Monday, March 01, 2010

Adversity

If last season's team didn't have enough of it, the 2009-2010 Cavaliers sure are making up for lost time.

You didn't think winning Cleveland's first championship since 1964 was going to be easy, did you?
O'Neal had surgery on his injured right thumb Monday and will miss about 8 weeks, the team said. He was examined Sunday by specialist Dr. Thomas Graham at the National Hand Center in Baltimore. Graham performed the surgery Monday morning.[snip]

The recovery timeline means O'Neal, who turns 38 on Saturday, may not be ready for the start of the playoffs April 17.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't good news, but we can't be shocked that the Cavs' 38 year old center isn't going to make it through the entire season injury-free. The dude is 38 years old and 300+ lbs, there was no way he was making it through the year without missing time. And all things considered, as far as injuries go, this one isn't too bad.

Yes, having Shaq miss eight weeks, sucks. And having those eight weeks correspond with Z's month long vacation, doubly sucks. However, it's a hand injury. He didn't hurt his knee or (oh, I dunno) break a leg. He'll be rusty when he comes back, but he should still (at least, in theory) be in decent shape. At this point in the season, motivation (a problem for Shaq in the past) shouldn't be an issue (it is the stretch run, after all) and a hand injury shouldn't prevent him from staying active (bike, water exercises) and in shape. Plus, the Cavs need him for his defense more than anything else (can he still keep Dwight Howard out of the paint with a busted thumb? I think so).

Is it ideal? No, you don't want be working guys in during the playoffs, but the Cavs don't need Shaq until the final two rounds anyways. But, to be honest, there are worst things in life than having your two old, veteran centers get an extended break during the middle of the season (keep those legs fresh!). (By the way, classy move by Big Baby Davis, intentionally messing with Shaq's thumb. Class acts, those Celtics).

This situation isn't without some benefits. First, without both Shaq and Z, there will be minutes available for both J.J. Hickson and Leon Powe. This is good, I didn't want both of them collecting on the bench.

Having built-in minutes for Hickson is nice, because it'll keep him both mentally and physically involved and he should remain properly motivated (a legitimate concern, following the trade talk and losing his starting job to Jamison). And by letting Leon Powe sink or swim on the court, the Cavs will definitively learn whether or not they have another big they can trust in June.

Another possible benefit is that the Cavs will be forced to change up their offensive attack, hopefully by pushing the tempo. Without a lumbering big man, the Cavs become much faster and it makes sense for them to speed things up and push the ball.

Who knows what Mike Brown will eventually come up with, but the Cavs should be able to run pretty effectively. Cleveland has bigs that can run the floor and finish around the rim and also the shooters that can space the floor and knock down open jumpers. Oh, and they have that LeBron guy who is absolutely unstoppable in the open court. If nothing else, it beats them walking it up and wasting 12 seconds trying to throw an entry pass.

I'm really interested to see how LeBron reacts to these changes. When Mo and Delonte missed time, James became more of a facilitator and distributor, routinely finishing with double-digit assist totals. Will he adapt in the same way in the absence of their geriatric centers? Will his rebounds totals improve? Will he focus more on scoring? Is Coach Mike going to play him more at the four?

What I really want to see (and this will come to no surprise to any of you who've been reading me for any extended amount of time), is for LeBron to head down to the block. Without Shaq, the Cavs are going to need some kind of low post presence in order to get easy baskets (and they certainly won't be getting it from Varejao). James has shown glimpses of a post game at times this season (he'll break it out after particularly jumper-happy night), but he never seems to stick with it for very long. It's obvious he's not completely comfortable down there but he's extremely effective and the Cavs can't just run LeIsos and drive-and-kicks the entire game (well, they can. It would just be awful).

At the end of the day, if nothing else, at least these Cavaliers have gone through some adversity, unlike last season. By in large, last year was a cakewalk (Mo fit seamlessly, they went 39-2 at home, got the top seed and won their first 8 playoff games by 10+ points) right up until Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, the Cavs still have the best record in the East but they've had to work through a lot more issues to earn it (injuries, trades, adjusting to Shaq ,a rough early schedule, etc).

Again, this sucks but it's not a complete shock that both Shaq and Z are missing time (the Ilgauskas trade/buyout has been rumored all year). They're old, these thing happen (heh, ask the Celtics). T here's gonna be an adjustment period with Shaq out for eight weeks and there will certainly be one when he returns to the lineup (the Cavs may even *gasp* lose a game in the first round or two of the playoffs).

But the Cavs are a deep, mentally tough team that can play any style. We've seen this all season. Despite everything (remember that three game losing streak?!), the Cavs still have a six (six!!) game lead over Orlando for the top seed in the East. This isn't a Jim Chones situation. The Cavs have some time.

Again. Good luck, Mike Brown.

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