What better way to start a sports Sunday than with a basketball matinee? The Mavs and Cavs have an unusually early noon tipoff — the plus side is Dirk and the gang will be able to catch the Cowboys game on the flight home.

The Cavs will be playing without LeBron James, who’s going to miss multiple weeks due to knee and back issues. That could spell bad news for Cleveland, as Dallas is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, tied with Atlanta for the longest winning streak in the league (four games). Make no mistake, though: The Cavs are still a good team even without LeBron. This will by no means be an easy contest for Dallas.

Mavs Offense Cavaliers Defense
Points/100 poss. 112.4 (1) 105.0 (23)
eFG% 53.3 (3) 51.4 (24)
TOV% 12.5 (3) 14.6 (16)
Off/Def Reb% 25.6 (14) 74.4 (16)
FT/FGA .270 (T-18) .222 (1)

This is a classic showdown of two top offenses. Both Dallas and Cleveland rank top-six in offensive efficiency, but while the Mavs defense has been on the upswing as of late, Cleveland’s defense has suffered for most of the season. The Cavs have played spotty perimeter defense which has led to relentless rim drives from opponents, and Cleveland just doesn’t have the rim protection to allow that to happen. The Cavs allow opponents to shoot 62.6 percent within five feet, second-worst in the NBA. The Mavs, meanwhile, shoot a league-best 64.4 percent from the same range, making the gameplan pretty simple: Get the ball to the rim. Already playing without typical starting center Anderson Varejao, Cleveland is going to have a tough time stopping Dallas in the key.

The Cavaliers also allow opponents to shoot 44.4 percent from 15-19 feet, third-worst in the NBA. Score another for the Mavs, who shoot a league-best 46.2 percent from that range. Between Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and even Rajon Rondo as of late, the Mavericks have plenty of players who can beat you in the mid-range. If Cleveland is going to surrender point-blank shots and open mid-range Js, Dallas should have no problem scoring triple-digits today. The shots will be there. It’s just up to the Mavs to make them.

To make up for James’s absence, Cleveland is starting Mike Miller at the small forward position. He’s an excellent three-point shooter, but he doesn’t have the quickness to keep up with Chandler Parsons in both the half- and fullcourt. The Cavs have done an excellent job limiting opponents on the fast break this season, allowing just 10.7 FB points per game, fifth-best in the league. That, however, is counting James, one of the best open-floor players in league history. The Mavs should be able to push the tempo with much less resistance without him today.

We’ll also get to see former Mavs great Shawn Marion today. Look for No. 31, not 0. He’s started 22 games for Cleveland this season and has come off the bench in nine. I’m curious to see if it’s he who gets the starting nod over Miller for defense against Parsons. If not, he’ll come off the bench and be tasked with the difficult job of not only checking Parsons, but probably also Dirk Nowitzki, too. He hasn’t guarded Dirk in more than half a decade. That would be a fun matchup to watch.

The East has been very kind to Dallas this season. The Mavericks score more than 111 points per game versus East competition this season and average 10.5 made threes per contest, as well. Those are both absurdly high numbers. Dallas is 13-2 this season when hitting double-digit threes, so that’s a good indicator of the game’s outcome. It should be noted, as well, that the Mavs are a perfect 8-0 on the road against Eastern Conference teams this season after securing wins against top East teams Toronto, Chicago, and Washington earlier this year.

Mavs Defense Cavaliers Offense
Points/100 poss. 104.1 (T-17) 106.1 (6)
eFG% 50.9 (T-22) 50.3 (12)
TOV% 17.1 (2) 14.3 (9)
Off/Def Reb% 71.6 (T-29) 26.1 (12)
FT/FGA .276 (T-14) .310 (4)

This is going to be a significant test for the Mavs on the defensive end. Without James, you’d figure this would be an easier matchup. However, you still have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to worry about, not to mention offensive rebounding machine Tristan Thompson and the aforementioned Miller. Also in the mix will be Dion Waiters, Cleveland’s sixth man and primary scoring option off the bench. He averages a little better than 10 points per game this season, but his production is probably going to experience growth without James.

Irving and Love are the two key players, though. Love, particularly, has struggled to maintain the same level of production that landed him on All-NBA teams in Minnesota. He’s scoring just 17 points per game this season playing alongside James, but as we’ve learned from watching Dallas recently, it takes time for players to grow comfortable with each other in new systems. Love has never played with guys like James and Irving, so it’s natural for the adjustment period to take a little longer than most might have expected.

Irving, meanwhile, is yet another All-Star point guard for Rajon Rondo to worry about. It never seems to end in this league. First it was Russell Westbrook, then John Wall, and now Kyrie, one of the up-and-coming stars in this league. He’s scoring more than 20 points per game this season and will be the primary scoring option today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a ton of pick-and-pop with Irving and Love, meaning Rondo and whoever guards Love will have to communicate well all game long.

That brings up another point: Who’s guarding Love? He plays the 4-spot, so normally it’d be Dirk. However, Tyson Chandler has better foot speed and longer arms, so it might make sense for him to take that job. Of course, doing so would take him away from the rim, opening up driving lanes for other Cavs and also weakening the Mavs’ defensive rebounding. I would imagine it will be Dirk on Love and Chandler on Thompson, at least to start. Rick Carlisle could always adjust later.

Again, even though Cleveland is without LeBron, there’s still plenty to watch for in today’s game. Early tipoffs always produce weird games. Whichever team can get over the oddity of the game time first usually wins — often we see at least one team come out a bit flat, so if one can go on a run early, this thing could be over quick. Dallas has just got to play its game and get out of there with a win soon. That way, we can all follow @Swish41’s Twitter timeline during Cowboys/Lions.

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