Friday, December 25, 2009

Game 31 Review (23-8) (...and an exclamation point!)

Oh. My. God.

Super-Mo, and LBJ, demonstrating an "It ain't no thing" pose

There is no way I can adequately describe the level of good feeling coursing through my body right now, while at the same time maintaining the strict moral guidelines that would seem appropriate for blog-literature published on Christmas day. So let's start with's been a while! And I'm thrilled to be returning on a Cavalier high note. I'm still feeling like I'm on a high right now. Moreover, I feel dirty, and dirty in a way I haven't felt since the Cavs beat the Pistons in Game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in the type of game where everything just went right, with good stuff building on good stuff, culminating in Rasheed throwing LeBron to the ground in commencing perhas one of his more memorable self-combustions, and basically signally an end to the Pistons short lived dynasty. The only difference tonight is that this wasn't the playoffs, and we play them again within a month, in what is sure to be a more heatedly fought game. That said, let's enjoy the hell out of this game. Merry F'ing Christmas everyone.

Game Review

There is so much to talk about here. Almost entirely good, with the vast majority of the bad coming from my wandering mind wondering if certain things that took place today were sustainable. But the cool thing is...I think most of what took place in Los Angeles today (as with the Orlando game earlier in the season) is replicable. Starting with...

Mo Williams drives around The Candy Man

Mo Williams - Good God was Mo on his game tonight. I said to my dad toward the end of the second quarter (when it looked like we might be in for a dogfight) that if the Cavs won tonight, it would be because of Mo Williams. And then the third quarter started. Every once in a while, I look smart. (The other times feature me spouting off such golden nuggets as "Anthony Parker mustn't be allowed a second's time on Kobe"...and then spend the next two and a half hours marveling at how much effect a smart defender can have guarding the guy. Also, can we officially put it into the 'Kobe Bryant defensive gameplan' to send KB toward help and then try to get a hand on his shot when it's on the way back behind his head? At least 3 times that resulted in a block tonight...and we've seen it work numerous times before too. It helps that the refs stopped instinctively calling that play a foul when Doug Christie retired.)

Back to Mo Williams. LeBron graciously took the brunt of the attention, but against a team like the Lakers...that's a lot to deal with. So in the case of tonight, it leaves the onus on a second party to ignite the offense. Enter Duraflammable Mo Williams.

Before we even get to his shooting, let's talk about his ability to handle against pressure...which tonight I thought was very strong. The Lakers started to come back on the heels of their pressure, and the Cavs handled it so beautifully in the second half.

I'm an over-reactor (I feel like it's necessary to continuously point that out), but boy...I would have fought Derek Fisher on the street tonight had I seen him. A threat which is probably emboldened by my steadfastly refusing to leave my apartment for the entirety of said night, but nevertheless...I was angry. This game got really chippy...surprisingly so...and I'm not quite sure what to make of it other then this...I don't think Kobe shares the same level of reverence for LeBron that his image would insinuate, and I think the Lakers follow suit. The more LeBron, and the Cavs as a team, learn to follow suit...the more effective they'll be against the Lakers. Tonight obviously was a step in the right direction.

LeBron vs. Kobe (plus Ron Artest, plus the 20.9 ft. second line of defense)

I want to take a look at LeBron's game tonight:

26 points (9-19 fgs, 2-7 3pt fgs.), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 turnovers (although at least 3 were of the 'receiving player not looking' variety.), and a really great, unbelievably focused defensive effort.

The only negative to me stemming from the game (other then the realization that J.J. Hickson is not quite ready for primetime), was actually one I've not seen pointed out to extensively. LeBron's final tally tonight was very much positive, status-quo LBJ (even the 7 turnovers weren't completely out of the ordinary in gauging them against his recent play), but watching the game, I never got the sense that LeBron could've gone off if needed. Had he been hot from the arc, maybe...but he wasn't tonight, and because of that didn't really have a consistent go to weapon. And that's a rare and disconcerting feeling to have as a Cavs fan. Because really that's our ultimate luxury...that if all else breaks down, LBJ will bail us out. Tonight, we played a perfect game. LBJ faciliated masterfully and seemed to be consistently baiting his defender far away from the action, and, as he is wont to do, getting teammates wide-open shots. And tonight, the rest of the Cavs hit them...they made the plays, and they needed no bailing. Over the course of a seven game series...will that always be the case? Will it be the case four times? The last time I can remember facing a team that LeBron just didn't have an immediate offensive answer for was the 2007 Celtics. He figured them out, but perhaps a little too late. Then again, maybe this team is good enough to win a series without LeBron just flat out kicking butt...

LeBron, on the receiving end of a 'Mo Cut.'

How was LeBron able to get his points today? Well, in a few, but especially successful post-plays in the second quarter, LBJ was able to score relatively easily over Artest. Which makes one remember, even if (and I still give Artest an 'if') Ron can match LBJ's strength, LeBron can just shoot over him. Height matters, and so does jumping ability...

I think it's of the upmost importance to find LeBron better shots against a team like the Lakers. Getting LeBron off the ball seemed to be the key. Running Artest or Kobe off screens is the perfect way to allow LBJ to utilize his speed advantage over Artest, and his strength advantage over Kobe. What LeBron needs is just a sliver of space to get his momentum going

But why does LeBron look a little shakier then usual against the Lakers? Why did he last year as well? The first and ridiculously obvious answer is that Artest is one of the best matchups in the league for LeBron on account of his strength, and certainly that was evident tonight. But when LeBron was running Artest of a myriad of screen and then curling into the lane, he was able to get some of his most makable shots of the evening. And I'd like to think there is no easy fix for the Lakers because if their bigs show harder in an attempt to stop LeBron from getting his "1-2" take off toward the rim, then Shaq or another big is able to finish at the rim.

The fluidity of Carmelo's post game certainly plays a part...but I don't think that tells the entire story.

It's been seven years now, and few and far between are the players LeBron really let's get into his body. And really, no one as much so as Kobe.

Do you recall any of the Kobe-Carmelo battles of the past year? Kobe, of course, has assigned himself to Carmelo whenever Carmelo need be contained. Carmelo proceeds to rip Kobe to such an extent that Phil Jackson, in a rare recent show of "Kobe doesn't know what's best for him...", makes it a point to get Kobe the hell away from Carmelo. In the post-game conference, Phil likens Carmelo to a tiger (or perhaps a bear) of some sort, saying Kobe just can't bang with him down there. So I guess what I'm thinking the hell does LeBron consistently let Kobe get up in him and keep him 30 feet from the basket? It's not like LBJ isn't able to operate as per usual, but I Kobe definitely slows him a bit in this manner.

So what's going on? Minimally, yes, I think it has to do with LeBron's developing (and it is developing) post-game. But even more so, I present this theory: That Kobe Bryant is the last player in the league I think LeBron shows any reverence for. That, and the hand-checking rule has not applied to Kobe Bryant since it's institution.

The BIG Expirings

I wasn't able to post for about two weeks...which gave me a lot of time to think about the state of the team. What was nearly the resulting return correspondence was a lengthy 'State of the Cavalier Union' article...basically landing on the conclusion that the ballsiest, but perhaps most prudent move the Cavs could make would be a 2007-style blowout of the current roster. A call to abandon Plan A, and look for something better for the future...and something completely different for now. I think I stand corrected. The team on the floor is working as we hoped it might in the areas we needed it to.

So, maybe we shouldn't trade both of the bigs. Maybe we should sign and trade Wally. Maybe I was wrong with the massive blow up every tradable asset we had article with which I was planning to burst back onto the scene.

To Be Continued...

Blog post one on the return! I'll be back tomorrow to finish this off in it's entirety!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Game 20 Review (15-5)

It's a good time to be a Cavs fan.

A happy bunch.

But for the next week (until next Sunday to be precise)...I'm going to be a busy one. Thus, I'm thinking my more extensive game reviews may end up being a touch "on the fritz" for 7 days. I'll try to keep you updated with some quick thoughts, and links to my favorite game reviewers...which you probably should be reading anyway!

