Monday, March 31, 2008

And so it begins

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cleveland 91, Philadelphia 88

Yawn. I dunno about you, but this game had all the trappings of a late season contest between two mediocre Eastern Conference teams. Wait a second... The Cavs followed up last night's debacle in Detroit by getting themselves down 10 early. They played terrible in the first quarter but somehow got to the quarter break only down 27-22 (and that's with LeBron fouling Louis Williams on a desperation bomb).

Delonte West had his best game as a Cavalier (not there's a lot of competition for that distinction). West returned from his injury to toss in 18 points, dish out 11 assists, grab 6 boards, block 3 shots and nab 2 steals. That's a pretty complete game, no? West looked like he did when he first arrived in Cleveland... like a point guard. Lately he's been in the 'bring the ball up, pass to LeBron then watch LeBron' mode (like Snow, Jones and Gibson before him). Against Philly he was initiating the offense and attacking. More of this please.

LeBron was his usual awesome self. My biggest question coming into the game was how was LeBron going to react to the Detroit loss. Well, he finished with 26-9-9 (and only one turnover). He seemed to pick and choose his spots for the bulk of the game. Every once in awhile he'd post up, then later he'd simply drive for a power dunk, while other times he'd nail a jumper; now, I could be wrong, but all of this seemed to happen because of LeBron's choosing, not because of Mike Brown's offense. It's like LeBron simply decides that he hasn't dunked in a bit, so why not? He's pretty good.

Pavlovic was hurt and Gibson left mid-game. I'm not sure what the issue was (as I've been using the tivo to fast forward through FSN's "commentary") but the cameras caught Sasha with a bag of ice on his leg. So that's awesome. Gibson tweaked his ankle playing a some defense, but he looked pretty decent out there (8 points, 2-4 from 3). Ben Wallace was still out with back spasms... you know, I'm starting to think that this team may not get healthy for the playoffs.

Z was solid. 14 points and 5 boards. Not the best game (he got burned on alley-oops to Dalember) but I thought he was effective overall. His jumper has looked good since his return from injury, but he hasn't been getting to the line lately (no FT attempts against Philly).

Varejao didn't impress me. I keep telling myself that he's still a bit hurt and that's why he hasn't looked the same these past couple of weeks... but I don't know if injuries can explain 1-5 shooting for 2 points and 5 boards (also, 3 turnovers). With all the injuries and new players, the Cavs and LeBron will need Varejao playing at a high level if they want any chance of beating Detroit of Boston (hell, or Washington) in the postseason.

The bench was OK, but they did enough. Joe Smith was the main cog off the pine, with 13 points and 8 boards. Wally Szczerbiak was a non-factor again with 1 point in 10 minutes. I'll give him this, at least he's trying; Wally is grabbing rebounds and bustin his ass... but if he's not making shots (0-4) then what's the point? As for the rest of the bench, Gibson looked decent before he left, Dwayne Jones got a bit of time and Damon Jones only got 4 minutes (which is kinda surprising... ya, he got abused by Billups, but only 4 minutes?).

and finally...

I'm starting to get worried. I knew the trade would mess up some chemistry issues, but I figured that there'd be enough time for them to get settled before the playoffs began... Now I'm not so sure. I like the fact that they've played really well at home, so at least I know they can play with good teams, but their road woes are worrisome. There's still enough games left for them to develop a little chemistry, but I don't know if A) I trust them to stay healthy and B) if I trust Mike Brown to figure out a good rotation before the playoffs start (btw, I love the fact that Austin Carr was commending Brown for whittling down the rotation... when Ben Wallace, Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic were all out with various ailments. Yes Austin, Brown was shortening the rotation all on his own...). I dunno, I don't want to start making excuses, but this is starting to feel like a lost season...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Whack-a-Mole

It never ends:

Point guard Delonte West, acquired from Seattle on Feb. 21, has not practiced the past two days with tendinitis in his left ankle. He is listed as questionable for Saturday night's game in Detroit.

Meanwhile, guard Daniel "Boobie" Gibson is also listed as questionable, but did practice and says he expects to play on Saturday. He has been out since Feb. 26 with a high ankle sprain.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Orleans 100, Cleveland 99

Apologies. Again, sorry I haven't been around since the Detroit game... grad school. Lame excuse, but valid IMO.

Damn. So LeBron hits a the go-ahead layup with seven seconds to go. My dad turns to me (not to get all Bill Simmons on you) and says that he left too much time on the clock. I reply that I'd rather be up with 7 seconds left than down with no time on the clock. Chris Paul proceeds to come out and find David West for the game winning jumper with .6 left (the lesson, as always, I'm an idiot.... see what I did there... ugh, let's move on).

Guys, make your layups. The Cavs missed a bunch of layups in the first half; LeBron, Pavlovic and Varejao all missed point blank shots (and some were wide open). LeBron's misses don't exactly worry me, because of who he is and the nature of his misses (probably could've gotten a few more calls). But Varejao and Pavlovic... ugh. I love the way Pavlovic has played since his return, he looks much like the Sasha of last year (he has more confidence than at the beginning of the season) but he's routinely missed layups inside. I don't know if he can't dunk as easily or what, but he's had too many balls roll off the rim (he finished 5-10 from the floor for 10 points). As for Varejao...

I dunno about you, but Andy has been bugging me lately. He'll still do the little things like rebound and take charges, but he's also trying to do the big things (like take his man off the dribble) and it is not pretty. If Andy thinks he's going to get a $50 million contract by bricking fade-aways, he's gonna be sorely mistaken. He played some decent defense but overall I was underwhelmed.

