Monday, March 05, 2007

Cleveland 91, Houston 85

Larry Hughes? This point guard stuff may be working out... Hughes scored 22 points, dished out 7 assists and grabbed 8 boards. It should also be noted that he shot 7-15 from the field (2-4 from 3pt range and 6-9 from the line). Sometimes it felt like he was hogging the ball a bit, but hell, the man had 7 assists, what can ya say (he should've passed to Pavlovic on that fast break where he got the charge- OK, I'm nitpicking). This is the first time (in my memory at least) that Hughes has had good games back to back.

LeBron continued his strong play. 32 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. He went inside early on (a couple 'and1s') and went outside late (a couple ridiculous shots over Battier); he was effective anywhere on the court. Were all the shots great? No, there were a few 'no no no no YES!' moments, but what can ya do? He's LeBron.

The return of Yao. It was obvious that the big fella was rusty; he missed some shots he usually makes and never found a rhythm. McGrady had an off night and the Rockets really needed Yao more than they would've liked in just his first game back.

The return of Z and Gooden. Both guys have been sub par lately and neither was very good in the first half. Gooden came alive first; he got hot in the third quarter and seemed to have found his rhythm. Z was not having a good night; he missed badly on shots and just looked uncomfortable out there. But something happened late: he hit some shots. With 4 minutes left, in the midst of a Rocket run, Z hit a jumper off a pick (assist from Hughes) and blocked Chuck Hayes on Houston's following possession. After McGrady got the Rockets within two (at the 1:30 mark), Z got a put back off a LeBron miss to give the Cavs a little breathing room (and on the next Houston possession, he stole the ball from Yao Ming while following down).

Pavlovic is slumping. 1-8 from the floor- not good. However, he did play great defense (ya, I said great) on Tracy McGrady (who shot 10-32). Sasha was still aggressive on offense, but his shots weren't falling (he seems to still have his confidence and Brown is still giving him playing time). Sasha is just 2-17 in his last two games. Damn.

Shannon Brown is not. Brown scored 5 points, played good defense and has the final nail in David Wesley's coffin. He's playing with confidence and I'm glad that he wasn't thrown into some deadline deal for a C-list point guard.

What's the rotation going to look like when Gibson returns? With the Cavs 2-0 during the Larry Hughes PG experiment and Shannon Brown forcing himself into the rotation, what happens to Gibson's minutes? Or Pavlovic's? Hopefully, nothing. With the emergence of the Pavlovic and the rookies, LeBron's playing time should diminish a little bit. Around 4-5 minutes of extra rest wouldn't be a bad thing (it'd get him under 40 minutes- FYI, he played 42 on Monday).

Free throws. It seems to be feast or famine for LeBron at the stripe; a game after going 15-17, he was just 5-9. The Cavs won despite shooting only 11-18 from the foul line. You can overcome a 61% night here and there, but you sure are making it harder on yourself. 75% is a must, but at this point I'll settle for 70% (they're currently at 68%).

What if this Hughes PG experiment works? Say the Cavs rattle off a nice win streak with Hughes at the point, what happens? I mean, I fully expect the Cavs to try to trade Hughes this offseason (and to pursue a point guard). What if Hughes solves the point guard problem? I'm not ready to believe it just yet, but this could happen, right? He has had two stellar games in a row (and not just points-wise, but rebounds, assists and FG% too) and the Cavs have looked good with him running the show. And I will say this: I like the big lineup with Hughes and Pavs both starting. That is a tall five, but one that can still run if need be.

All wasn't perfect. The Cavs let Houston back into the game in the fourth. They had an 11 point lead with just 6:00 to go and had to gut it out. McGrady finally started hitting some shots, but the Cavs didn't help themselves too much at the offensive end. When the Cavs are pressured (either late in the game or by good teams for an entire game) the offense stagnates. Its like they revert to their most basic functions: stand around and wait for LeBron to do something awesome. Sometimes LeBron does do something awesome (like the NOOCH game or some of the shots he hit over Battier) but that shouldn't be something the Cavs rely on. LeBron hitting long, contested jumpers is great and all, but you'd like them to make the defense work a bit (or at least not give the opposition what they want- they'll love to live and die by LeBron hoisting bombs).

and finally...