First off...

The Others

Cavs: The Blog
The PlainDealer (Mary Schmitt Boyer)
Yahoo! game review

Exceedingly Moderate Game Review

*Good lord I love Delonte. Beastly game tonight. Watching him spearhead that 29-0 run (29-0!!!) was as much fun as I've had watching a run since perhaps LeBron's string of 3's in the same Milwaukee gym last year. This particular run was so enjoyable because it lasted SO long. The Cavs forced the Bucks into bad after bad shot for over for a full quarter's time, and then Delonte and the Cavs playing at a very strong and controlled pace on the other end...and getting whatever they wanted. You could just see the frustration on the Buck players faces, and watching it on TV, I got the impression that I was sharing this sentiment with the Milwaukee crowd: How long can this keep going? Evidently, a while.

*LBJ is a pretty patient superstar. Look up the league leaders in scoring and you'll find LeBron is the only one of the top seven averaging less then 20 shots a game. In fact, substantially less at 18.4. He's also the only one of the bunch shooting over 50% (51.2), and stands head and shoulders over the rest of the bunch in assists (8.4). He's not really looking to score in most games, and he's still right at the top of the league there.

*LeBron is getting better at aiming Shaq's lobs particularly close to the rim. Which is kind of the Big Fella's "range of lob" at this point.

*Brandon Jennings is as quick as I can ever remember Iverson being. The biggest difference I see so far is I remember Iverson being able to work more comfortably from a 3 pt. stance, and Allen had more mid-range finishing ability, but boy, Jennings just glides out there. The Cavs were able to lock him down well enough when they put in the requisite focus on team defense, but as soon as they let up a bit...well, you can see how easily he could go around Mo and Boobie.

*Andy was phenomenal tonight. This might sound like a redundant compliment when you think about what Andy typically brings to the table...but AV has impressed me as a rebounder this year. It's not like he was ever lacking in that regard, but he seems to be exhibiting more physical strength then I remember in the past.

Up Next

The Cavs travel to Memphis on Tuesday for the second game of a three game road trip. Let's hope for a blowout victory, and for Rudy Gay to make a substantial, but ultimately forgivable, transgression that leads Chris Wallace jettisoning him early.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Game 19 Review (14-5)

Remember Game 6 of the 2009-10 season? You know, the one where the Bulls beat the Cavs in the Q 86-85? It was the game where the Cavs seemed content to simply jog alongside an inferior opponent until the last 30 seconds of the game, and then make one play to win it...only they didn't make that play and lost?

LBJ throws one down for breast cancer awareness.

Well, I'm glad the Cavs finally remembered that game at halftime. After a sloppy and unfocused first half, the Cavs showed some really promising signs in running away with this one in the second half and defeating the Bulls 101-87. And while I almost decided to gloss over the Cavs' whooping of a team they were supposed to beat, I've decided not to for several reasons.

The way they did it that was encouraging. That good, old fashioned Cavalier defense. The Cavs held the Bulls to a 42.3 FG% (hitting their magic number), and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-42 (at this point, let's just celebrate any positive rebounding margin our boys stumble in to). They were supposed to be able to accomplish both of those feats against a Bulls team that is a touch smaller on the interior then the Cavs, but "supposed to" hasn't always translated into occurrence for the Cavs this season.

Game Review
  • That 21-4 run in the 3rd quarter was huge in changing the tone of the game. Really, in changing how the Bulls-Cavs match-up had been thus far shaping itself this season. I could listen to Hubie Brown talk all day, every day, and he hit the nail on the head with this one. Right at the top of the third, and directly contributing to that run...the Cavaliers just flat out stopped turning the ball over. It also helped that their defense and general sense of urgency turned up several notches, but you get to lock in defensively when you get a team like Chicago to operate in the half-court. It was a timely run for me to watch personally, because after having seen 6 consecutive quarters of the Bulls playing the Cavs to a standstill, I spent much of halftime wondering if Chicago was actually a better match-up for the Cavs then I was giving them credit for. It was nice to see that they weren't. The Bulls do have weapons to give the Cavs some issues (Deng vs. LeBron, D-Rose to attack Mo, and Joakim Noah had always prior seemed to play well against us), but they're a clear notch below in both talent and experience. This is a team the Cavs should beat at least 3 times a year.
If LeBron ever does 'Dancing With The Stars,' I think it's a safe bet that Joakim Noah won't be watching.
  • LeBron continues not to look particularly fluid shooting his jumper. He looks like he's still forcing the motion throughout the games. No matter...he's just making everything happen through effort and physicality. I'm nitpicking this "slump" to an eccentric degree, as again LBJ put up a solid percentage from the field (8-17)...but as Hubie Brown would probably say had he been broached about this subject...LeBron is shooting the ball right now. A little more mechanical then instinctual. And again, still tremendously effective, and again, the stats are still there (23, 6 and 11). I think the reasons I keep bringing this up are A) He's completely unique in the extent to which this is affecting him. In that it barely is. And... B) Look out when the feeling in his jumper returns. You'll know when it will look like something along the lines of 38, 8, 8. I'm betting he's stroking them again way before this...but how about getting the touch back by Christmas Day in LA? It will help to have the outside shot working against a team that employs three mobile 7 footers (counting Odom), and one of the few SF's in the league capable of contesting LeBron's strength. Plus, of all the games of the season...I just hope the Cavs come out firing on all cylinders and drill the champs. I'm looking for an Orlando, part 1 redux.
  • The Cavs aren't consciously going away from J.J. Hickson...but they're certainly not consciously involving him of late either. I continue to think that J.J. isn't playing poorly, and slowly but surely he seems to making better contributing on the glass. He was pretty porous in his individual defense, in that he let Taj Gibson shoot quite a few mid-range jumpers with only a minimal contest. J.J. played only 7 minutes in the first half, and this was the first time I thought I'd like to see him be able to play through some hallow minutes for the time being. He's not Andy, but his defensive rotation are getting progressively solid, and I have to believe it's just from the responsibility of playing significant minutes. He played through them tonight and all of a sudden broke through near the end of the third.
I wouldn't have worn these either.
  • I probably shouldn't even make light of it at all...but I'm also hoping days like today will blow over quickly for Delonte West. According to Brian Windhorst, it was apparent that is was going to be a down day for Delonte from the moment he entered the arena, subsequently refusing to join his teammates in donning pink, breast cancer awareness Nikes (BW's phrase "with venom" unnerved me a bit). Mike Brown recognized that (both in Delonte's demeaner and his lackadaisical play during a 5 minute stint on the court), and the team really didn't seem to miss too much of a beat tonight. Perhaps because Daniel Gibson had 15 points on 7-9 shooting.
Further Game Review to follow Saturday evening...

Up Next

There is no way I should be re-instituting this column. It has provided nothing but bad luck in the past, and it is based on what is always a bad idea for a sports team: looking ahead.

That said...sue me. I get excited easily. Why did this game set me off on a journey through the future? Because it was a sound handling of a lesser team, and with the potential exemption of Portland (but hey, that's in Cleveland), check out the Cavs next 8 games:

@ Milwaukee
@ Memphis
vs. Portland
@ Oklahoma City
vs. New Jersey
@ Philadelphia
vs. Milwaukee

All teams in the talent ballpark of Chicago. I'm laying down a challenge (or, because no Cav is likely to stumble across said challenge...a prognostication). If the Cavs just play to their general capabilities, they're walking into Dallas on December 20th at 22-5. Right back in the vicinity of last years team record-wise...who would have had 4 losses at the same point.

Next Game

The Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. I'm very curious to see Brandon Jennings for the first time this season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Game 18 Review (13-5)

"Phoenix...come out to plaaaaay."

The 1989-90 Cleveland Cavaliers?

My apologies for the late post...coming 24 hours on the heels of a very entertaining game! On Wednesday night, we got to watch a dual the Cavaliers manhandled the visiting Suns (107-90) while watching Zydrunas Ilgauskas belatedly break the record for games played in a Cavs' uniform. Also, check out John Krolik's latest 'Links To The Present' and watch the very entertaining, throwback-specific, Cavs' intro video. It is absolutely worth the 32 seconds.