Turnovers hurt, especially in the first half. Delonte West coughed the ball up 5 times, Z 4 and James twice. That does not help matters. The Cavs turned it over a total of 13 times, while only forcing 8 from New Orleans.

Ilgauskas played great. Z was a factor on both ends of the floor and kept the Cavs in the game while James had an off night (yes, 21 points, 8 assists and 3 boards now counts as an off night for LeBron). Z finished with 29 points, 15 boards (7 offensive), 3 assists and 2 blocks. He and Tyson Chandler exchanged words (and elbows) for much of the game. Since his return from injury, Z is averaging 17 points and 10 boards.

The best part of the game was also FSNOhio's biggest mistake. In honor his 3,000th game, Fox Sports had Joe Tait call some of the game in the second quarter. Don't get me wrong, I loved this (and it was waaaay better than having Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sit in) but now I want more. You mean you can easily pipe in Joe Tait... that's an option? We're allowed to do that? Yet I'm stuck with Austin Carr and Fred McLeod because... I have more thoughts on Tait here and here (and here and here).

Hey, these guys are pretty good. Chris Paul finished with just 15 points on 5-17 shooting, but he also had 20(!) assists, 3 boards, 2 steals and block. ESPN talks about how LeBron needs a big market. No. Chris Paul needs a big market; this is the only guy I find acceptable as the MVP besides LeBron. He's just ridiculously good (Paul is one of two players, the other being Dwight Howard, that I would love to see James play with on a regular basis, just to see the amazing crap that would happen. I know it's not likely outside of All-Star games or the Olympics, but to see that combination on the court would be something special). There's no shame in losing to New Orleans, as they sit atop the Western Conference with a 49-21 record and they've beaten San Antonio, the Lakers, the Rockets, the Celtics, and now the Cavaliers since March 12th.

Hey guys, wanna guard Peja? Stojakovic was 6-9 from behind the arc and the bulk of those came without his man anywhere near him. Don't get me wrong, I get that you have to help when Paul penetrates, but really? Doubling off Stojakovic? As a team, the Hornets were 11-22 from downtown, while the Cavs counted with a blistering 5-17.

The bench... meh. Devin Brown, Joe Smith, and Damon Jones were all 3-7 from the floor (though Damon's were all triples) and Wally Szczerbiak was just 1-5. Wally was 0-2 from behind the arc and Smith grabbed just 3 boards and missed the two free throws he attempted. The bench's best stretch came in the second quarter, when they kept feeding Z and played off his offense.

and finally...

Could the Cavs actually get healthy? They don't play until Saturday night (when they travel to Detroit) and they expect both Daniel Gibson and Ben Wallace to return to face the Pistons. It's going to be really interesting to see how Coach Mike controls the rotation (I'm scared) but at this point, they're basically stuck with the fourth seed, so while I wouldn't recommend them sacrificing games for the sake of feeling things out, the Cavs aren't in a must win situation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Best

"Wham with the right hand!"
"Ehlo in to Daugherty, Daugherty back to Ehlo, three in the air...it's good!!!!"
"Kerr takes the ball over the time line, into the front court on the right wing"
"Line to the left... sights it...shoots it....got it..."
"What now?"
"LeBron James, three baaall.... got it!"

Have you ever listened to a basketball game on the radio that wasn't called by Joe Tait?

It sucks. I have no idea where the ball is, where the shot is coming from or what is really going on besides who made the last basket. But then again, maybe I've been spoiled.

Joe Tait will be calling his 3,000th Cavaliers game when the Cavs face the Hornets tonight. For a franchise that hasn't been the model of stability, the fact that Tait has been here for all these (bad) seasons speaks volumes.

It's a shame that the Cavs have stunk for so many years, because Tait doesn't get the recognition he rightfully deserves. He's one of the best NBA announcers ever. Period. Growing up, we used to routinely turn down the TV broadcasts (especially NBC and especially when they faced Jordan and the Bulls) and turn on Tait (which is something I can't do anymore... I often watch the games via Tivo, but even when I watch them live I can't sync up the radio because of the delays from the satellite).

This guy is a Cleveland treasure and he's definitely the best of the all the local announcers (I like the Tribe's Tom Hamilton, but he's not Tait's level. Plus, I get kinda annoyed when Hamilton makes a lazy fly ball seem like it just missed leaving the park).

So tonight is Tait's 3,000th Cavs game. Do yourself a favor and turn off the TV just for a little while and listen to Tait (AM 1100 in Cleveland or you can listen online). It's remarkable how much you don't miss when Joe is calling the game. And if you can get the radio and TV to sync up.... you have no idea how jealous I am.

Terry Pluto has more on Tait.

"Have a good night everybody"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

ZOMG! LeBron to NYC!!!!111!!1!eleventy!!

You're not helping.

This is annoying.

You sir, need a better website.

(and yes, I know its just going to keep happening)

Right now, we're witnessing one of most remarkable seasons that a NBA player has ever had (and, to quote Mike Brown, "he's frickin' 23!"). LeBron is averaging 30-8-8 and he's bringing it every night. He's becoming a dominant force on defense (anyone who says Kobe is significantly better defensively hasn't been watching LeBron this year) and he's become unstoppable on the offensive end.

This kid has a chance to be the best basketball player of his generation and he has a really good chance to put himself in the all time discussion. And he players for the Cleveland freaking Cavaliers. Obviously, if he leaves the Cavaliers, it will suck.

But if he does leave, it will be in two seasons. Not this year. Not next offseason. 2010. At the very least, they have three more playoff runs. So, I dunno about you, but I'm gonna try to enjoy it while I can. I'm gonna watch every game possible, I'm gonna write about it and I'm going to read anything I can get my eyeballs on.

