests for Charlotte, and five of the past seven games. We’re flying blind here without the NBA odds at our disposal, but with so many players from both teams missing Friday’s game, dial us up for another thrilling UNDER as your NBA pick.
Free NBA Pick: Take the UNDER at BetOnline