Well, that was better.
Yes, it was the Timberwolves, and yes, the Timberwolves were not even at full strength (Kevin Love is out with a wrist injury, and Al Jefferson and his new ACL are just now cracking 25 minutes a night), but for this Cleveland team, I get the impression that it didn't really matter how they took their first step...just that they got were able to get themselves moving in the right direction.
Also, somewhere in this analogy, the Minnesota Timberwolves represent an escalator.
Segment Two: That's More Like It
The interior passing in the first half was phenomenal. Phenomenal. Shaq to LeBron. LeBron to Andy. Andy to Z. The ball was moving, and it never hit the ground. A sight to behold, and a reminder of how easy basketball can look when everybody is on the same page.
The issues with Shaq still persisted (more on that later), but they were less impacting on the team as a whole. Shaq was able to play some effective minutes, and the rest of the Cavs were able to play a lot of them.
I'm feeling (and hoping) that this game could be step one in the resurgence of Mo Williams.
As referenced in my prior post, it's been easy to forget of late that this guy is a really good basketball player. Tonight saw a relatively minor improvement statistically, but for the first time this season, Mo looked like Mo. He was able to penetrate into the teeth of the Timberwolves' defense (snicker...), and just looked generally more comfortable with what he was doing. There's a ways to go to get back to the level he was playing at last year, but like the team as a whole, it felt like tonight was a step in that direction.
A few thoughts as I look over the rest of the roster:
LeBron was LeBron. He came out smoking hot, and could have easily won this game by himself tonight. He didn't have to.
Andy was very active defensively, on the boards, and gave constant movement on offense. It's easy to overlook, but when Andy is active offensively, he is able to open up a lot of space for everyone else (Note: when I write "active offensively", I mean active off the ball. I think it's time the Andy post-up play be stricken from the offense).
Anthony Parker is exceedingly solid. That said, it's going to be a huge boost to get Delonte West back (provided he's able to perform anywhere close to last year's level). AP can knock down threes, hit his marks defensively, and is a sneakily effective passer. What he doesn't seem to be able to do is create his own shot against athletic defenders, or be the type of game-changing, junkyard defender that Delonte can be. Every good team needs an Anthony Parker. But not every good team has a Delonte West.
On to something that may quickly become a more notable storyline as the season progresses...not too much J.J. Hickson tonight.
He played a shade over 7 minutes, and the Cavs were up big the entire second half. Have yet to see anybody comment on that. The issues here are, in most cases, unspoken. Ideally, J.J. would be able to serve one of two functions this year: Effective 4, or promising trade bait. To be either, he's going to have to crack double digit minutes.
Segment Three: The Continued Analysis of all Things Diesel and Lithuanian:
All things considered, tonight was better. Really, much better.
I think it's apparent already that Shaq will fare better against traditional centers (Al Jefferson), then vs. the hybrid guys (Andrea Bargnani) that we're perhaps better equipped to handle without him. For now, the most important issue of the Cavalier season continues to be how to hold on to what was so special about last year's team, while integrating Shaq's mammoth presence on both ends of the court.
Offensively, Shaq continues to get unbelievably deep post position. The only thing holding him back right now is himself. The Diesel is shooting a strikingly low .483 from the field, and a perhaps even more astounding .000 from the line. Why is this happening?
An interesting tidbit from Mike Brown:
I've just got to keep playing him minutes. He's going to continue to work himself into great game shape. He's in pretty good game shape right now, but . . . he's got to get his feet underneath him a little bit.I hope the Diesel doesn't take offense to that, but after watching him play so far, something about Mike's comments seem to ring true. In each of the three games, Shaq has gotten his shots. He's just shooting them like someone might if he hadn't touched a basketball in a few months.
At first glance, it looked to me like Shaq was rushing. But after reading Mike Brown's comments, it seems pretty plausible that Shaq's timing is just off. Even for someone who isn't notorious for his deft shooting touch, that matters. Whatever the culprit, it looks like the capability is there. And that, is encouraging.
Defensively, I thought both Shaq and Z were much improved tonight. Minnesota doesn't really have the personnel to challenge them on too many fronts, but they both did their best to get out to shooters, and at the same time, neither pulled themselves so far from the basket that they game up their strength (that they're both freaking huge and it's not easy to get around them).
Where they seemed most vulnerable was in transition, and it's becoming increasingly clear that other teams will continuously try to target them this way. Tonight, it was Ryan Hollins, running faster and more consistently then I'd ever seen him do in an NBA game. And while this was the first time I'd ever seen Ryan Hollins in an NBA game, he was still running a lot (just kidding Ryan Hollins...see below*).
* (Ryan Hollins in a prior NBA game)
As Mike Brown learns the capabilities of our bigs, I have to believe the ways we deal with covering for them will improve. I'm curious to see how we deal with this when he hit Orlando in two weeks. Because Dwight Howard can run, and unlike Ryan Hollins, he can finish over Andy.
Part Four: Epilogue
A well rested Cavs team moves on to face Charlotte tomorrow night from the Q, and Minnesota grabs an early lead in the race for "most favorable Finals opponent."