Monday, March 17, 2008

Orlando 104, Cleveland 90

How the hell did this happen? With two minutes to go in the third quarter, the Cavs held a 68-61 lead. They were playing pretty cohesively on the offensive end and Delonte West was playing particularly well (7 points, 2 assists and block in the period). The Cavs ended the quarter trailing 73-72 (yup, 12 points in two minutes) and were down 84-76 by the 9:00 mark in the fourth (yup, 23 points in five minutes). Over those five minutes, the Magic simply caught fire; they were 8-9 from the field, 4-5 from behind the arc and 3-3 from the foul line (they scored more in that five minute span than they did in either of the first two periods).

The Cavs were lookin' pretty good too... This looked like a statement game for the Cavaliers; they seemed to be beating Orlando with relative ease. The defense was stellar, the offense looked smooth (Pavlovic looked especially comfortable) and the rotation pattern seemed much more natural. But the Cavs went cold; they scored just 17 points in the final period and finished just 6-19 from downtown and 14-22 from the line.

Free throws and 3 point shooting hurt. The Magic were 22-28 from the line and 14-32 from the field. The Cavs? 14-22 and 6-19. That won't get it done. The Cavalier starters combined to go 3-12 from downtown (West 1-5, James 1-4, Pavlovic 1-3) while their Orlando counterparts went 9-19 (and that includes Jameer Nelson's 1-6).

Second game back from injury, second night of a back-to-back... go guard Dwight Howard. Z didn't have a good game (whether its the travel, the injury or the Dwight Howard, I dunno). The big fella was just 2-10 from the floor, he missed his only two free throw attempts and he ended up with 5 fouls. Some of the jumpers that fell Sunday didn't fall on Monday and he picked up a few fouls while going for offensive rebounds.

Back-to-back Ben Wallace isn't pretty either. Big Ben had 2 points and 4 boards in just 23 minutes of court time. It wasn't like Wallace was bad or awful... he just wasn't anything... a non-factor. I'm a little concerned that the starting bigs had some issues on the second day, but I'm not overly concerned since A) both guys are returning from back issues (meaning I'd like to see more) and B) there are off days between playoff games.

LeBron James was good, if not great. I know, 30 points, 9 boards and 6 assists... not great. I dunno, maybe I'm spoiled, but I was underwhelmed with LeBron's performance. He seemed to settle for a lot of jumpers (though there were stretches where he attacked forcefully). Free throws were an issue again, as James ended up just 7-11 from the charity stripe (over the last 5 games he's 48-71 for 68%). What was somewhat disturbing was the fact that James looked turnover prone late in the game, especially when working with Delonte West. It's hard to argue with his box score, but I just didn't feel like his focus was all the way there.

Pavlovic looked comfortable in the offense, Wally looked comfortable on the bench. Sasha finished with 14 points (6-11 FG, 1-3 3pt), 5 boards and 2 assists. He didn't dribble the ball behind his back through traffic, but he did dust off the classic "Pavlovic charge" (I've missed it so much). Sasha looked pretty active out there and he gave the Cavs a solid effort on both offense and defense. And Wally? 1-4 from the field in just 6 minutes of court time. As of now, it looks like he's losing the battle for minutes... but if that shot could start to fall...

Besides Wally, the rest of the bench was pretty productive. Joe Smith and Devin Brown both finished with 7 points (both were 3-6 from the floor as well) and Damon Jones chipped in 6 (2-6 from behind the arc). I thought Anderson Varejao played well, but he picked up some dumb fouls (as well as a weak one or two); Andy finished with just 2 points and 3 boards in just 20 minutes. I've stated this before, but I really like Devin Brown coming off the bench (and I think Pavlovic fits in much better as a starter). When starting, Brown falls into the role of the shooting guard, which fits, but its not something he excels at. When he comes off the bench, he'll fall into the energy guy/junk player/hustle player role (which fits him perfectly IMO).

and finally...

14 games left, but how many with the full team? The Cavs biggest goal should be to get healthy, but it wouldn't hurt to finish the year strong (especially when you consider that they have Detroit three more times as well as meetings with Toronto and Orlando). They've looked pretty strong when they've had the bulk of their parts and I imagine that they'll look just as strong with everyone healthy... but will there be enough time? While other teams are gearing up for the playoffs, Mike Brown and company will be scrambling to find their best player rotation.

10 comments:

Erik said...

Ever since the trade, the Cavs have gone from being a pretty good fourth quarter team to a pretty bad fourth quarter team.

With LeBron, all you have to ask of the rest of the team is that they just not lose the game. This new-look team isn't even doing that. They're just piling piss-poor decisions on top of piss-poor execution with the game on the line. Not even The King can overcome that.

Ben Wallace's hands are AWFUL. In one memorable stretch last night, he was responsible for three second-chance possessions for the Magic by failing to secure rebounds and/or loose balls. I frankly don't see how he's going to be able to be on the floor with the game on the line come playoff time.