Speaking of things that made me are some Amare Stoudemire linguistics that I found on Yahoo's game recap, in which S.T.A.T. gives his current opinions on both the state of the Cavs and Shaq. It's quite possible that my typing this in the middle of the night is making me see humor in strange places, and I think the quote itself is more innocuous then incendiary, but nevertheless...reading the following made me squint. I present an Amare Stoudemire runaway train of thought:
“They don’t look bad at all. A lot of folks talk about how bad they look with Shaq. I disagree. I think they look fairly good. Shaq played decent out there. He created some havoc defensively, got some baskets deep in the paint and rebounded well. Shaq’s not looking horrible, I’ll tell you that. He’s looking pretty good and the Cavs are looking solid as well.”
My take on Amare's thought process in evaluating the Cavs over the course of the evening:

Don't look bad. Certainly not very bad. In fact, fairly good. They might even be well. They're certainly not horrible. Let's just say, pretty good. In conclusion...solid.

So...thanks Amare.

Game Review
  • I'm guessing it had something to do with the three days off, but the Cavs looked spry today. As such, they were often able to do a good job of transitioning a defensive rebound into a really quick outlet pass (or passes). And because they moved the ball into the front court so quickly, it allowed them to not only attack in transition, but to consistently set up their offense with about 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Especially early in the game. That was a huge emphasis last year (early offense), and it was often credited as a big reason for the Cavs offensive turnaround. They've not always been attentive to it this year, but they seem to be rolling into shape. I don't know that the Cavs can replicate a game in which they have 7 players score between 10-14 points...but I do think they can replicate this early offense.
  • All the above said, the only way to make an outlet pass is to get a defensive rebound. Which meant the Cavs were both playing defense and rebounding far better then they had of late. The Cavs out-rebounded the Suns 51-41, all the while holding Phoenix to 40% shooting (well below Mike Brown's target zone of 42% or below). Really, they did even better then that. In the first half, the Cavs held high scoring Phoenix to a mind-bogglingly low 29 points. I think the Suns were showing some understandable wear and tear in the fourth game of a four game road trip (and they missed quite a few close-range shots), but that doesn't take away the fact that the Cavs were giving great effort defensively (the Cavs challenged every one of said close-range shots), something I've been clamoring to see more of for a while.
  • For the second consecutive game, Delonte West was able to play meaningful minutes...and for the second consecutive game, he was able to have a large impact on the game (8 points, 6 assists, +6 overall, in nearly 24 minutes). I found myself watching him closely in the fourth quarter and picked up the following... Delonte's ability to finish at the rim is head and shoulders above Anthony Parker's. Really, head and shoulders above most guys on this team. D-West is just a surprisingly strong finisher for a 6'3" guard. He has long arms, and such a natural feel for using his body in the lane, where he effortlessly walls off much larger defenders, while getting his little lefty lay-up/hook hybrid up to the glass. There was a really simple, non-descript play in the fourth where Delonte makes an off the ball cut into the lane. As he is wont to do, LeBron hits him in stride, and Delonte is able to finish in traffic with exactly the type of shot described above. It looked like an excessively simple finish...except that it really wasn't. Not a whole lot of guys on our team who can finish in the paint consistently, and Delonte is one of them. He plays at a very comfortable pace, even in traffic, and as such he can make the game look really easy. I have a tendency to fawn over Delonte, but in most cases, I think it's right to. When he's focused, the guy is just a really good player.

This is what a size-advantage looks like.
  • I was writing a few nights ago about effective ways to use Shaq. Well, tonight it was quite obvious that Shaq had no one to guard on that Phoenix team. But when that is the case, it's usually also the case that the opposite is true as well. No one on that Phoenix team could guard Shaq, and it was nice to see the Cavs not let Channing Frye (or Amare) off the hook on the defensive end. There was a comical weight differential there, and The Diesel seemed to make a concerted effort to take as many shots as possible from one foot's distance. That's what he needs to do against a team like limited minutes, and when he's out there, just punish those smaller then him. Hard. He only played 20 minutes with a +4 overall, but I thought his aggressive play tonight was a significant boon to the team. He was consistently able to draw a lot of attention, and as such, I thought his aggressiveness helped make life easier on all those in blue. It helped especially to get J.J. get back in the groove.
  • Speaking of which...loved seeing J.J. back and making a contribution. I never really thought that he was playing particularly poorly in the past few games, it's just he wasn't able to contribute a significant positive. I continue to think there's something to be said for that. J.J. is showing patience in waiting for his opportunities, and is exhibiting a new found reluctance to force the action. That type of self-awareness within the scheme was not present last year. He's looking increasingly comfortable on the court, and he's starting to get to work a little harder on the glass. He's still not very authoritative rebounding the ball, but his attentiveness there is starting to improve. And concurrently, so are his rebounding numbers. Check his $tat$.
  • I kept thinking while watching Frye tonight that had he chosen to sign with the Cavs, his particular skill set would have led to him playing A LOT. He looked great (and has looked great), so I don't think I would have been complaining...but had it happened...we also would not be seeing J.J. on the floor right now. Which is an interesting trade-off to imagine. One that, looking beyond this year, I think we'll prove to have come out on the right side of.
  • Lost in the pretty solid play of late is that we're currently witnessing The Chosen One's first extended shooting slump of the season. LBJ's been a little off with the outside stroke for about a week. All things considered, LeBron is masking it pretty well by continuing to be aggressive on the drive, and as always, remaining tremendously effective in setting up teammates. These things happen to any shooter over the course of a season, and what's been most notable to me is how LeBron's game is diversified enough that it has gone almost completely unnoticed. Pretty amazing.
  • Lastly, the Z-DNP-CD blew up way more then I expected it to. So for a variety of reasons, I was glad he A) got it done and hopefully over with tonight, and B) played one of his better games of the season in doing so...rather then putting up the 4 pts in 8 minutes he very well might have in matching up against a small and quick Suns team. More on Z below...
Z, LeBron, and Loyalty

What happens if Z gets traded?

Okay, here's a thought. In a few months, at the February trade deadline, we will witness what could quite possibly come to be the most significant organizational crossroads of the LeBron era. For a long time, I figured Danny Ferry had to make a move. In truth, I still feel that way. There are far too many key players on this team that are 30+, and far too few building blocks in general. This trade deadline, the last one for a while during which the Cavs will wield the golden combination of significant expiring contracts, draft picks, and at least a modicum of young talent, represent the last chance for Danny Ferry to make a significant addition at a hopefully minimal expense.

After all, only so many times in the career of a superstar do stars align in a way that sees half the league faltering financially while said superstar's team is poised to take advantage. That's how Mo Williams came about. That's how Shaquille O'Neal came about. And to lesser degrees, you could argue that's also how Jamario Moon, Delonte West, and Leon Powe came about (I'm stretching Delonte into that category, but I want that list to look impressive). This is the method by which the Cavs were built from perennial 4th seed into legitimate championship contenders. And now they find themselves perhaps one piece away from winning the whole thing this year, and one piece away from sustaining that success in the future.

And while there are certainly numerous permutations that Danny Ferry can come up with to avoid such a scenario (hello Wally Szczerbiak), let's say, for argument's sake, that it is Z's expiring contract that will end up being the trade bait. After all, he's the only such piece we have that we don't need to guard Dwight Howard.

Cut to this week, where LeBron's rather pointed defense of Z has got me thinking of whether I might have underestimated the ramifications of trading not only the newly crowned 'longest tenured Cav', but also LBJ's only remaining 'Day One' teammate. If Z is traded, what message does that send? Equally interestingly...what message does it send if the Cavs stand pat?

If it's a trade for Chris Bosh...obviously all these issues are nullified. But what if the Cavs are faced with a decision to swap Z for Emeka Okafor at the deadline. Do you do that? One week ago, I would have said yes.