The Pistons. In Detroit. I feel good about this. Kinda. The Cavs and (and LeBron and Hughes especially) are playing well, so if there's ever a time to go into Detroit, now is it. I'm very interested to see how this Larry Hughes-led offense will handle the Pistons' D.


Erik said...

I've wondered about this for several months now: Should Larry Hughes be moved to the point?

His game is actually closer to a point guard's than an off-guard's. He's a ball-handler with good passing skills who needs to penentrate in order to be effective.

As a shooting guard, he's being asked to camp out on the wing and wait for the ball, which he obviously has no interest in doing and renders a lot of his other skills irrelevant.

I'm not saying it's a perfect situation. There are still some bugs to iron out. Namely, the fact that Hughes still isn't the offense-initiator the Cavs need.

(I am reminded of a "Why the bloody #@%& doesn't LeBron have the ball??" possession with the Cavs up by three late in the fourth quarter last night.)

But in order to get 22-8-7 from Hughes every night, I'll take a few Marbury possessions from him as collateral damage.

I still fully expect the Cavs to go after Mike Bibby again this summer, but maybe Hughes is about to redefine himself, moving from crappy SG to pretty dang good (at least statistically) PG. I'll take it right now.

Benjamin Warburton said...

If his PG play continues to develop and he puts up the gaudy stats he has of late, I think it would be a good idea to keep him there for the long haul. The last couple nights he reminded me of Bobby Phills. A scorer first who was good at passing the ball and gave a shit about the glass. A starting 5 of Hughes, Sasha, Pavs, Andy, and Z would make me very very happy.

Ben said...

I'm not sure if the Cavs will pursue Bibby as hard this summer for a couple of reasons:

Bibby makes a ton of money. Bibby is in the twilight of one of those backloaded contracts. He gets paid a whole lot the next two years. Trading for Bibby mid-season (to put the team over the top) is a different scenario than trading for Bibby in the offseason (where there will be FAs and a draft and other trade possibilities)

The Cavs may feel they are set with Boobie and/or Hughes. I've said before that I think Hughes will be traded, but that was before this two game spurt of efficientness at the PG slot. If they make a strong run... who knows.


It amazes me to watch the game, look at the stats and see Hughes with 7 assists. Going by the box score, it looks like he played very unselfishly. But if you watch the game at all, it's obvious that Hughes is looking for his own shot first and passing is a distant second.

I will say this: Hughes forcing shots from 12 feet and in is much better than him forcing 20 footers.

Ben: I like Pavlovic too, but I'm not sure you want him taking two spots in the starting lineup. I do however like the big lineup- a lot. Force teams to play your style, force them to match your size- play big, but with an emphasis on pushing the ball (with Z and Andy rebounding/blocking and James, Hughes and Pavs running, the Cavs should be able to get some break points AND play defense.)

Erik said...

Obviously, if they make a strong run in the playoffs, everything will be re-evaluated, but keep two other things in mind:

Hughes is still brittle. No matter the stats he puts up, the odds of him being the kind of guy you can put at the one-guard spot and leave there for 82 games a year is slim.

Bibby can opt out of his contract. Not saying he will, but if he really gets the feeling the Kings want to move forward without him, and he knows a team like the Cavs would bend over backwards to get him, he might just choose to bolt Sactown than wait for the Kings to squeeze every last drop of trade value out of him.

Not moving Bibby might hurt the Kings in the long run if he opts to leave.

Having said that, if Hughes is a beast at PG for the rest of the season, then heck, forget Bibby and let's go after Vince Carter.

Ben said...

Bibby would be dumb to opt out of his deal, whether or not the Kings want him. Bibby makes $13.5 mil next season and $14.5 mil the year after. I'm all for athletes leaving money on the table to go play for a good team/in a better situation. But $28 million over 2 years? He may not get half that much as a FA.