When LeBron James only had three points in the deciding quarter of the last Cavaliers/Magic matchup, it was clear that Dwight Howard’s presence in the paint was making LeBron more tentative than usual to try to drive the ball.
Earlier today, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann tried to figure out just how much Howard’s defensive presence changes the way the Cavaliers operate on offense.
Schuhmann used data from the matchups that the two teams have had in the past three years (16 games, including the playoffs), and made some very interesting findings.
When the Cavaliers play the Magic and Howard is on the bench, LeBron James absolutely lives in the paint. Nearly half of his field goal attempts come from inside of eight feet, and he averages 14 free throw attempts per 36 minutes. Because of all those easy opportunities, LeBron’s True Shooting against the Magic has been 61.5% when Howard sits.
When Howard is in the game, things get more difficult for James. Only 37% of James’ attempts come from inside of eight feet when Howard plays, and he averages four less free throw attempts per 36 minutes. All of this has a huge impact on the Cavs’ offense. When Howard is in the game, the Cavs average 96.7 points per 48 minutes. When he sits, that number skyrockets to 106.1 points per 48.
The Cavs were able to win their first two meetings against the Magic this season. In both of those games, Howard’s minutes were limited due to foul trouble. If the teams meet in the playoffs, when more physical play is sometimes allowed, the Cavs may struggle to deal with Howard’s defense over the course of a full game.