But all that is fodder for another day. How about a quick celebration of our largest Lithuanian. There are a bunch of these videos at Cavalier Attitude, but below I linked up a cool Z montage video. I'm speaking comparatively here, but look how mobile Z looks even a few years into the LeBron era. I'd forgotten he was ever significantly faster then is now.

Up Next

The Chicago Bulls return to the Q this Friday at 8:00. In case you don't remember, we owe them one.

One of the Road

LBJ works on Mind-Control, Part 2. (See part one in Game 15 Review, vs. Detroit.)

LeBron exhibits mind-control on Jared Dudley

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Game 17 Review (12-5)

Now that was a more pleasurable evening.

LBJ and the Cavs, looking strong again

The Cavaliers, as they last night seemed to insinuate they might, came out aggressively and put together a pretty solid performance in defeating the NBA's top road team 111-95. Like many so far this season, this was an imperfect victory (and it came against a Dallas team missing two starters). But it was also a sign of resilience from the Cavaliers, who have gone through a lot early in this season, and have each time found ways to bounce back. Now let me jump ahead and make this intro sound like a conclusion:

Are the Cavs playing at the level they'll need to play at to win a championship? No, not even close. But perhaps they shouldn't be. The most important lesson they seem to be learning now is how to roll with the punches (something they perhaps never learned last year), and it's something that could eventually make them a very difficult team to handle. As they're hinting at now...come the end of the season, it will take more then one punch to knock this bunch out.

One final introductory note: Literally everyone I called out in anyway during my review of last night's game came through tonight with a monster performance. Conversely, the one player I kind of complemented was J.J. Hickson, and he struggled a bit. So in the spirit of that revelation, I'd like to preface this installment of Game Review with the following:

I think every single member of the Cavs played horribly tonight.

Game Review

I'm coming to believe that the Cavaliers are best served by The Diesel when they use him discriminately. It's an environmentally conscious theory that I'd like to coin "The Shaq-house Effect."

Shaq was effective down low
  • So far in the season, I've liked Shaquille O'Neal best when he's serving as the means to a very specific end. Such as physically engaging Dwight Howard, or physically dominating teams that play undersized 5's and making them adjust, or in tonight's case...making a concerted effort to make use of his size advantage by drawing fouls. Tonight, the Cavs opened the fourth by pounding the ball into The Diesel where he was able to take advantage of a depleted Dallas front court and quickly place the Mavs near the penalty. The 9, 6, and 4 he posted was not at all what one might associate with Shaq being dominant, but he set the stage for a very productive fourth quarter...and setting the stage for LBJ and others to take advantage is where #33 can provide his greatest returns. Remember, the goal of Shaq's being in Cleveland is not really for Shaq to dominate himself, but to level the size advantage of opposing teams to such an extent that LeBron's dominance can shine through. At least that's how I interpret Shaq's being here. There still isn't a great deal of cohesion between Shaq and the rest of the team, and he does bog down the offense when the Cavs throw him the ball just for the sake of inclusion. But when the Cavs play games where his purpose is obvious, he always proves to be a more effective piece.
  • For one of the first times all season, the LBJumper didn't look like its normal smooth self. But encouragingly, LeBron showed a nice awareness of that by not forcing it and continuing to attack the basket. That's how you shoot 50% from the field even when your shot is off. Only so many guys in the league can do that, and most of the ones who can are 7 ft. tall. Also of note, after a one game hiatus, LeBron returned to his sensational early game form. He kept the offense moving quickly (the Cavs' ball movement was also back after a one game hiatus), and LBJ had racked up 11 assists in the first half (and I believe 8 after the first quarter). LeBron's assist totals seem to consistently be a microcosm of how well the Cavs are moving the ball (the Cavs had 23 assists at halftime). They seem to tail off a bit as the games move along, but boy, when you start out that well, you can still tail off to a pretty good place. That said, I'm waiting for the game where the Cavs keep it going for all 48, and LeBron subsequently picks up 20-plus assists.
  • Early in the season, and last night, I spent a pretty substantial deal of time picking on Jamario Moon for what he isn't. But what he does bring is really good. (And strangely enough, I'm pretty sure I've written exactly that in this blog earlier in the season. How soon I forget...) He's hyper-athletic, wants to do the dirty work, and consistently bring top notch energy and attitude. A team can never have enough of those guys. On my only real criticism of him: He can't guard physically dominant slashers, or tough, aggressive post players. But there are only so many physically dominant slashers/aggressive post players in the league...we'll just have to find other ways to defend against them.
  • Boy, am I pulling for Delonte. I just love seeing him on the court, and tonight (displaying just supreme timing after my large, downtrodden rumination on his status last night), he showed some substantial glimpses of his old self. Tough defense, and his 9th career double-double in 28 minutes off the bench. Whether he's a starter or not on this team, I don't know. But if Delonte's a bench guy for this season, he can make that bench. Mike Brown just needs to find him some consistent minutes, and some consistent lineups to play with so he can find a level of comfort there.
  • Andy Varejao was masterful tonight. Not even taking his scoring into consideration, AV was able to make hustle play after hustle play to consistently quell any semblance of momentum the Mavericks might have been on the verge of harnessing. On the offensive glass, he looked like Dennis Rodman in his prime. Andy would consistently get his hands on the ball, and tap it through traffic until he could secure another possession for the Cavs. Just phenomenal. His energy was great, and it never once wavered in his 32 minutes. I always feel this way watching Manu Ginobili, but Andy plays at a different pace, and with a different rhythm then American-bred players. He's just craftier, and it can make him very difficult to play against.
  • Kind of related to Andy's big night was that we only saw 14 minutes of J.J. tonight. I hope we continue to push him forward, to push him to grow as a player...but I'm okay with a night like this every once in a while. J.J. isn't forcing the action just to get his (encouraging), and perhaps he'll learn how to make himself completely indispensable (offensive rebound perhaps?) if he needs to in order to stay on the court.
Mo Gotti is playing well
  • Mo Williams (2008-09) 17.8 ppg (46.7% fgs, 43.6% 3pt fgs), 4.1 asst vs. 2.2 turnovers. Mo Williams (2009-10) 17.8 ppg (46.2% fgs, 48.8% 3pt fgs), 4.7 asst vs. 2.9 turnovers. Just thought that was of note, particularly when at the beginning of the season, Mo seemed to be struggling more then anyone in trying both to adjust to Shaq and replicate his All-Star season of last year. Mo was 7-7 from downtown tonight. Huge performance. I don't like it when the Cavs have to rely on him to play that well, but when Mo has it going like he did tonight, the Cavs are pretty tough to beat.
  • I wrote this down in the third quarter: I like that the Cavs are winning, but I'm still not entirely comfortable with how they're winning. They're still too reliant on outscoring their opponents. Why is this? Is the Cavs defense weakening, or is the offense getting better and thus rendering the defense less important? Or is it the league changing? The more I watch NBA basketball this year, the more I think the latter must be taken into account. It's getting increasingly difficult to play defense in the NBA, and that's by design. As it pertains to the Cavs, I think all three factor into play. There's a whole season for the Cavs to figure out how to stop people, but I hope they're analyzing it as much as I am. Mike Brown is their coach, so I'm pretty sure that they are. The Cavs were 9th in the league in FG% defense prior to the Dallas game (44.2%)...which actually was surprisingly high in relation to how they've seemed to be performing of late. The magic number that Mike Brown always harps on is 42%. What frightened me further was to discover who is at 42% in FG % defense. The league leading Los Angeles Lakers (42.1%).
A Very Quick Rumination on the Roster

Z did not enter the game tonight (aka Danny Ferry's record lives another day), while Delonte West played well. There was an article on the Plain Dealer's website about Leon Powe's rehab progressing nicely, which got me thinking that when he returns, I don't know where he gets any minutes. These types of logjams are prevalent throughout the roster, and I think the Cavs need to be looking at ways to transition their roster's bottlenecks into fewer, but better players. Far easier said then done, but they have the trade chips to get creative with this. When the meaningful games come, at least one of the trio of Jamario Moon, Daniel Gibson, and Delonte West will get resigned to the bench. The same goes for J.J. Hickson and Leon Powe.