It's that last one that gets me. Any type of national analysis of the Cavaliers is filtered through the "LeBron is leaving" lens. Every time someone interviews Brian Windhorst or Danny Ferry, the "is LeBron leaving" question always pops up. LeBron waits a day (a day!) to sign his extension and Bill Simmons basically shits his pants.

I haven't seen this for any other player, for any other franchise (and by the way, who do you think needs a big market more, LeBron 'third man ever to appear on the cover of Vogue' James or Chris 'having the best season for a point guard ever' Paul?) in any other sport. Is there another player that gets this type of treatment (when he's in the first year of his new contract!). Meanwhile, I'm trying to follow the career of possibly the best basketball player of the 21st century and I keep getting sidetracked by all the speculation of where he might go.

Look, maybe he leaves, maybe he doesn't (and if he does bolt, it will be for basketball reasons, not location). Right now, on March 22, 2008, I don't care. In 2010, I'll care. But three offseasons away? Nope.

And even then, should I worry?
James on whether he has ever thought about playing for the Knicks: ''No, that might be worse than that fan running out on the court.'' James on whether he's ever thought of leaving the Cavs: ''You don't think about it. I am in a great situation. I am home, my family gets to see me play, the organization has been nothing but great to me. I have no reason to think about going anywhere else at this point.''

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cleveland 89, Detroit 73

I was really worried about this game. The Cavs have had some ugly losses against the Pistons over the years and, after the past two games, I wasn't exactly full of confidence heading into Wednesday night. However, the Cavs stepped up their defense (and survived their offense) to put the Pistons away.

LeBron James, M.V.P. During the ESPN telecast (btw, how bad is it that I glady choose ESPN over Fox Sports Ohio) Jon Barry remarked that he thought LeBron was having good game; not a bad game, but not a great game either. I'd have to agree. But here's LeBron's final line: 30 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, a steal and a block (with zero turnovers). It's amazing how efficient James is; his 30 points came on just 19 shots (of which he made 11). I'm not sure what else I can say about the guy except for the fact that he makes games like this look average (which makes sense, as he averages 30-8-8).

Zydrunas played extremely well. The extra days off did him some good, as he went for 20 points and 8 boards. Z's confidence looked sky high; he's no longer intimidated by the Piston's defense, he battled Rasheed all game and he did not hesitate to shoot when he had a good look (which was nice to see). Ilgauskas made the Pistons pay every time he was left open and he made shots from all over the floor (I really liked when he flashed to the middle for a quick 6-8 foot shot). The Cavs went to him on the block on a regular basis and he was involved for the entire game (there weren't any long stretches of time where he didn't get a touch).

The defense: great. A game after scoring 136 points against Denver, the Cavs held the Pistons to just 73 points. Detroit shot just 40% (well, 39.7%) from the field and 29% from the 3pt line. I was kind of surprised to see that the Pistons only shot 7 free throws, but they seemed to live and die by the jumper (once 'Sheed stopped going inside).

The offense: ugly, but not completely awful. Sometimes, the Cavs offense looks like a real NBA offense; guys are running around with a purpose, they know where they're supposed to be and the ball moves from side to side. Are they the Suns? No, but things are working. Then you get possessions where nobody moves. You get possessions where players are slow to begin a play... and the bench was slow to call said play. The Cavs had way too many possessions where someone would hold onto the ball too long and then be forced to take a terrible shot with the clock winding down (this happened to West, Szczerbiak, Devin Brown, James and Varejao). Like Barry kept repeating, the Cavs were wasting possessions. The only reason why I'll say it wasn't completely terrible is the fact that they only had 7 turnovers. So sure, they had a few 'Devin Brown fade-away' type possessions, but at least they held onto the basketball.

The non-Z bigs also played pretty well. Both Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao got under the skin of Rasheed Wallace and kept him out of his comfort zone (or pushed him towards the 3pt line). Ben Wallace looked about very active on the defensive end; he was altering shots, he was playing physical and contributing in other areas of the stat sheet (8 boards, 2 points and 4 assists). Varejao looked better than he's been (but not quite pre-injury) on his way for a 6 and 6 evening. Also, Joe Smith only got 6 minutes of PT. Not sure how that happens, but I really hope it doesn't happen again (and I really, really, really hope that it was nothing to do with the two knee braces he was sporting throughout the tgame.

Delonte West needs to learn how to finish. I like a lot of what West brings to the team; his jumper isn't great, but it gets the job done and he plays hard on defense (he's a good on ball defender and he even blocks some shots). West can also get to the rim on a pretty regular basis... but he can't finish once he gets there. Part of me thinks that these close, in traffic, shots will eventually start to fall (like Wally) but another part of me wonders if this is why the Cavaliers are his third team. He's heady, he's scrappy and he takes the ball strong to the rim (so I like what he brings) but he has to learn how to finish in traffic. West finished just 3-13 from the field, but (and I dunno if this helps or hurts him) at least 4 of the misses were blown layups that should've been down.

The same goes for Pavlovic. Sasha missed another couple of close shots but for the most part played well. He's still attacking the rim, but he's in much better control (and he even passed out of some drives after he drew the defense). Sasha finished with 9 points and 4 boards in 27 minutes (with Szczerbiak and Brown combining for 29) but he did only shoot 3-11.

Szczerbiak came back with a strong game. It's been no secret that Wally has struggled since the trade (he's only shooting in the mid-30s since the deal) and he came out very aggressive against Detroit. Wally finished with 10 points on 4-7 shooting and he wasn't completely exploited on the defensive end. There were a few possessions where I thought that he held the ball too long or that he was a little too selfish, but for the most part I thought he played well. Szczerbiak was also very active without the ball, grabbing 4 boards (2 offensive) in just 15 minutes of court time.

and finally...

