Hey, remember the Eastern Conference Champions? Well they're back. LeBron James from returned from injury (complete with a giant hand pad) and scored 17 points (5-9 FG, 7-10 FT). Anderson Varejao made his debut and looked in mid-season form, scoring 6 points and grabbing 9 boards (and let's be honest, it's not like we'll need to wait for him to find his jumper or something).
That being said, we saw a pretty strange starting five. Your Cleveland starters were Eric Snow, Shannon Brown, Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Awesome. They actually didn't do too bad; by the time the first subs came in, the Cavs had a 15-11 lead. Snow started because Daniel Gibson was out cause of his wisdom teeth (speaking of Snow, I love how the bigs grab a defensive board, everyone runs out... except for Eric Snow. It's like he doesn't want to run; he always waits back for the ball, rather than move ahead for an outlet pass).
I'm like this whole "Larry Hughes off the bench" thing. James, Hughes and Varejao all came off the bench together (LeBron said so there wouldn't be any boos). Hughes was nothing short of spectacular (this was definitely one his best games as a Cavalier); he scored 36 points on 13-17 shooting (5-8 from 3) to go along 4 boards and 3 assists. Obviously, Hughes isn't going to shoot this well on most nights, but he took good shots and attacked the rim in spots (mostly when LeBron was sitting). I know it's only been two games, but it could be huge if Hughes can get in rhythm coming off the bench.
More Larry off the bench. Last season, the first subs were Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall... not great. Now if those first subs could be Hughes and Varejao... Coach Mike could have a lot of flexibility. Hughes can come in for either Gibson or Pavlovic and Andy can spell both Z and Gooden. Plus, Hughes could move back and forth between the point and the two.
Oh, by the way, the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score looks. Four minutes into the game, the Pacers led 11-10.... at the end of the first it was 37-16. Every once in a while Indiana would make a run to get within 13 or so (and at one point 10) but the Cavs would simply refocus and bury them again. They had a 65-49 halftime lead and very nearly gave fans a chalupa in three quarters, leading 97-74 heading into the final period.
The refs continue to hose Sasha Pavlovic. At this point it's comical. Sasha had two fouls and both were terrible charge calls. The first charge was called as Danny Granger sidestepped under Pavlovic while he was in the air. The second call was even worse; Granger again slid under Pavlovic, but this time he was inside the circle. I have no idea how an offensive player gains an unfair advantage by having defender undercut him while airborn, but apparently Pavlovic did it twice. I was hoping that after last season, Pavlovic might get a little benefit of the doubt every now and then, but apparently not. Pavlovic finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
The starting bigs were pretty good. Gooden didn't shoot that well (3-9) but he did grab 11 boards. Z's offensive game was working, scoring 17 points (5-11 FG, 7-9 FT) but he only nabbed 5 rebounds. Both were only so-so on defense. Z got burned on a couple Troy Murphy drives (not completely unexpected) and more than once Gooden lost his man on the way down court, leading to an open lay-up or dunk.
Does Donyell Marshall have to come back? I have no problem with Ira Newble getting some minutes at the four every now and then. He's shooting that corner 3 pretty well and Newble's just a tad quicker than Marshall at this point in their careers.
Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Sure, the losing streak hurt, but I think the Cavs can come out of this pretty well. Shannon Brown has gotten some minutes and looks more and more comfortable (but he's trade bait at this point), Dwayne Jones looks like he can be more than just another body and Devin Brown looks like he can give the Cavs a bit of everything (now, do you want all three playing crunch time? No. But having one of those guys out there won't kill you). This new deep, healthy Cavalier squad has a chance to rattle off a few wins coming up; they're in New Jersey (hey, hear about Jason Kidd...) on Friday, then they face Philly and Milwaukee at home on Saturday and Monday, respectively. They then head to New York to face the Knicks next Wednesday.