This is all related to my "the Cavs need to land an integral young all-star/borderline all-star-type player to the roster" campaign. I'll grant you that I'm a little bit of a dreamer, but that said, I do think there are very real issues here to consider. I'm not sure that I see this current team as the one that crosses the finish line.

Up Next

The Cavs are in Cleveland for two more games, the first of which takes place this Wednesday when Phoenix comes to town. A lot to take into consideration in regards to this game, but perhaps most prominently, it's the first time the Big Cactus will have seen his old mates this season. Also once again, I'm glad the Cavs have an extended layoff to work on their issues.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Game 16 Review (11-5)

Well, no one ever said this was going to be pretty. And on Friday night, it sure wasn't, as the Cavaliers were downed in Charlotte 94-87 in a major show of cohesion-have-nada (which narrowly beat out 'cohesion-no-tengo' for a place in this column).

LeBron, forced to the bench with foul trouble

It's become quite obvious over the first month of the season, that the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers will not be able to duplicate the smooth waters of a year ago. There are too many moving parts. Too many aspects of what they want to do that seem susceptible to combustion. And too consistent a struggle to fit everything together. From the Plain Dealer regarding this game:
"It was as if Shaquille O'Neal came back and the Cavaliers hit the reset button on their season, which was not a good thing considering how the season actually started." - BW
Nail. Head. Brian Windhorst. This was ugly, and did indeed conjure memories of the Toronto game in particular. Only it's a little more disconcerting because we're 16 games into the season. I know a season should be treated as a marathon, but at some point it physically takes a toll on a team to constantly be fighting to straighten the ship. And thus, you're not actually saving energy by not storming out of the gate (See: Cavs 2007-08). Against the Bobcats, the Cavs struggled to re-incorporate Shaq, while Z looked uncomfortable again. LeBron struggled to maintain his aggressiveness, and therefore J.J. didn't get any good opportunities to affect the game. Anthony Parker was invisible, and Jamario Moon treated Gerald Wallace like he was Marquis Daniels. After showing signs in the prior weeks of breaking through to a new level of consistency, the Cavaliers majorly regressed by looking disheveled and disoriented as they basically slept walked through the majority of the game.

Let's hope it's only a temporary step back.

Game Review
  • LeBron played one of his worst games in a while. And this time, there is no addendum. I know the refs went a ways to sap LeBron of his aggressiveness by hitting him with some pretty weak foul calls, while not even coming close to reciprocating on the other end (the latter seems to be recurring to a concerning degree), but LeBron never really looked like he was bringing it tonight anyway. When you have a guy like Gerald Wallace, really the only way he is going to dominate a game is through physicality, with hustle and aggression, and with his slashes to the hoop. I know he hit a very uncharacteristic 3-7 from beyond the arc last night (GW doesn't shoot threes), but it was in penetration and transition that he proved demoralizing. There is no way he should have been able to do those things as well as he did them against a monstrously strong athlete like LeBron. Which is a sign that, for whatever reason, LBJ wasn't competing at the highest level tonight. I'll give him a slight pass in that early in the game, when LeBron picked up a quick foul, it was apparent he was reluctant to get to physical with G-Force for fear of being whistled for another. But by backing off early, it allowed the tone of the game to be set in Charlotte's favor. The Cavs never recovered.
No one could stop Gerald Wallace (not even Daniel Gibson, who is pictured here making what I assume is the wrong rotation)
  • In a situation like LeBron's early foul trouble, the Cavs will find themselves searching for a secondary-lanky defender to play the likes of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. That guy is supposed to be Jamario Moon. We now know what he does well offensively (finish, run the break, occasionally spot up) and defensively (rebound, and use his length and athleticism to disrupt lengthy and athletic perimeter players). It is now apparent one thing he cannot do, and it does not bode well for a few key match-ups down the line. Jamario does not do well with physical small forwards. It was just painfully evident in the preseason when he was matched up with Marquis Daniels and subsequently roasted to a mammoth degree. Jamario had since hit his stride and I was kind of hoping that that early glimpse of trouble was more about J-Moon feeling out his role on the team vs. a legitimate physical shortcoming. But tonight confirmed the latter. Jamario is just too skinny to be able to deal with that type of player. Both Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson had their respective ways with him, bodying him right out of the way and getting straight into the paint for high percentage shots. That's not something he's going to be able to overcome, which means that as we look toward the Lakers (as I have been wont to do)...we have one defender currently playing substantial minutes capable of guarding Kobe Bryant or Ron Artest. And that's LeBron. Not a situation we want to put LBJ in over the course of a 48 minute game. I know this sounds a little trivial...but it's a little trivial in the same way that last year we had only LeBron capable of guarding either Hedo or Rashard Lewis.
  • I didn't think J.J. Hickson was bad tonight. I just think he never had an opportunity to contribute. And under that light...perhaps tonight was a little bit of a positive for him in that when he was out there, he looked focused and in tune with the game in spite of not being a big part of it. He was patient, and didn't force the issue just because his chance to contribute was taking a while to arrive (and ultimately, never did).
  • Shaq. On a positive note, with Shaquille O'Neal returning the Cavs were finally able to out-rebound an opponent. More negatively, the big man's return was a flop in every other way. Shaq struggled to impact the game in any meaningful fashion other then he seemed to act as a back hole into which the Cavs ball movement was sucked. LBJ and Co. were making a concerted effort to get Shaq the ball in the post, which clearly became a detriment as getting Shaq post touches became the focus in and of itself, rather using it as a means to collapse the defense and attack off that. Shaq should've killed the Bobcats big men tonight, but was unable to. Larry Brown (wisely sensing a mismatch is weight class) got Tyson Chandler away from The Diesel quickly, and replaced him with Nazr Mohammed. On this night, Shaq was unable to outplay Nazr Mohammed.
Delonte, Jacko, and Comparing Last Year's Squad to the Current One...

Rather then focus on anything involving chemistry (which seems to be the usual comparison made to last year's squad), I want to focus on talent, and subsequently, the recourse we have to improve it. Right now, and who knows if this is going to change...we've essentially traded Delonte West, Ben Wallace, and Sasha Szczerbiak...for Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon. Had you asked me to do that trade last year, I probably would have declined. From a net talent perspective, the loss at the shooting guard position, I would have argued, is not as great as the gain at the center position (I would have been making that argument before we played Orlando, but go with me here). In fact, I think the Cavs declined to include Delonte in the first incarnation of the trade for that very reason. So fast forward to today, Anthony Parker at shooting guard, and coming off a loss to the Bobcats...I feel it appropriate to analyze the questions asked by revisiting the thought of Stephen Jackson, and then moving on for good.

Missed opportunity?

A few weeks ago, I felt like one of the few not in favor of his acquisition. And the reason for that seemed, to me, obvious. We already had Delonte West. Who was, to me, a better player, a better fit for this team, and a more integral part of the core moving forward. What hit me last night (and believe me, I'm still trying to fight these thoughts away), was this: Even Delonte West isn't Delonte West right now (it took me five minutes to decide whether to type 'right now' or 'anymore'). Brian Windhorst touched on it, but in the few minutes Delonte got into last night's game, he looked completely out of sorts. I spent much of the first half wondering why, in this type of game, getting torched by the Bobcats transition offense, was Delonte not able to contribute. To form a more palatable lineup to counteract what the Bobcats were doing. And then he finally comes into the game, and you see him run up the court a few times, and just think, "Oh. That's why." I found myself consistently wondering last year, how a guy as talented as Delonte could slip through the NBA cracks and find his way to us. A key piece to a championship contender apparently of no use throughout the rest of the league. Last night it hit me that in his current condition, I could see Delonte not getting off the bench in Seattle. I understand how that could happen.

The second aspect to the dilemma at the SG spot has to do with the somewhat unexpected end to the Stephen Jackson saga. I saw a player last night who was everything his detractors said him to be, but in no way, shape or form did he resemble a negative because of his said faults. He is a high volume shooter. But he is a lanky defender, a versatile wing, and a capable scorer. He is resourceful, and he would have worked well with LeBron.