These next games are crucial. The Cavs face their potential first round matchup, Toronto, in Cleveland this Friday before traveling to Milwaukee to face future-Cavalier Michael Redd on Saturday night. However, after those two relatively easy games, they face New Orleans and then Detroit again (in Motown). It'd be nice to face Chris Paul while riding a 3 game win streak... no?

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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Washington 101, Cleveland 99

How about a full 48 minutes of defense. For stretches of time, you can see how good this team can be; they'll play defense, they'll move the ball and they'll knock down their open shots. For other stretches, they look awful; there will be no defensive rotation, everyone stands and watches LeBron and no one can buy a bucket. Mike Brown has to find a way to get more of first stretches and less of the latter. The Cavs played a great 2nd quarter, scoring 30 points and allowing just 19. But they proceeded to give up 34 points (on 71% shooting!) in the 3rd and (coupled with their brutal 2-16 start to the fourth) were again forced to play catch-up for the final period. While the Cavs outrebounded the Wizards 51-36, they allowed Washington to shoot 48% from the floor and they didn't take care of the ball at their end of the court (17 turnovers).

LeBron had an average (for him anyways) evening. 25 points (9-22), 7 boards and 7 assists. He settled for a lot of jumpers after he missed a couple of early layups (including one to end the first quarter). James also had 7 turnovers, giving him 13 over the last two games (which could be a sign that they should give the reigns to Delonte West a little more). The Cavs had the final shot and a chance to tie or win the game, but James missed a 3 at the final buzzer (he was just 1-7 from downtown).

Sasha Pavlovic had his best game of the season. Was he perfect? No; he fouled out and he unleashed one of his patented behind-the-back-dribble-while-attempting-to-split-the-defense moves (with predictable results) but he was more than solid. Pavs had a season high 24 points and shot 9-15 from the field (5-9 from 3). However, he didn't do much else; he only notched a single steal, assist and board in the rest of his 29 minutes of court time (but his scoring sure as hell helped out a lot). Sasha didn't try to do too much (except for the aforementioned dribble drive) and he got himself open and took good shots. It would be huge for this team if he could regain some of last season's form.

When the hell does Z return? This Wallace/Varejao combo is killing me. I know that Brown basically has to do it, but neither of these guys are any offensive threat. Wallace is like the big man version of Eric Snow; he's not a good shooter and he looks surprised when he actually has the ball in scoring position. As for Varejao... I'm kinda torn. Pre-injury, he was knocking down his jumper on a regular basis. But since his return, that jumper has been iffy at best, but he still hoists them. Varejao finished with 12 boards (10 in the first half) and shot just 2-9 from the floor (I know he's been hurt, but if you're a big man who wants a $60 million contract, you should be able to pick up the offensive slack for Ben Wallace, no?). Andy also had a rough time on defense; he got himself in position to take a few charges, but the calls weren't going his way (this is my other problem with Varejao: when the whistles are going his way, he's a superb defender. But if they aren't, a lot of plays end with him on his ass. He's dependent on the refs calling the game in his favor). (Also, while I'm hating on Varejao, can we blame him for Z's bad back? If Andy doesn't hold out, Z isn't forced to played 36+ minutes early in the season. Maybe if Andy was here all season, Z would still be chugging along).

Wally Szczerbiak, still not making shots. The good news: Wally was 2-5 from behind the arc. The bad news: Wally was 2-9 overall. What was impressive was the fact that Szczerbiak got of 9 shot attempts in just 13 minutes of court time. With Damon Jones playing so well (9 pts, 3-5 from 3) and Pavlovic having the defensive advantage (and offensive if he can continue to knock down shots), Wally may find himself the odd man out when Daniel Gibson returns. Szczerbiak needs to find some way to start hitting shots or he's gonna be watching a lot of games from the bench (and turn himself in a huge trading chip for the following year).

Delonte West had a solid game. After playing just 20 minutes the night before, West made the most of his 32 minutes of court time. West finished with 10 points (3-6 FG, 2-3 3pt) 7 assists and 5 boards (3 offensive). He wasn't spectacular, but he got inside and created shots for himself and others. If he could be a little more consistent, he would do wonders for this team (though if he was a little more consistent, he probably wouldn't have been traded twice).

and finally...

Silver lining. These last two games have been frustrating as hell; the Cavs played poorly for long stretches of games and they've lost to mediocre teams. But here's the thing, for as bad as the Cavs have played, they've been just one possession away from winning both of these games. You think having Gibson and/or Z wouldn't have turned these losses into wins? I'm getting sick of watching the Varejao/Wallace front court and lord help me if Szczerbiak doesn't turn this around, but I don't want to get too upset, just because I know the Cavs are missing their 2nd and 3rd most important players. Hopefully with Pavlovic returning to form, the Cavs can at least get better on the defensive end (they should be able to lock down on the perimeter with Pavs and West) and you hope that they can start to cut down on the turnovers (it seems to me like they have trouble inbounding the ball at least once a game since the trade. This needs to be fixed. Now).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Jersey 104, Cleveland 99

The Cavs were playing catchup all game. New Jersey started out the game shooting 77% and jumped to a 38-23 first quarter lead. A lot of the shots were jumpers, which you knew weren't going to fall all game (at least not at that clip) but they also got a ton of easy hoops inside (it was like the Cavs were missing their starting big men or something). Throughout the game, the Cavs made runs, but they couldn't sustain the defensive effort long enough to make a permanent dent. They got within 5 (49-44) with four minutes to go in the second quarter, but by halftime they were down by 11 (58-47).

