ESPN’s doubleheader of NBA action on Wednesday evening is an interesting one.
It tips off with Cleveland visiting Charlotte in a matchup of two teams that are trying to work through their early issues. The nightcap features two of the game’s brightest young stars in Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball when Philadelphia visits the Lakers.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Charlotte Hornets
We all still assume that Cleveland will figure things out, get healthy, and LeBron James will make it to the Finals for the eighth straight season. Right now, though, things don’t look too good.
The Cavaliers are No. 3 in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) but are dead last in defensive rating. The good news is Charlotte may not be good enough offensively to take advantage.
The Hornets rank 22nd in offensive rating and field goal percentage. Charlotte has failed to score the NBA average of 105 points in seven of its first 12 games. Kemba Walker has averaged 26.2 points in home games, which has helped the Hornets average nearly 112 in Charlotte, which is also why the team is 4-1 at the Spectrum Center.
The Cavs have won 10 of their 11 meetings with the Hornets since King James returned to Cleveland, and he has averaged 28.1 points and 9.1 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.
Cleveland has looked better recently despite still struggling defensively. Charlotte just doesn’t have the weapons or firepower to score point-for-point with one of the league’s top offenses. Cavaliers win.
Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers
It’s impossible to mention Philadelphia on the road without acknowledging the fact that the franchise has lost 81 of its last 100 road games. But, these aren’t quite the same 76ers.
Philly is 10th in scoring, ranking third in the NBA in three-point field goals and second in assists. The 76ers have scored at least 100 points in nine of their first 12 games with youngsters Joel Embiid and Simmons playing at an All-Star level.
The Lakers are third in the league in defensive rating, which makes this matchup very interesting. Adding to the intrigue is the fact these two teams are also tied for third in pace, averaging more than 103 possessions per 48 minutes.
On paper this one should be a track meet, which could be sloppy at times with both teams leading their respective conferences in turnover percentage (giveaways per 100 plays).
The Lakers have struggled with point forward-types, allowing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin to score 33 and 29, respectively. However, you can make a case that Simmons is a more dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands.
The Sixers have struggled to defend above-average wings with guys like Victor Oladipo, Eric Gordon and Harrison Barnes all scoring at least 25 points against them.
Picking this game is difficult.
Both teams will struggle to get stops, so this one will likely live in transition. Both squads rely heavily on youngsters but have been extremely competitive. However, Philadelphia is in a better place to win immediately.
A steady dose of Simmons and a 20-10 performance by Embiid will keep Philly’s solid start going.