The crux of the anti-Jax argument seemed to revolve around the future. His albatross contract combined with his advancing age rendering him a poor investment. I would now argue that as we move forward we will not build this team through free agency, nor have we in the past...therfore albatross contracts aren't that much of a price to pay to land an important player. The only person that really affects is Dan Gilbert (you're the man, Dan!), and we're building him some casinos to thank him for his investments.

So with all that in mind (Delonte, and the acceptability of an overpriced, but contributing player), the Cavs now find themselves with two holes to fill for the long term health of the franchise. At the beginning of the season, it appeared as if there was only one. Now, should Andre Iguodala or Rudy Gay, or even Kevin Martin (not quite as big of a fan of him because of his injury history), miraculously become available...they would have to be had at the expense of adding a young big man to the core. It would still be a MAJOR coupe (especially because the aforementioned are really the home-run guys), but in essence we're filling a position that wasn't supposed to be a hole. Going into this season, adding a young big man seemed to me to be the major trade priority. A must for the health of the core going forward. With the way this season has so far unfolded...Stephen Jackson, because of his circumstances, may have been the only way to adequately allow us to patch both holes.

It always did, but so much of this season still relies on Delonte West. With Stephen Jackson in Charlotte, that has never been more evident.

Up Next

The Cavaliers get a quick chance for redemption tomorrow night at the Q. The Mavericks come to town at 7:30 as the Cavs begin a three game home-stand.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Game 15 Review (11-4)

Tonight was a Turkey Game.

Charlie Villanueva, realizing he made a mistake

Now I know what you're thinking...what the F is a Turkey Game, and how does it relate to the Cleveland Cavaliers?  Well, I'll tell you.  A Turkey Game is not the same as a 'duck', or 'laying an egg', a Turkey Game (stemming from the also-fresh Turkey 'Day') refers to a phenomenon where, on the final day before any substantial reprieve, there arises a palpable excitement between all parties involved that leads to the boundaries of standard practice being tested, during which time chaos (usually of a positive nature) ensues.  Need an example?  Harken back to the days of say, middle school, where in the hours before any type of holiday break, an overwhelming sense of glee fills the classrooms.  These are the types of days when the students end up teaching the class.  Literally.  As for a Turkey Game (as logic would dictate, a Turkey Day occurring during a competitive gathering of any sort would then fall under the classification of, Turkey 'Game'),  these are the days when LeBron James chooses to consistently shoot off balance 20-footers, set up by dribbling behind his back three times.

The night didn't start out Turkey, but by the time Dan Gilbert stepped into the booth (and proceeded to provide color commentary for nearly half the game), I got the sense that a Turkey Game was manifesting itself.  And you know what?  Provided it doesn't happen every night, it seems all in good fun.  The Cavs lost their discipline, but at no time did you ever get the impression that they'd lose the game as well. 

The Cavs are 11-4.  Off to Dan Gilbert's house.  Total Turkey Game.

Game Review

My most pressing thought of the entire evening was this...
  • LeBron burnt down the Palace 2 1/2 years ago, and they still haven't rebuilt it.  Am I the only one who found it a little weird to see the Cavs score so easily in that building?  Years of just monstrously tough Detroit teams condition you as a basketball fan to see a particular arena as a monster unto itself.  And then, to see that arena (where it once felt like a beyond-Herculean feat for LeBron to score 48 points in 2 overtimes) so impotent...completely void of a threat...  It's weird (and in a strange way, a little sad), but I guess that's life.  The little brother grows up, while the older brother shrinks, then mistakenly signs Charlie Villanueva to man the paint.  Also, every time the Cavs play in Boston this year, I will be thinking of that analogy.  Not that Boston can suffocate us like those Detroit teams could, but it's fun to think of Rondo out there by himself.  As much for Chris Paul as for the Cavs.  One day, it's just going to be easy in Boston too.

The Cavaliers experiment with playing defense in the first quarter
  • No early first quarter bombardment = good?  The 'ol Cleveland Cavalier five man steamroller offense wasn't out in full force tonight (everyone playing a little too fast, unusually frequent off balance jumpers by LeBron, J.J. struggling to finish at the rim.)...but I was encouraged by something.  The Cavaliers scored 60 points in the first half, and it didn't really feel like they scored them in a bundle.  In most of the offensive explosions of late, the Cavs have been coming out of the gate on fire.  They build up massive point totals, they get about 75 % of the assists they will get for the game, and then they tail off.  The Cavs actually had a dominant offensive first half in spite of coming out of the gate a little more slowly then usual.  That, to me, was encouraging.  It wasn't like they got down 20-10 early, but rather then a massive burst at the start, they played defense, were patient with their offense, and methodically overwhelmed the Pistons in the first half.  They were up 60-42 without ever having gone on the type of run that has typified their offense of late.  They just leaned on the Pistons, knowing they were the more potent team, and in doing so kept adding distance to their lead.  It's a mature way to beat an inferior team.  (The end of this game didn't quite match up with the first half effort, but I think we can overlook that due to Turkey Game.)
  • The best pair of hands on a # 17 in Cleveland - Just something that struck me as deserving some mention. It's easy to overlook because of his defensive reputation (and the fact that Andy is quite unjustifiable considered an offense sieve by so many NBA reporters), but Anderson Varejao has to have one of the finer sets of hands in the league.  His pure athleticism may not blow you away, but his coordination should.  He is constantly moving, sifting his way through traffic, all the while quite effortlessly hauling in LeBron James' bullet passes without ever having to slow down to gather himself.  I have far too little soccer experience to make this claim, but there just seems to be a soccer-like element of craft to his game.  There is no one else in the league exactly like him.  Not even AV 2.0 on the Bulls...although he is quite good in his own right.
  • LeBron's slightly off second-half rhythm - I didn't mind this, as much as I noticed it.  And I only think I noticed it, because LeBron's rhythm usually is the rhythm of a game.  But after a very smooth first quarter, and some nice set-ups in quarter two, LeBron's second-half performance was not quite up to the precedent he's set of late.  I think it was just as the title of this note seems like he lost his rhythm a bit. Quite often it seemed LeBron was taking the ball and looking to fly up the court himself, but he attacked without being under his usual level of all encompassing control.  As such, he wasn't really creating the havoc he normally creates in the open court (in the second half).  It was just little the ball not bouncing exactly right in his hand a few times in a row...and then culminating of course in the parade of unnecessarily awkward jump shot attempts he took toward the end of the game.  Nothing really wrong here...just odd not to seem LBJ completely dictacting the flow of a game. If anything, it makes me appreciate his usual absolute dominations even more. Also, as it was really just taking place in the second half, I'm inclined to chalk it up to Turkey Game.  No one is immune from Turkey Game.  
  • Another note - 'What's wrong with LBJ tonight?' = 34, 8, 7 (12-24 fg, 9-11 ft) + 98-88 win on the road + I never had any doubt he'd score if we needed a bucket at the end + he put down one of the most massive, double pump, "wait, did he just...I saw no possible way that move wasn't ending in a layup..." dunks I've ever seen.  Just a massive dunk.  Even a tad off, the Chosen One stands pretty darn tall.
  • No calls?  A related note: This has been a few games in a row where LeBron was going to the basket (as he did on the aforementioned dunk), and not getting some glaringly obvious calls (as he didn't when he was hit in the face on the aforementioned dunk).  I've disagreed with refs before re: LBJ, but they seem to be missing some blatant stuff lately.  Hopefully it straightens itself out.  LeBron's been doing a great job of not allowing the non-calls to affect him from attacking again, but he has looked frustrated at times, and rightfully so.
  • My only substantial point of contention - is that tonight, the Cavs played a team that started a 35 year old, 6'9" Ben Wallace at the 5, next to a very slight 6'11" Charlie Villanueva, of skinny perimeter power-forward fame.  And the Cavs were still outrebounded 43-35.  That is a trend.  That is not Turkey Game.  This Detroit team wasn't strong enough to use their rebounding edge to beat us, but I just don't know how that can get otrebounded by a smaller, skinnier team.  Shaq would've helped (and probably killed a smaller Piston in the low post), but he's not the cure all for this issue.  Whether schematically, or through concerted aggression, it's time for the Cavs to focus more on cleaning up the glass.
  • Fall from Great -  Over the course of the next few years, that Pistons' team has a ceiling of about 50 wins (4-5 seed).  That's the absolute peak for that team.
Dan Gilbert...jackpot.
  • Dan 'Gruden' Gilbert - I haven't yet read any other opinions, but in the spirit of Turkey Game (of which Gilbert's announcing definitely reinforced), I loved listening to the casino maven's extended stint at the FS OH broadcast booth.  Lots of fun.  To me, Gilbert is the most overlooked chip in the LeBron decision saga.  And I think LeBron likes him.  Tell me, what is the most obvious reason that LBJ wouldn't sign with a team like the Clippers, where he could get his money and grow with a young core of Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman (with spark plug Al Thornton coming off the bench)?  Easy.  It's Donald Sterling.  No matter how promising a situation appears to be, it is up to an owner to continuously make the investments to keep it strong.  More then that, to keep it growing.  Dan Gilbert has proven to be one of the few willing to do that in spite of any outside turmoil...which to me, is a point for C-Town.  And you have to think LeBron knows, that should an owner ever turn course, even a promising situations can turn in a hurry.  Just ask Chris Paul (LeBron's best friend in the league.  C-Town 2, Oppenent 0.)  Truth be told, I don't think LeBron will ever sign a contract longer then 3 years for the rest of his career.  Specifically for these reasons.  But that's getting off topic a bit.  As we move forward, and continue to try to surround LeBron with the best of everything, Dan Gilbert seems to be one chip already in place.  I love that the Cavs will be having Thanksgiving dinner at his house.
That's it for tonight!  Happy Turkey Game everyone.  As the Cavs are playing on Christmas Day, that will probably be the last TG we see until All Star weekend.