What more can LeBron do (aka: How is he not the MVP Part XI)? At this point, I feel weird that I'm not freaking out because a Cavalier went for 42 points (a 42 point game doesn't even phase me anymore). James was spectacular; he scored 42 on 12-23 shooting, he grabbed 11 boards, had 7 assists, blocked 2 shots and had a steal. With both Z and Wallace out, LeBron got some time at the power forward position and he used the opportunity to send a message foul to Josh Boone (every Cavalier big man, please take note). He wasn't perfect though; James was just 16-23 from the foul line (though I love his aggressiveness) and he coughed the ball up 6 times (and those were his fault. He had one late which Austin Carr blamed on Damon Jones. I don't know what Austin saw, but I saw James throw the ball to the other team, not sure what Damon had to do with that).

The refs weren't awful, but they weren't good either. LeBron had one of his shots goaltended (it hit glass first) and it wasn't called. Also, Varejao picked up a couple of really cheap fouls which limited his minutes (his second foul was atrocious. Violet Palmer whistled Andy for a foul on a rebound, when she was behind the pile of people while Varejao wasn't even part of the play. Just awful).

These guys miss Z quite a bit. They need someone else to consistently take the scoring load off LeBron. Devin Brown stepped up (19 points), but if he's your second option. Plus, the Cavs gave up a ton of easy baskets inside and Z (coupled with Wallace) would do a lot to deter those shots. It's the little things too; Z nets 'Bron an assist or two a game just with the pick-and-pops alone and he'll get at least four points off of tipped rebounds.

Rebounds hurt. The Cavs somehow won the rebounding battle 43-36 but they got beat on the boards early (the first quarter is what lost them this game). However, with as bad as they played, they had a chance to get the ball back, down two points with 16 seconds left, but Vince Carter grabbed an offensive rebound off a free throw. That was the game right there (Carter went to the line and made both to push the lead to four). The Cavs played poorly but they still had a legit chance to win this game... I'm not sure if that says more about them or the Nets, but it's worth mentioning.

Sasha was back. Mike Brown started Pavlovic in his first game back... and he played just 10 minutes and missed two shots. I'm not sure what Brown got out of that stint, but I saw that Sasha... played 10 minutes and missed two shots. Also, Delonte West had under 20 minuntes (19) let's not have that happen any more...

and finally...

Bounce back against the Wizards. Caron Butler returns Thursday night, so you'd imagine that Washington might have some extra energy. If the Cavs play a full 48 minutes, they should win handily.... They play the Bobcats on Sunday and they're at Orlando on Monday (yet another back-to-back... with the second game on the road. Awesome).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Nets

I'll have something on this atrocity of a game tomorrow morning.

God damn I wish this team would get healthy....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Portland

I didn't see any of the Cavs-Blazers game last night, as I was out seeing a movie (Semi-Pro- I liked it, though that was a given. I mean, I'm pretty sure that I'm the exact target audience. The basketball scenes were pretty funny and surprisingly not-terrible).

However, I'm now ready to give my endorsement to Bill Simmons in his quest to become GM of the Bucks:
Anyway, I've written this a million times, but few things drive me crazier than a team refusing to make the best trade possible simply because they'd be sending their star to a rival team. Who cares? Hey, Philly fans, you realize your team could have ended up with Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo and Boston's 2007 No. 1 pick for Allen Iverson, right? So stupid. (Note: When I'm running the Bucks starting this summer, I'll be making the best deal possible at all times, even if it means I'm sending Michael Redd to Cleveland to dump the Gadzuric/Simmons/Bell contracts for expiring contracts. You have my word on that, people of Milwaukee! I will never be afraid to deal our best player to a rival. Ever. And by the way, YES WE CAN!)
I'm down (imagine a crunch time lineup of Gibson, Redd, James, Smith and Z. How do you guard LeBron at that point? Everyone on the floor can shoot and shoot well).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Guess who I'm leaning towards

With Larry Hughes gone and Sasha Pavlovic hurt, I'm not getting my "talented swing man with no basketball IQ" fix. I'm really jonesin' for a behind-the back-dribble in traffic and I'm not sure how much longer I can go without at least a reckless charging foul. I gotta know, when will Sasha return?

Brian Windhorst, Saturday:

Some people have asked for injury updates. I talked to Zydrunas Ilgauskas today, he said he got a shot in his lower back, where he has an enflamed disc. He couldn’t get out of his car a week ago. He is doing better, but will probably out a week more at least. Daniel Gibson said he could probably do some stand-still shooting but is nowhere close to being back. Sasha Pavlovic is starting to do some running but is weeks, not days, away.
Branson Wright, today:
Pavlovic also reported feeling pretty good Sunday after engaging in his first full-contact practice since sustaining that midfoot sprain Jan. 23. If he continues to progress, Pavlovic said he expects to return to game action by the end of this week.
Well, that settles that.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cleveland 103, Indiana 95

This game should've never been this close. The Cavs came out and stomped the Pacers; they led 34-17 after the first quarter and pushed the lead as high as 19 during the following period. But the Pacers came back because their jumpers started to fall and the Cavs offense sputtered (just 17 points in the second quarter). The Cavs had 26 assists on 37 field goals and the outrebounded the Pacers 54-37. Though Indiana got within 4 late in the game, the final outcome was never in any serious jeopardy; the Cavs had a comfortable lead for the bulk of the game (around 13 points) and whenever things got a little dicey, LeBron would do something ridiculous.

I mean, what else can you about James? LeBron had 38 points (11-24 FG), 11 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. He was 11-12 from the foul line and is shooting 82% from the stripe over his past five games (he was 11-12 against the Bulls as well). James was 5-8 from behind the arc as well, including a sick step-back trey late in the game.