And, should the Cavs trade for a new starting SG this summer, can I please suggest to Danny Ferry that he trade Wally and keep Sasha? Sasha compliments LeBron very well in running the floor. I think Wally and his chuck-it-up, my-shot-first mentality is a poor fit for an extremely deliberate offense that treats every pass like it's gold.

I took some heat for saying that this trade was going to set the Cavs back in terms of competitive advantage, but it has. The DNA of this team has been changed, and it might be next season before these guys (or whoever is left after the summer) learn to play together on the level of the pre-trade team.

Before the trade, I thought the Cavs could beat any team in the Eastern Conference in a seven-game series. The only team that truly scared me was Detroit because they have motivation to prove that last year's upset was a fluke. Even Boston didn't scare me all that much.

Now, the Cavs have zero chance to beat Detroit or Boston, they probably wouldn't beat Orlando, and I don't even think a first-round matchup with Toronto is a stone-cold lock, especially if the Raptors manage to wrestle the fourth seed away.

The Cavs are a worse team than they were prior to the trade, because talent is only part of the equation to winning. Remember how long it took the pre-trade Cavs to learn how to play together? We had better hope it doesn't take that long for the new team to learn to play together, or the season will end before the calendar flips to May.

Ben said...

I think the biggest blow was Z missing 7 games. I think the Cavs would've righted themselves by now if Z had been around for the first month.

But you're right, the team pre-trade was flawed, but it was a well-oiled flawed machine. Guys news where to be on the court, guys trusted each other on defense. Things weren't perfect, but they were comfortable with each other and had been through the wars together.

Does this team have more talent? I'd say so. But they aren't used to each other. You can definitely tell which players are used to LeBron and which players just got traded here. The older players are used to the offense and it's now second nature to them.

I still think that they could make a strong playoff push, but I'm less confident that I was a month ago.

Anonymous said...

If Wally doesn't start knocking down shots, he is going to be stuck to the bench permanently once Boobie comes back and/or when the playoffs start.

graham said...

Ferry tried to hit a home run and struck out...again. I think its time to start questioning whether Ferry's in over his head. Seems like a nice, intelligent guy, but he struck out witht the Hughes signing and now this (if things don't turn around, as we expect). At some point, he's got to be held responsible for the Cavs.

I'm just not comfortable with this guy holding the future of LeBron in his hands, and I wonder if LeBron's comfortable with him calling the shots.

The bottom line is they were on a roll right before they made the trade, and now they look completely out of sync.

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Ran said...

This year's Houston Rockets are last years' Cavaliers (sort of):

http://www.columbuscavs.com/?p=197

Would love to get your thoughts!

Erik said...

Graham,

It's been less than a month. I think it's a bit early to declare the trade a disaster. The Cavs still have a winning record since the deal.

As I wrote before, this trade profoundly aletered this team's makeup, and it might be next season before the new players settle into their roles, or at least the ones who are still here next season. You don't jettison six players and bring in four without causing major upheaval.

These are the types of trades Ferry should be making in the offseason, but it didn't go down that way.

This wasn't the "missing piece" trade that everyone was hoping for. This was a transformational trade that took the roster in a new direction. Short-term (and even some long-term) slumping should be expected.

Then again, we all wanted Hughes and Marshall gone. We were sick of watching Drew Gooden's brain farts. They're all elsewhere now. But this is the price you pay. A slew of new players and another lengthy adjustment period.

graham said...

Yes, I wouldn't call it a disaster. But it's a trade that hasn't worked out, and I doubt it will - if it does, wonderful, I'll eat my words.

If Ferry somehow later acquires some player(s) that put the Cavs over the top, great.

I'm just saying, Ferry has made two major moves: the first was a disaster, the second looks like it's not going to work for a variety of reason (wrong fit, bad timing, chemistry, etc.).

My point is Ferry hasn't been excelling at his job and some of the attention (but not all) should be given to his performance.

Ben said...

but I think that this move is designed with that in mind.

Ferry needed shake things up but he also needed to be mindful of their long term prospects. He did both.

He got Delonte West, who immediately becomes the best point guard of the LeBron-era. Wallace for Hughes was simply a swap of headaches (with deals that are the same length). Joe Smith and Szczerbiak should be able to bring some shooting off the bench, but even if they don't, they'll only be around for another season and they'll combine form a $18 million expiring deal next year.

I think the trade does improve the Cavs level of talent and if these guys do gel, that it greatly improves the team (they should at least be more consistent with Hughes and Gooden gone).

I guess the biggest gripe of this deal is that it should've been made in January rather than at the deadline. I do worry about Mike Brown finding the right combination of guys and a set rotation (which is his biggest weakness as a coach, IMO).

But even then, if this doesn't work out, they're right back where they were: using their expiring contracts next season to trade for a big name/money player.

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