Up Next

The Cavs will visit the Bobcats (and Stephen Jackson's cozy new pad) at 7:00 PM on Friday.

One For The Road

LeBron and Chris Jent have been working on mind control.

Curtis Jackson (L), and LeBron James (R)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Game 14 Review (10-4)

On Saturday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers easily handled the Philadelphia 76ers in every facet of the for the second and third quarters.

LeBron James and Mike Brown are getting in sync

Quarters 2 & 3:
Cavs: 39
Sixers: 58

Quarters 1 & 4:
Cavs: 58
Sixers: 33

Crazy stats, but this was a good win for the Cavs (who, for those still adding up the afore-noted stats, won the game 97-91). Like many a game so far this season: it was an inconsistent, but ultimately promising win. Feeling particularly optimistic on this Sunday morning, while writing this review on a particularly good cup of coffee...I'm deducing that quarters one and four will ultimately prove to be most indicative of this year's Cavalier team. Which means by the time mid-season rolls around, we'll be winning games like this 116-66.

Game Review

I've been viewing this incarnation of the Cavs with a healthy dose of cynicism thus far. The bright side of cynicism being that when you start to feel good about something, it's probably true. And while I personally made up that theory...let's just roll with it.
  • This recent run of first quarters... The Cavs continue to play some of the finest offensive quarters they've ever played in the LeBron era. And even if that proves to represent the absolute peak for the Cavalier offense, well,'s just pretty freakin good. Again, the offense was clicking on all cylinders in the first quarter of the Sixers game. As you would suspect it all started with LeBron, who had just a massive first quarter. LBJ was attacking the rim and hitting his jumpers early, and in doing so forced just massive amounts of Philadelphia focus in his direction. LeBron will draw a defense's focus simply by standing on the court...but when he attacks quickly and decisively (as he did from the tip last night), it keeps the defense too far back on its heels to react at all sensibly. An aggressive LeBron is completely overwhelming.
  • The Return of the (Lithuanian) King... Nice to see Z put together a good game offensively. After Mike Brown went away from playing Z at the 4, he's been doing a pretty solid job defensively, but just hadn't looked entirely comfortable with his role on the other end of the court. Since getting back in the starting lineup, LeBron and Mo have been getting Z the ball in more amenable situations for him...the familiar Z stuff. It took a couple games, but tonight, he looked pretty comfortable with his pick and pops, and he was able to do some nice work on the offensive glass...both with his back taps, and in a few instances, finishing himself. At one point I even thought he was going to bust out a baseline turnaround over his right shoulder (a touch of old school Z)...but he pulled it back. Something to aspire to. I'm curious (and hopeful) to see what happens when Shaq comes back. Z has always been a rhythm player, and if Z can catch a rhythm now...perhaps he'll be able to maintain it once he's back in a reserve role.
J.J. Hickson keeps improving
  • Am I overly optimistic in thinking 'Shawn Kemp redux?' J.J. Hickson (indeed, only a slight hitch in his shot away from having Kemp-like form) is getting better and better. His ability to finish around the basket is already leaps and bounds better then it was two weeks ago, as he seems to be adding little intricacies to his shots in the paint that are resulting in his being blocked less. Apparently, LeBron has working with him to add some creativity in this area, and it's evident. LBJ seems increasingly invested in the making of J.J. Hickson, which makes me increasingly comfortable with J.J. Hickson playing significant minutes. All that said, to nitpick a little in the face of an overwhelming's been painfully obvious of late that he can't match-up with anything but a traditional 4. But he's athletic enough to learn to compensate. When LeBron guards a quick point, he often allows for a drive while angling himself for the block. I think this is something J.J. could pick up to deal with 3's (Dahntay Jones), and to a lesser extent...hybrid 4's (Antawn Jamison...although admittedly, that's a tough cover for anyone). Tonight, I thought he was pretty solid defensively, and got a few blocks that seemed to me to come within the context of his basic defensive responsibilities. Which is different from chasing the ball all over the court, and leaving the defense vulnerable in said areas of responsibility. It's just an awareness of the basic team defense that J.J. seems to be grasping better then he has before. Nit-picking a little further (and this is the only area where we've not seen much improvement from our prodigy)...the most concerning thing to me about J.J. right now is that he just doesn't seem to have a feel for rebounding. Everything else aforementioned, I could see him having sorted out by the end of the season. But rebounding has a lot to do with feel...not just for where the ball is coming off the rim, but for how to ward off others with your body. J.J. isn't really exhibiting much of that and never has. Additionally, when he comes up with a board, it rarely looks to be firmly in his hands. He doesn't rip, as much as he gathers. I was reading Brian Windhorst's blog mid-game and remembered something about J.J. having a little bit of butterfingers. I saw that too, but in most games, it strikes me as affecting him most on the glass. J.J. displays pretty nice hands in gathering feeds from LeBron. One thing I'm thinking may be the cause (and I vaguely remember this being a point of contention early in his career) is the size of his hands. Until prodded by LeBron recently, he rarely tried to dunk single-handed, and I can't think of one instance where he's reached out with one arm and snatched in an errant board. Not that that will determine how far J.J. goes in what is with any luck a quest for stardom (please!), but if that's the reason for his more then occasional fumbling, he'll need to find ways to compensate. (Editor's note: see the above pic...J.J.'s hands look at least as big as Thad Young's, right? Will need to get some confirmation on J.J.'s hand size. Maybe Thad Young has small hands too?)
  • Jamario Moon played another really solid game, pretty much nullifying all the early season criticism I threw at him. His defense has picked up and become far more effective, his rebounding has been great (and particularly stylish), and when he gets out on the break, well...see below.
Jamario Moon, of whom "athletic" is an understatement
  • As good as the past few first quarters have been, it's the past two fourth quarters that have been most encouraging to me. The Cavs are starting to work on the proverbial string defensively, and seem to be greatly reducing their lapses when they need to. You'd like to see that type of defensive focus more frequently, but it's nice to know it's there. I still don't know how they slow up a team like the Lakers without Delonte hounding Kobe (which we never got a chance to see last year), but perhaps that's an issue for later down the road.
Up Next

The Cavs have another substantial stretch of off days (until Wednesday night) before they visit the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The extended practice time really helped the Cavs when last they had it, as this team still seem to be playing catch up as far as cohesion goes. The second substantial layoff is probably the only benefit of twice playing 4 games in 5 nights over the course of the season's first 14 games.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game 13 Review (9-4)

That was my favorite game of the season yet.

