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Utah Jazz at Cleveland Cavaliers Game Preview: Can Gordon Hayward shine against LeBron James

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Game #7: Jazz (4-2) @ Cavaliers (6-1)
Location: Quicken Loans Arena • Cleveland, OH
Time: 5:00 p.m. (MT)
TV: ROOT Sports • Radio: 1280 AM / 97.5 FM

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Tonight the Utah Jazz start their four game Eastern Conference trip (preview here!), the first game is against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are 6-1 and have won six straight games. Furthermore, they have won three straight at home against the Jazz in their individual head-to-head. Of course, the biggest reason for their success in recent years has been because of LeBron James. James is a beast and has put up some beastly numbers against the Jazz (full breakdown here!); however, in Cleveland he seems to take the foot off the pedal. But when LeBron takes the foot off the pedal he's still LeBron, and he averages 27.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.6 spg, and 1.4 bpg against the Jazz when they play in Ohio. There's no doubt that LeBron, love him or hate him, is a star player. Utah Jazz fans think we have one on our team too -- Gordon Hayward. Is Gordon a star, or do we just think he is?

It would be cool to see these two guys go head-to-head. We've seen LeBron take on challengers, like Paul George, and have both players have good games. Is Gordon ready to step up and play like a star? Or will Quin Snyder 's system hide him from stardom and make it a five on five game?

If so, it's going to come down to defense against defense. And in reality, front court vs. front court. Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Trevor Booker will have their hands full with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, and Anderson Varejao. Utah's bigs need a fourth to step up, and it's not going to be SF/PG/SG Joe Ingles -- we may actually see some Tibor Pleiss or Jeff Withey tonight. This should be a titanic battle between front courts, a true measuring stick for our lads.

Both teams are going into this game with some injuries. The Jazz are without their defensive whizz kid Dante Exum, and instead will start rookie point guard Raul Neto. The Cavaliers are without their starting point guard as well, Kyrie Irving. Furthermore, they are without their SG starter from last playoffs, Iman Shumpert. LeBron is banged up and should play. Bigman Sasha Kaun should be ready to go. And I have no positive or negative news about J.R. Smith -- currently questionable, and a game time decision for tonight.

Understandably, the Jazz have fewer injuries. But the Cavs have some depth -- they do have Richard Jefferson and James Jones on the bench, and yet another former Jazzman, Mo Williams. Mo has been starting and producing (as noted in the Sunday Syncopation!) How he and Trey Burke, an Ohio native, match up will be cool.

The East leading Cavaliers also play to play at a slow pace, the Jazz are 30th, and they are 25th. Both have Top 5 defenses, and both really do a number on the glass. The one thing Cleveland really has that Utah does not is a star. Gordon Hayward is making $15.4 million dollars this season. That's a lot of free-to-play microtransactions. I want him to be a star for us. Sure, Derrick Favors is playing like a man possessed, and Rudy Gobert is a man on a mission to rewrite the record books. But this is a wing oriented league now. And you almost have to have a star wing player to make it in the playoffs.

LeBron has proven himself time and time again. Gordon should start doing it too. I know, he's hit game winners before. He's been a champion in high school at the state level, and almost won the national championship in college. He is a smart kid. A good kid. And has a team first attitude. But he knows that sometimes your team is only as good as how far the best player on the team can be.

I think Gordon can be great, even the best small forward in franchise history.

I believe in him.

I also need to see it regularly. It's his 6th season in the NBA. Andrei Kirilenko was an All-Star and NBA Stat leader since his 3rd year in the league, when he was 22 years old. What is taking so long?