Well, yikes. That was an inauspicious start.
Where to begin...
Segment One: Game 2 (0-2)
It's a little shocking to see how unsure of themselves the Cavs currently look. That's LeBron included (although, individually, the guy looks better than ever and makes me feel like I'm eating ice cream every time I watch him play). In some ways, the start to this season brings to mind memories of 2007, when Andy Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic were coming off holdouts, and the team hovered around .500 for much of the season. Of note of '07, they were disheveled, unorganized, and never really got it together. Also of note, that season ended with a massive trade.
The 2009-10 Cavaliers are far more talented then that bunch. However, through two games (which, granted, is an encouragingly small sample size) they seem to lack a singular direction on either end of the court. Or, phrased more loosely, they have no idea what they're trying to do.
With that thought it mind, here are some early season observations in the appropriately titled...
Segment Two: What the F
It was pretty obvious Wednesday night that the most effective lineups the Cavs trotted out were the ones that most closely mirrored last year's "small ball" teams, with LeBron at the 4 and Andy at the 5. Shaq's most effective minutes came with that bunch as well. I'm a big Brian Windhorst fan (as all Cavs fans probably are), and he wrote the following of the third quarter:
"This is how the Cavs played often dating back to 2007 and you could see LeBron, Williams, Varejao and Daniel Gibson fall into a comfort zone at both ends. Shaq and Anthony Parker figured it out, too, mostly because they understood it. James was setting everyone up and it got them more into the game defensively and Varejao got on Andrea Bargnani's nerves and drew a few fouls and the Cavs were rolling. The old Cavs."The way the Cavs alternated dominance and discombobulation last night was amazing. I hope they find some consistency with the former in the games to come.
One other thing about that third quarter and the small ball rotations: It's the one way the Cavs are able to consistently run the offense through LeBron. To win a championship, it is once again apparent that they'll need to find equally effective alternatives to that. It's been a point of contention for years now, and that's the case because it's true.
Within a few weeks I expect Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon to become progressively more effective as they become familiar with what the Cavs are doing defensively. That leaves the following as the biggest issue going forward:
What the F do we do with Shaquille O'Neal?
What seems to be missing here is any idea of how to build something productive off of what Shaq brings. Every time he got the ball in the post, it was as a means to his own shot attempt. That's not necessarily his fault. There were no fluid cuts, no swift ball movement, and no real offense in place to take advantage of a (kind of?) collapsing defense.
So what's left is Shaq in the post with no other option off of that look. And while he's catching the ball deeper in the post then any post player of the LeBron era, Shaq isn't (yet?) converting at a rate that is any more valuable then what Z did last year.
Defensively, I kind of have to equate Shaq to Z. As analogies go, that would be like equating a slow, heavy tortoise to a lankier, more ethnic one. Most discouraging to me was his lack of ability to even get a hand up on shooters who's range extended beyond the foul line. Mid-way through the third quarter, Andrea Bargnani came off a curl and caught a pass literally standing on the left elbow. Where he shot the ball uncontested from the foul line. I told my dad yesterday he would have made 75% of that shot. So did Bargnani.
This is not really meant to be about Shaq not living up to his billing. He is. The Cavs really haven't had a player like him before. He's an anchor in the middle of our defense. The only caveat being that our defense is currently structured to function like a speed boat.
Now, because I put the word "over-reactive" in the title of this blog, I feel like I have to address this: Mike Brown and staff have their work cut out for them. As an ardent Mike Brown supporter, who is constantly in the position of defending him to Laker fans (I live in Los Angeles; the belly of the beast), I have to at least admit to myself that I'm not entirely sure how this one plays out. Mike Brown's greatest assets, to me, have always been his lack of ego, and his unwavering ability to get the team to buy into defense as the means to an end. The challenge on the horizon is more all encompassing.
In closing, and because I'd prefer this blog to more funny then harrowing...
He really does look like the Predator.