While the game was fairly close, you never felt the outcome was ever really in doubt. The Cavs started off slow (they were down 23-15 with 3:30 left in the first) but they eventually righted the ship and trailed by only one (27-26) heading into the second period. By the time James came back in from his customary second quarter rest, the bench (and Shaq) took that one point deficit and turned it into a seven point lead (43-36). The Nets continued to play fairly hard but the Cavs simply weren't going to lose this game. Ya, they kinda let New Jersey stick around (there's no reason why James should play 42 minutes, at home, versus the Nets) but the Cavs were in control of this game throughout.
James continued his strong play and excellent passing. Bron-Bron scored 32 points to go with his 3 boards, 11 assists and a steal. His passing continues to be off the charts (he found Varejao running the floor with a beautiful chest pass) and his scoring is pretty efficient (13-21 over, but 1-4 from three and just 5-9 from the stripe). He's running the offense, he's scoring and he's playing excellent defense; the dude is the MVP and I can't believe it'll be close.
Solid game from Shaq. O'Neal sure filled up the stat sheet during his 21 minutes of PT: 7 points, 8 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Niiiice. I have to say, O'Neal has won me over (I was so-so on the Shaquisition) and I've completely bought into him; he's converting those bunnies he missed early on and he's given team an extra swagger. It doesn't hurt that he's making plays like this block to start what is possibly the highlight of the year. It starts off with Shaq blocking Brook Lopez (pinning the ball to the glass) and then taking it up court himself (always fun when he plays point). Shaq then passes off to James (who dodges a steal attempt) and LeBron lofts an oop to a streaking Varejao, who somehow gets and slams it with one hand. Varejao then proceeds to make weird cross-eyed faces with Shaq on the trip back down court. That's a whole bunch of awesome.
The Cavs bench was great. Varejao gives them so much every night and Tuesday was no different. Andy had 15 points, 9 boards and 2 steals. Of his 9 boards, a whopping 6 were offensive. Jawad Williams set a new career high (which seems to happen weekly) with 17 points to go along with his 3 boards and 2 assists in 28 minutes. I like Jawad's game a lot; he always seems to be playing under control and never rushes things. Williams was 6-12 from the floor and 3-5 from behind the arc, prompting Fred McLeod to break out the unfortunate Hot Wad Williams nickname (I'm all for anything that harkens back to the Cavs of the 90s, but really, Hot Wad? This comes from a announcer who says "getting a blow", "stroking it" and "rubber rim job" constantly. Hot Wad? The name Jawad is unique enough on it's own, let's just leave it there, please). Big Z shot poorly (just 1-10) but gave them 6 boards (4 offensive) and 3 assists. The Cavs needed those rebounds from Z and Andy, as Shaq was the only starter to notch more than 3 boards.
The starters weren't bad, but they weren't great. Boobie scored in double figures yet again, putting up 11 points (4-7 FG, 1-2 3pt) to go along with a measly 2 assists and a board. Anthony Parker was the same, scoring 7 points but giving them 2 assists and a board. The Cavs starting guards combined for 4 assists and a 2 rebounds. LeBron and J.J. Hickson only had 6 boards between them, so none of the starters rebounded too well.
Only 14 minutes for J.J. Hickson, really? If he's Danny Ferry's deal breaker (and it looks like he is), why can't he get more than 15 minutes against a woeful Nets team? I love Hickson's game quite a bit and I think he has a nice, long future ahead of him in the NBA. However, if the kid is only getting 14 minutes against a 4-47 New Jersey squad, it's pretty obvious the Cavs won't be trusting him come the playoffs (not that I exactly blame 'em). Obviously, you don't include him in a deal for someone like Troy Murphy but at some point you gotta give up something to get something, no? Not sure you should balk at a trade for Jamison over a player that Mike Brown will play for three minutes to start each half come playoff time.
The obligatory "I can't believe the Nets are this bad" paragraph. But seriously, I can't believe the Nets are this bad. Hell, all five of New Jersey's starters scored in double figures. Brook Lopez put up 23 points, 14 boards, 3 assists and a block. Courtney Lee had 24 points, 7 boards and 4 assists. The talents of Lee and Lopez alone should give them more than four victories. Obviously, at this point things have snowballed and no one on this team has any confidence, but still. These guys shouldn't be this bad.
One more before break. The Cavs face the Magic on Thursday in their last game before the All-Star break. This is a big game for both teams; Orlando hasn't been playing well, but they're still 35-17 and Vince Carter just turned back the clock against the Hornets to the tune of 48 points. The Cavs are playing well right now, winning 12 in a row (perfect since Mo and Delonte got hurt) and the Magic have won 8 out of 10 including two victories over Boston and laying the beatdown on the Hawks. Yes, the Cavs aren't at full strength, but I'm very interested to see how they're going to match-up with Orlando.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com