Joe Smith looks like he's having fun, no? I swear to God, every time the camera catches Smith, he has a grin on his face. Check out LeBron's ridiculous reverse dunk to end the first half; Smith catches the ball after it goes through the rim and he's smiling to himself with this look on his face that says "you have got to be kidding me". Smith played great against the Pacers, scoring 12 points, grabbing 8 boards (5 offensive) and swatting two shots (the Cavaliers had 9 blocks as team).

Anderson Varejao looked healthy (or he looked 'kinda healthy' but was playing against the Pacers). This was the first game since his return that Varejao looked like Varejao. Whatever the reason (being healthy, facing a front line of Dunleavy, Foster and Murphy or a combination of the two), Varejao had a great game. He 16 boards (8 offense) and put up 15 points (5-12 shooting). Varejao also had a career high 6 assists (Austin Carr kept saying that Andy was "just four assists shy of a triple double" like he was close or something. Ya, just 40% left).

Szczerbiak is pressing. Wally looks like he's giving 110% out there; he's hustling on defense and he's going inside on offense... but every time he misses, he seems to get down on himself. Szczerbiak was just 4-14 overall (he missed a few close shots and some good looks rimmed out) but he did go 2-5 from 3pt range. At this point, with the trade and the new baby, I'm not too worried... but in two weeks I could be singing a different tune.

West had a solid game. This is the type of game I'm expect to see from Delonte. He made nice defensive players (3 steals and a block), created some shots for his teammates (6 assists) and rebounded the ball pretty well (4 boards). Offensively, he was 5-8 from the floor and 1-2 from behind the arc (finishing with 14 points). Down the stretch he had a turnover that could've proved costly (against a good team) and he coughed the ball up a total of 3 times. He wasn't spectacular, but he varied his game and was effective at the point (which helped, because Damon Jones was 1-7 and got burned more than a few times on the defensive end).

I like Troy Murphy's game. I don't think he's a great player or anything (and he is way overpaid- owed $33 million over the next three years) but I think he'd be a great fit for a contending team as their fourth option or backup big man (he can shoot, he's not useless in the post and he's a tough guy down low). However, his contract pays him like an All-Star, which he certainly is not. Though, if he ever gets bought out, I wouldn't mind the Cavs taking a stab at him (at a reasonable price). Murphy finished with 17 points and 7 boards.

and finally...

Nice win, now stay inside. Stay off the roads boys, don't go anywhere until Monday when you face Portland at the Q. The Cavs face the Blazers on Monday then have another back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday in New Jersey and Washington, respectively (is it just me, or have they had a high numbers of back-to-backs this year? Especially with game 2 on the road...). This next isn't full of gimmes, but it shouldn't be out of the question to see them go at least 2-1.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Chicago 107, Cleveland 96

This was not fun. This was a ugly game, there's no getting around it. The Cavs only scored 17 points in the first period, but somehow they opened the second half with a 51-47 advantage. They then proceeded to give up 34 points in the third quarter, including a 17-0 run (oh, and the offense? 16 points. Ugh).

But even then, they had a decent shot to win the game. With 9 minutes to go, the Cavs had whittled the Bulls 17 point lead down to 8 after Damon Jones completed a 4-point play (a basket which also happened to count as LeBron's first assist of the night). The Cavs then forced a miss and had the ball and a chance to cut the lead to 6 or even 5... but Wally was whistled for an offensive foul (illegal screen or something) and Nocioni sunk a trey that killed any momentum that the Cavs had.

LeBron was great... but didn't have a great game. LeBron was on fire to begin the game; he his buzzer beaters to end the first two periods and he went into halftime with 26 points. He was posting up, he was knocking down 3s... he was scoring in every which way. But that was it. He scored. James finished 39 points, 3 boards, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. He had as many turnovers (4) as he had rebounds and assists combined. James slowed down in the second half, shooting just 3-12 after the break (he was 13-27 FG, 2-83PT and 11-12 FT overall). It's not that he had a bad game, but with Hughes and Gooden gone and Z and Gibson hurt, he needs to carry more of the load. The new players look good for chunks of games, but you can tell that there's still issues to be sorted out.

But don't let me come off as blaming this game on James. As a team, the Cavs shot 39% (Cavaliers not named LeBron combined to go 20-57 for 35%), got out rebounded 56-48 and allowed six different Bulls to score in double figures. The only Cavalier regular to shoot 50% or better was Devin Brown (6-12... that's right, Devin Brown had 12 shots).

Also, the Cavs are starting two offensively challenged big men with no spring in the legs. Ben Wallace had 2 points (1-4) and grabbed 10 boards in his return to Chicago. Anderson Varejao
was a horrendous 2-11 from the field and also nabbed 10 rebounds. However, somehow they let Joakim Noah grab 20(!) rebounds (10 of which were offensive!). The Cavs also let Luol Deng get 5 offensive boards and the Bulls had 21 as a team (to Cleveland's 14).

The bench was outplayed as well. The Bulls bench got 41 points; Ben Gorden (23) and Nocioni (11) kept nailing killer shots down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Cavalier bench shot 9-25 (and its even worse when you consider that the D-Leaguers shot 2-3 in garbage time) and Joe Smith, Damon Jones and Szczerbiak combined for 26 points. I didn't think Wally had a particularly good game; he was just 4-11 from the floor and he seemed to end up in a lot of Bulls offensive highlights.

