Leading up to the start of the 2014 NBA season, Swarm and Sting will be pitting the Hornets head to head with every team in the Association every Tuesday and Thursday. In this edition, we match the Hornets up with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte swept Cleveland, 4-0.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Kyrie Irving is arguably the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps the best young point guard in the NBA. He can score, dish, defend, and even crash the boards. Last year, he was by far and away Cleveland’s MVP, and with good reason. He put up career numbers in assists, steals, and turnovers per game. Kemba Walker is a good point guard for the Hornets. He is a slasher with a filthy stepback, and he is one of the most dangerous guards in the league in transition. Kyrie’s production, at least scoring-wise, should drop off slightly thanks to his new Cavaliers teammates, but I have to take him in this match-up.
ADVANTAGE: Kyrie Irving
Dion Waiters is the second piece of Cleveland’s young, versatile backcourt. Waiters put up solid numbers despite playing under 30 minutes per game last year, and will serve as an excellent complement to Kyrie Irving. Despite this, Lance Stephenson is a slightly better all-around player, especially when comparing these two’s stat sheets. Stephenson’s two-way play in transition will also serve as a major plus for Charlotte, potentially slowing down Irving’s drive and creating opportunities for the Hornets before the Cavaliers can get back. This is a tough call, but I’ll take Born Ready.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
He’s back. Yes, LeBron James is back in a Cavaliers uniform, which completely changes the dynamic of the series between Charlotte and Cleveland. Since LeBron’s jump to Miami in 2010, Charlotte has been unable to defeat him in a single game, including last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, where the Heat swept the Bobcats in four games. In my opinion, LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. Kevin Durant is the reigning MVP, but no player means more to the Association right now, and for the visible future, than LeBron. Everything about him, his size, his court vision, his raw power, his skill, makes him the definition of an elite basketball player. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a solid young talent, but it would be laughable to even consider him in this match-up.
ADVANTAGE: LeBron James
Oh yeah, and the Cavs got Kevin Love, too. Yes, Charlotte is cursed by having to match their two weak links up against two bona fide All-Stars. I think we will see Cody Zeller improve this year, but…. Kevin Love. Yet another superstar talent with transcendent game. Kevin Love is a pure scorer. Inside, mid-range, and yes, even from three point land, Kevin Love gets buckets. On top of this, he is a solid passer, averaging 4.4 APG last year, and he can grab rebounds, as well. Kevin Love was the final piece in getting Cleveland back to the NBA Finals, and he should very likely get the edge in this match-up.
ADVANTAGE: Kevin Love
Luckily for Charlotte, the best Hornet happens to be paired up with Cleveland’s “weak link.” Anderson Jarejao is the type of center who doesn’t necessarily have to fill up a stat sheet to be effective, and he is more than serviceable given the talent around him, but “Big Al” should likely take advantage of this match-up and give the Hornets a fighting chance against the Cavaliers. Jefferson is simply too good offensively for Varejao to keep up with.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (Cleveland): Tristan Thompson, Mike Miller, James Jones, Brendan Haywood, John Lucas III, Joe Harris
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. The Hornets will see a familiar face from the NBA Playoffs in James Jones, and former Bobcat Brendan Haywood, but I like the overall talent that the Hornets have in their reserves more than I do Cleveland’s. Tristan Thompson may be the best player out of these two teams’ second units, but ultimately I think Charlotte’s quantity will give them the depth advantage.
Rookies (Cleveland): Joe Harris
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. I watched a lot of Joe Harris at the University of Virginia, and he was an excellent player for the Wahoos, worthy of first team All-ACC honors. Harris, like Kevin Love, is a big man who can step beyond the arc to score, which is a great asset to have in the NBA. However, Charlotte has a lottery pick and an absolute shooter in Vonleh and Hairston, not to mention the likelihood that the two Hornets rookies see much more playing time than Harris.
FINAL VERDICT: Ultimately, this series comes down to one stat that has haunted Charlotte fans since 2010: Charlotte has not beaten LeBron James a single time in the last four seasons. Not once. Despite Charlotte sweeping Cleveland last year, this is a completely different Cavaliers unit that the Hornets will be seeing this year. Cleveland is my lock to win the Eastern Conference, and they are very likely to bring an NBA title to sports’ most cursed city. This is likely going to be my most unpopular prediction of the year.
PREDICTION: Cleveland sweeps Charlotte, 4-0.