Well, that was fun. LeBron was awesome, J.J. had some highlight plays, Shaq had a big fourth quarter and the Cavs produced a solid win over the Magic (sans Mo Williams, not that anyone noticed) . I thought the whole team did a great job, from the coaches (they moved Hickson around once they realized the Magic weren't even pretending to guard him) to the bench (Delonte!), this was a solid effort from everybody.
The game started out eerily familiar. Did the Cavs come out strong and built up a big lead? Yup (they led 37-23 after one quarter). Did the Magic hit a bunch of threes and storm back? Yup (Orlando was 6-11 from downtown in the second quarter). I was quite worried in the third; the offense stalled (Cavs scored 6 points in the quarter's first seven minutes) and they fell behind 79-72. I felt like I've watched this game before. Somehow (threes finally started to fall) the Cavs ended up increasing their halftime lead to four (87-83) heading into the fourth. That's when LeBron just took over.
LeBron is scary good. James led everyone with 32 points (10-21 FG, 2-6 3pt, 10-12 FT) to go along with 8 boards, 13 assists and 2 steals. He scored 11 in the fourth and completely dominated the Magic down the stretch. His alley-oop to Shaq was a thing of beauty (LeBron came around a pick, caught the ball and immediately turned and lobbed a pass O'Neal. Just ridiculous) and it started the Cavs' final push (game was tied at 96). James knocked down a couple jumpers (turn arounds, step backs, you name it) in Mickael Pietrus's grill and that was all she wrote.
LeBron's teammates did some damage too. J.J. Hickson scored 20 points (though only 4 boards) and Anderson Varejao scored 16 (and also had just 4 boards) and it seemed like the Wizards seemed content to not guard Cleveland's power forwards at all. The Cavs guards were a bit more hit-or-miss. West and Boobie were quite good; both guys knocked down treys late in the third to help the Cavs back their lead and West hit a three with a little more than three minutes left to push Cleveland's late game lead from 4 to 7 (huge shot). Delonte finished with 8 points, 3 boards and 6 assists while Gibson gave them 11, 3 and 5. Before his big shot late in the third (to cut into Orlando's lead to two), Anthony Parker was 0 for his last 5 attempts (all in the third). It was brutal. He played good defense though, Vince Carter finished just 5-16 from the floor.
Defensively, the Cavs were still scrambling at times. The Cavs went through a couple stretches where it seemed they were simply chasing Orlando's shooters. It was quite frustrating and it wasn't fun at all. However, 8 of the Magic's 10 threes came in the first half and Orlando finished 10-26 overall. The Cavs had some good stretches, especially in the third and fourth, but the Magic had a 40 point second quarter and topped the 100 point mark for the game. After watching another big lead disappear quickly, I'm not comfortable that the game is in hand until that final buzzer sounds.
Maybe the refs were looking ahead to their break. The refs sucked. The first half was particularly unpleasant. Shaq was called for some touch fouls (one particularly bad one) as was Howard and neither team was happy (Varejao, Shaq, Howard, Lewis and Barnes all had 3 fouls at half). Things were a bit better down the stretch, but at no one were they ever 'good'.
I both do and don't get Orlando's offense. Yes, Rashard Lewis is a matchup problem and the team is full of shooters, but if I was a Magic fan, the fact that Lewis had as many three attempts as Dwight Howard had shot attempts would drive me insane. Howard was killing the Cavs bigs (though J.J. had a nice, crowd pleasing block) and got Shaq in foul trouble, why not keep going to him? The Cavs had no recourse but to foul, especially in the fourth, where Howard shot 6 of his 10 freebies. Yes, the burned the Cavs from behind the arc (especially in the second) but why not play off of Howard more? Also, once again, thanks to Orlando for letting Hedo Turkoglu walk, I was terrified of that ugly fucker. Vince doesn't worry me at all.
It's kinda nice going into the All-Star break on a 13-game win streak. 13 wins in a row, beating the Magic at home, crazy LeBron dagger jumpers, Delonte returning, Shaq playing well in crunch time... this is fun, no? The Cavs have to feel really good about themselves right now. They're 4-0 versus the Lakers and Magic and Shaq has meshed almost perfectly with these guys. Things are good. Before the game, TNT's Chris Weber stated that the Cavs were close to making a deal for Troy Murphy. Meh. If it's a straight salary dump, then fine. But I really don't want to see Hickson included in a deal unless it's for an absolute stud, which Murphy is not. The deadline is next Thursday, don't expect any trades to go down over the All-Star break, but I'm sure there will be a lot of chatter. Should be fun.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com