Former Cav update: nothing has changed. Larry Hughes shot 4-12 and finished with 12 points. He also had some classic fastbreaks; one time he took a 12 foot pullup and another team he took decided to get to the line rather than pass it off for an easy basket (neither of these plays are exactly wrong... but if he chooses to pass the ball, his team definitely had 4 more points). Drew Gooden (who looks much weirder without the headband) gave Chicago a nice 12 point, 8 board effort. Neither of these guys were on the court when Chicago put the game away (get used to that, Bull fans). Also, Shannon Brown got in for 2 minutes of garbage time and managed to turn the ball over. Well done all everyone.

and finally...

I miss Z. Maybe if Varejao was healthy, the Cavs could start both Wallace and Andy. But he's not healthy and the Cavs are getting very little offensive production from their front court (minus LeBron, of course). Z also gives the Cavs an offensive focal point when James is out (and takes some pressure off when he's in). I'm having a really hard time getting a read of how good this team actually is, because they're mixing in so many guys who haven't played together (basically injecting five back into the mix). The two main constants have been James and Damon Jones (who's contract suddenly doesn't seem as obnoxious) and everyone else comes and goes. Hopefully the Cavs can bounce back versus a mediocre Indiana team on Saturday at the Q.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cleveland 119, New York 105

I'm back. Sorry I've missed the last two games. I warned that I could be flaky this year, with grad school and all. Anyways...

This game was much, much closer than the final score indicates. The lead seesawed back and forth throughout the game and the Cavs led 99-98 with just under 4:00 to go. The Knicks always play the Cavs tough and the usual suspects, Nate Robinson (24 points, 10-18 FG) and Jamaal Crawford (25 points, 9-16 FG), did their usual damage.

The reason the final score is deceiving? LeBron James. LeBron finished the night with 50 points, 10 assists, 8 boards and 4 steals. He scored 12 points (all off of treys) in the last 3:00 to bury the Knicks. James spent most of the night chirping with Jay-Z and Spike Lee and he walked off the court to some chants of M-V-P. James scored 50 points and shot over 50% from the field (16-30) and a ridiculous 7-13 from behind the arc. This guy is the best player on the planet right now. I can understand announcers and media types wanting to give the MVP to Kobe, but I highly suspect those people have watched more Laker games this season. I don't know how you can watch James night-in, night-out and not come away thinking that this kid is the best in the NBA.

Damon Jones also helped seal the win. Jones finished with 15 points and hit some big 3s late in the game. Jones hit four 3s in the fourth period and two in the final minute. He finished 5-8 from the floor (all 3s) with 2 boards and 2 assists. With the addition of Delonte West
coupled with Jones playing so well, Daniel Gibson is going to have to fight for some court time when he returns.

West had a great first quarter, but then disappeared. Delonte had 10 points in the first period... and had 10 points for the game. He didn't play poorly (though he had trouble with Robinson
and Crawford, but I almost feel like that's part of his Cavalier initiation) and his final numbers aren't awful (10 points, 3 assists and 2 boards) but I would've liked to have seen him build from the first quarter.

Joe Smith kicks ass. Smith has been the most consistent player since the trade and he had a nice night in New York. Smith came off the bench and chipped in 8 points and 11 boards in just 22 minutes. Smith's work on the glass bought the Cavs some extra possessions; out of those 11 boards, 7(!) were offensive.

Varejao just doesn't look healthy. It's not like he's laboring out there, but you can tell he's not 100%. He's simply not as active; the multiple jumpers, the annoying defense... it's not always there. Plus, he hasn't been getting the charging calls on a regular basis, which cuts Andy's effectiveness in half.

With one line, Austin Carr salvaged his night. After a night full of L-Trains, hammers being thrown down and the constant proclaiming that Eddy Curry is "a load" I was pretty much fed up with the FSNOhio crew. But then the Knicks tried to throw a lob to Curry... and Austin was simply stunned. He went off on this "what are you thinking? Whales can't jump!" rant which just killed me. Sure, 90% of his night was annoying as all hell, but what can I say, I'm a sucker for Eddy Curry whale jokes.

and finally...

Man... that Milwaukee game still sticks in my craw. The Cavs are 6-2 over their last eight games and 4-2 with all the new players. With breaking in four new player and all the injuries, it's pretty remarkable that the Cavs are winning a lot of games. But imagine how we'd feel if Future-Cavalier Michael Redd didn't make that 30 footer... They'd be 5-1 with the new players with their only loss coming on the road in Boston. Right now, I'm still in the 'wait and see' mode in regards to the trade; I think they'll be fine, but I'm not totally sold yet (and I think the Bucks loss has a lot to do with it). The Cavs are on TNT Thursday night in a rematch against the Chicago Bulls. That's right, a national audience for the game following his 50 eruption... can't wait.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Non-Cavs fans believe that LeBron is the MVP

First it was KG, then it was Kobe, but LeBron is finally getting some love.

Kelly Dwyer:
And, to anyone who takes the game seriously, "best player" should mean "M-V-P!"

It's not a huge edge, but it's decisive enough: James has Bryant licked in scoring per game (30.3 to 28.2), assists (7.5 to 5.4), rebounds (8.1 to 6.0) and shooting percentage (48.6 to 46.6). Bryant shoots better from long range (35 percent to 30), and has James' number from the line, but so does Kyle Korver. Otherwise, they're even on steals and turnovers, and James blocks nearly twice as many shots.

James may play two more minutes per game, but he still owns a decisive edge in the per-minute numbers, and has to do his damage on a slow-down team (20th in the NBA in possessions). Kobe has a chance to pad his stats (not that he is, kindly read that carefully) with about five more possessions per game on the Lakers. That's significant.