LeBron drives on Granger

The Cavaliers beat the Pacers 105-95 on Friday night behind a big night from LeBron James, strong play from J.J. Hickson, and some of the toughest defense they've played all season. And even though the "toughest defense they've played all season" comes against some pretty lightweight competition, and even though it was preceded by a defensive display so porous that it appeared as though the Cavs were determined to reenact the Wizards loss of two nights was encouraging that, on this night, the Cavs were able to stem the tide, on the road, against a Pacers team that has been playing good teams pretty tough lately. Most encouraging of all was that the Cavs found their success in what you'd hope to be a familiar fashion. They locked down on defense, and held the Pacers to 34 second half points (and about 17 points in the final 18 minutes). That, is Cavalier basketball.

Game Review

Let's hit some of the positives first.

LeBron, in mid-post-clutch 3, circle shimmy
  • LeBron James. I often leave him until the end, just because...he's LeBron James. We expect it now. But I love it when LBJ goes up against premier small forwards, and reminds us that we have the greatest trump card in the league. LeBron was spectacular tonight, opening the game on fire, and then closing it by controlling the rhythm of the fourth quarter in a game where it would have been very easy for the Cavs to lose their composure. Some really tough non-calls in that fourth quarter, and while LeBron did react, he never stopped attacking. Far easier said then done. And re: the battle with Danny Granger...I felt like because LeBron had such a torrid first quarter, he forced Granger to switch to him early, which led to Granger wearing out late. Even amidst the Cavs defensive intensity, DG was able to get some open looks in the fourth, but by then he looked like he had been knocked off his rhythm, which, in my mind, has a lot to do with the effect of dealing with LeBron on the other end. I think that gets overlooked a lot. That when LBJ can force another team's premier scorer onto him early, it bodes well for the Cavs late. Also, semi-overlooked is that LeBron is clearly playing at a higher level then even last year, when he won his first league MVP. The balance and consistency LBJ is showing on that jumper is outstanding! It's what makes all of these good shooting game seem like they're in no way related to a hot streak. I take it for granted quite often, but sometimes you just have to take a step back and say, wow, this guy is phenomenal...and whatever "flaws" exist in his game grow smaller by the day.
  • Anderson Varejao deserves some early mention. He looked to be incredibly active after missing a game with a hip contusion, and AV played a significant part in getting the Cavs rebounding performance back into the realm of respectability. Just two nights earlier the Cavs were humiliated on the glass by the Wizards. Tonight, they out-rebounded the Pacers 47-41 and looked far more aggressive in that area. Also, I think AV deserves a lot of credit for how he's handling the ascension of J.J. Hickson. Mike Brown started making semi-unnecessary offense/defense substitutions toward the end of the game, and it's just really impressive to me that AV never seems to make a peep. Starter or not, 40 minutes or 10, the guy is a constant. When he's on the court, he will be going 110 mph. Every time he is out there.
  • Speaking of J.J. Hickson...I thought tonight was a huge game for him. I got a little cynical after the Wizards game, and posted that it was nice to see that Darnell Jackson could do the job of Hickson if called upon. Darnell Jackson could not have played the game that J.J. played tonight. LeBron's young protege was strong around the rim, and quite a few of his 15 points required more then just punctuating a play gift-wrapped for him. Even better, he looked very composed for a 21 year old kid playing significant minutes, on the road, in a pretty physical game. I think that composure is the biggest thing we should be looking for from J.J. right now. A lot of times in the past, I've though his mental mistakes were coming as a result of his being flustered. Almost like things were moving so fast for him, that he was having trouble processing where he was supposed to be, what he supposed to do...even if he maybe he knew it at the morning walk through. Tonight, the game was moving pretty fast, Tyler Hansbrough looked to be handing out some gratingly aggressive body contact, and J.J. stayed in complete control. Which allowed him to use his superior athleticism to outplay the likes of Psycho T, or Troy Murphy. J.J. also came through with some of the finest defensive possessions of his career in the fourth quarter...a huge step. His rotations and pick and roll defense (while still needing improvement) have improved leaps and bounds in the past few weeks, and his individual defense in this game was even better (provided it was against against a natural power forward). J.J. seemed to realize that a guy like Hansbrough was not going to be able to easily jump over him, and therefore stayed down on his pump fakes...something that I don't think we'd have seen J.J. do earlier in the season. Or perhaps even earlier in the game.
AV on the glass
  • The end of the game lock down was a major plus and, I think, could be a tent-pole moment for the team. (Or the at very least, something to look back on fondly.) Focusing purely on the last 18 minutes of the game (because the first 30 minutes were pretty atrocious), this was one of the first times all season where it felt like the Cavs were able to use their defense as the catalyst for their success. Cleveland fell behind by 10 in the third quarter because (like in the Wizards game) their shots stopped falling, but the defense was not sharp enough to compensate. But with 5:41 left in the 3rd, that changed. I think (and hope) that what happened was similar to offensive awaken that seemed to occur around 7 games earlier. The awareness of individual responsibility seemed to be at a season-long high. The Cavs were communicating more effectively with each other, and hopefully that's something to build on.
  • Is it a positive that the Cavs finally won a game when Mo Williams wasn't hitting (just 3-11 from the field)? Mo did have a positive effect on the game, and still went for 18 and 4, with a +5 in his 35 minutes.
Now, on to the negatives...of which there are only a few on my mind. (I can barely remember the first-half defense!)
  • The first negative has to do with some nebulous sense of flux and dishevelment that I'm continually sensing over the whole of the team. I'm probably reading way too much into body language (and, as admitted in this blog's title, no one overreacts to small details as I do), and therefore I'm not even sure I'm right in sensing a problem at all, but I guess the best way I can verbalize it right now is this: doesn't the team just seem a little bit unsettled? Even in victory, which is what gave me such pause after the Magic/Heat back to back wins. It's only 13 games into this season, but the feel of this team, to me, is teetering ominously between 2007-08 Cavs (a constant shuffle of players and rotations), and 2008-09 Cavs (a pillar of unity and stability). I think the two most important things for the Cavs to do during the 2009-10 regular season are these: to have settled into a more comfortable groove come playoff time (obviously), and to emerge from this season with a core group of young, proven "starter-quality" contributors with which to move forward (those currently include: LeBron, Mo, AV, and the increasingly encouraging J.J. Hickson). I think that list is missing two players. One which will have to be added this season, and another who was on it at season's beginning...Delonte West.
  • Perhaps I've been in denial for longer then most, but it hit me tonight that the likelihood that Delonte West makes it back into the starting lineup is getting pretty slim. Which sucks on a variety of levels. The most basketball relevant being, as much as I like Anthony Parker (and he continues to grow on me), that in taking a purely mathematical view of the Cavalier roster, it just makes us weaker. We had a versatile and defensively tenacious starting shooting guard, and now we don't. I think one of the reasons the defense has not yet found any type of a consistent stride is because Anthony Parker is not able to bring the same level of individual defensive presence (see: foot speed) as is Delonte. And just because of D-West's versatility in general, he is able to connect a lot of the dots between different lineups that are currently left unconnected. Hence, dishevelment. The one potential positive in Delonte's reduced role could end up being the level of accountability for the backcourt that it will force Mo Williams to take. That said, I'd rather have Delonte on the court for 35 minutes a night.

Up Next

I posted this late...the Cavs are back home to take on the Sixers at 7:30. (Which is within the hour!) This is the Cavs fourth game in five nights, and should they be able to muster a semblance of the focus they displayed in the second-half last night against Indiana, they should be able to close out this run of games on a high note. Also, I'm pretty sure (for the Cavs' sake) we should write him off as trade talk fodder...but we get to take a peek at Elton Brand tonight.