But that's a mere nuance to national TV types and multi-sport columnists who want to hand the mantle over to Kobe just because his team is winning more. Bryant was working his tail off for years just trying to get a sorry bunch of Lakers up around the .500 mark, and he shouldn't be handed an MVP just because Andrew Bynum can ball now and the Grizzlies decided to hand the Lakers Pau Gasol.

Meanwhile, James is just destroying people in Cleveland. Pulling in more rebounds on a team that owns the boards even without him (there's not a lot of stray rebounds to go around) and racking up assists on a team that can't shoot straight (44.1 percent, 24th in the NBA).

His defense isn't on par with Kobe's, but it's not far off, and it's still pretty damn good. Certainly not bad enough for Bryant to overcome being outscored, outassisted and outrebounded by LBJ. And while both are studs in the clutch, LeBron is better. He significantly outscores, outassists and outrebounds Kobe when it matters.

Worse, James is going to get burned by voters who will credit him for MVPs likely won from 2009-2019 and hand it to Kobe just because he's playing "unselfish" basketball." No, Kobe's playing the same brand of competitive basketball he always has, just for a championship-level team. If he wasn't "selfish" in 2005-06 and 2006-07 then the Lakers win 30 games. Replacing a Chris Mihm with a Gasol shouldn't mean James should be denied.
More Kelly:
* Just for giggles, try entering into an argument over who is having the best season among Manu Ginobili, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce or Kobe Bryant. I'm not even going to get into the per-minute numbers, loyal readers, so understand that this particular bullet point is for the punters:

Both Ginobili (in far less minutes than Kobe), McGrady, and Pierce score less, rebound a bit less, and dish fewer assists than Kobe. They are offering, per game, about 80 percent of what Kobe offers. Try insisting that any of the three have been better this season than Mr. Bryant, and you'd be rightfully laughed off.

And yet, those who still consider Bryant to be having the better season than LeBron have no issue overlooking the fact that Bryant scores less, shoots worse, rebounds worse, assists worse, and plays on a team that averages fewer possessions than James' team. To them, Kobe's better because ... well, he just is.

* Much in the same way I'm not going to hand LeBron the MVP based on the two times the Cavs beat the Lakers this season, I'm not going to give Kobe the award for his play on Sunday. Kobe played much, much better than LeBron did, but I'll leave making snap judgments based on one or two-game sample sizes to those who (I hope) cannot stand themselves after doing so.

Going further, I'm not going to hand James an MVP award merely because his team is 0-6 when he sits a game out. The 76ers would probably drop six out of six with Andre Miller on the pine. That shouldn't sway anyone.

* The, "LeBron plays in the East!" cry is getting a little old. LBJ averages 29.8 points, 47.4 percent shooting, 7.1 assists, and 7.9 rebounds against Western teams. When James plays, the Cavs are 16-11 against the West. Kobe averages 29.7 points, 48.8 percent shooting, 6.5 boards, and 5.4 assists (again, in games with more possessions) against the West -- awesome -- but for some reason lets his averages go to relative pot against the East.

You'd think it'd be because of the Lakers blowing Eastern teams out, but Kobe actually averages more minutes per game against Eastern squads than against Western outfits, and contributes less. Weird.
Bill Simmons:

Q: Why is everyone handing Kobe the MVP and counting me out? I'm carrying a lousy team and averaging nearly a triple-double every night. I play hard every game. I've become a really good rebounder and weak-side shotblocker at crunch time. I lift my offensive game at the end of every game and score with 2-3 guys guarding me. When I drive to the basket, I can go left or right and guys bounce off me like superballs. I always make the right pass. I always make the right play. Every time I'm on national TV, I put on a show. Basically, I became who you wanted me to be ... and if that's not enough, I'm only 23. Do you realize I'm the same age as MJ during the 63-point game at the Garden? That's right, I'M THE EXACT SAME AGE AS MJ DURING THE 63-POINT GAME!!!!!!! And you're all taking me for granted already??? Yeeeesh. No wonder MJ played baseball for two years.
--LeBron J., Cleveland

SG: Let's get one thing straight: MJ played baseball for two years because David Stern secretly suspended him for 18 months for gambling and told him to come back for the '95 playoffs. Get your facts straight. As for your other points, you're right -- you and Chris Paul are the leaders for MVP at the three-fourths mark because you're both having superlative seasons, as is Kobe, with the difference being that neither of you has Phil Jackson or a great bench, and in your case, you don't have even a borderline All-Star on your team. It's you and 11 role players. Switch you and Kobe and you'd be doing just as well, but he'd be gritting his way through every Cavs game on cruise control and leaking fake trade rumors through his agent. I also can't forgive Kobe for what happened during the first 15 games, when he moped around and pushed for a trade. Does someone do that during an MVP season? I say no.

I know I'm extremely biased, since I'm a huge Cleveland homer... but I've watched every game the Cavs have had this year and LeBron is playing out of his fucking mind. How anyone can watch him play on a regular basis and not come away thinking he's the MVP is beyond me. Plus, once this team gets used to each other, I could very easily imagine James averaging a triple double for the last month or so of the season. He's already putting up ridiculous numbers, I can't wait til everyone is healthy.

However, I'd be shocked if LeBron actually wins it. The Cavs will be lucky to get 50 wins in a weak conference and that's gonna work against him. Kobe will get points for the Lakers record (and the fact that they play in LA) and his defense (which comes and goes).

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I know, I suck

No recaps from the weekend. What can I say? Got busy, got tired... meh (burned out from a paper mostly). I can only assume that my lack of updating has successfully killed off any traffic momentum I had since the Wallace trade.

All I know is, with the injuries, the trades and the baby Szczebiaks, the Cavs haven't had the same group of players available for consecutive games since before the trade (six games and counting).