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.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Early Trade Deadline Fodder

From time to time, I suppose it can't hurt to look ahead. (especially during the off day after a loss.)

Danny Ferry, pictured here in what appears to be a dream

For a while I've been telling my dad that at some point over the course of this season, the Cavs would need to find a way to add one more franchise piece (an all-star slash borderline all-star, aged 22-28, preferably 6-10 or above.) And my dad usually responds with the logical question: "who?" To which I respond with the logical answer: "Chris Paul."

The Cavs will have some chips, but who will actually be in play? I'm working on a system (if the definition for system meant 'list') to determine just that. I present the return of the semi-official, Oh my gosh, could he possibly be available at the trade deadline? list. When we last left the OMGCHPBAATTD list, it included three names (and no name shall make the list unless said player is determined to benefit the long term health of the franchise). It was structured with the highest reward/lowest probability guys at the top.

OMGCHPBAATTD list, version 1.0

Chris Bosh
Josh Smith
Rudy Gay

Now, in the second installment of 'Trade Deadline Fodder', I present to you the slightly more flushed out, but no more deluded...

OMGCHPBAATTD list, version 2.0

Chris Paul
Chris Bosh
Josh Smith
Andre Iguodala
Rudy Gay
David West
Emeka Okafor

What are the chances any of the these happen? Well, I must say that last year's failure to deal Wally Szczerbiak's substantial expiring contract for anything of substance has left me humbled. Therefore, let the baseline for trade season be set at Emeka Okafor. Should the probability meter (not yet pictured) find its way up to Rudy Gay, I'd be ecstatic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game 12 Review (8-4)

I picked a bad day to start reviewing games again.

LBJ's dunk was not worth a wrist

It's impractical how easily a Cavs loss can ruin one's day, but boy...somebody buy me a cupcake. Truth be told, this one had all the makings of a loss well before the Cavaliers arrived at the Verizon Center. A beaten down Cleveland team, a particularly unfriendly venue, and Antawn Jamison (no revelation here - but what a good, veteran player) back to provide Rashard Lewis-esque match-up troubles. I was prepared for this loss...until the horrible tease that was the first 18 minutes of the game fooled me.

Indeed, the Cavs hot start was a mirage...and in a lot of ways, it was a microcosm of the 5 game winning streak. In each of those wins, the Cavs found themselves relying increasingly on their offense. Tonight, the offense dried up (relatively), and there was nothing left to stand on.

The Temporary Semi-Collapse of the Cleveland Cavalier Offensive Juggernaut

The greatest solace I can take from the offensive slip tonight is that it seems exceedingly apparent why it happened. Simply put: too many jumpers, and too little rebounding (which led to Wizard baskets, and less Cavalier transition). As the Cavs racked up 32 points in the first quarter, and extended the lead to 41-24 midway through the second, we were being treated to a lot of the goodies to which Cleveland fans have recently become accustomed: Great transition offense, plentiful ball movement leading to massive assist totals, and LeBron playing the role of perhaps the most offensively talented facilitator in the history of the NBA...consistently using the threat of his penetration to find our other wings for wide open threes. Even Z looked to be rounding back into form.

So what happened? Well, I remember two significant events. Mike Miller hit back to back threes (thereby quickly cutting the lead to a manageable 11, giving the Wizards a reason not to let the game get out of hand before halftime), and perhaps more significantly...the Wizards started giving some zone looks.

Flip Saunders: Mastermind?

That is where the wheels started to slowly find their way off. Those Flip Saunders' pseudo-zone looks shouldn't have taken us completely by surprise, as I remember Flip Saunders' Detroit teams employing this strategy against us on many an occasion in the past. And perhaps it didn't catch us completely by surprise, because it sure seemed like the Cavs broke out the old '07 offense in an attempt to deal with it. Right about at the 6:00 minute mark of the second quarter, the offense began to slow down. And it continued to progressively decelerate all the way until the end of the fourth, when LeBron started pushing the ball again far too late.

Analyzing LeBron, and glancing at Mo

There is no way this name should be anywhere near the top of my 'how the game was lost' thoughts, but, screw it...let's talk about LeBron. It's hard not to second guess your criticism when it's leveled at a guy who goes 12-20 from the floor on his way to 34 and 9...but it's not so much the statistical gem of a game I take issue with as much as it was his approach. Specifically this, from Mike Brown (and if Mike Brown backs you, you gotta be right!):
“In general, our entire team—including LeBron—brought the ball to a standstill...which allows them to do whatever they did defensively.”
Lack of ball movement against any kind of a zone will kill you, because it pretty much forces you to shoot a contested jump shot. And there aren't many teams winning on the road shooting nothing but contested jump shots. One set I would have loved to have seen some form of is the Team USA offense with LeBron coming to get the ball right between the elbows, and running some movement off that on the baseline and on the wings. That was the zone buster for the Olympic team. The Cavs did a touch of something similar early in the game, when, against a straight man defense, they gave LeBron the ball at the top of the key with his back to the basket a few times, while running some back picks off the ball. It looked similar to what they ran for the entire fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Magic series last year. And it still appeared to be an effective look tonight. But when things got dire, that was nowhere to be found.

*A note about LeBron's improvement as a shooter, and the resulting changes in his game: LBJ's balance, form, and consistency continue to shine like never before in his career. He now seems able to replicate those 'if LeBron's jumper is falling, there's nothing you can do' games from early in his career almost on command. And when we get into the games that matter, jeez...that will be just invaluable.

But I sometimes wonder (and this thought has so far been developed from an exceedingly small sample size), how that new found high percentage jumper will affect the Cavs regular season play this year. The thought being that now, more then ever, LeBron doesn't always have to attack the basket to get his points.

LeBron at his best

He can, he often does....but he has other means to score consistently on a game to game basis. So take quarters two and three tonight for example. LeBron was very effective, but doing his work on the perimeter, and by not attacking the basket LeBron never really put the Wizards defense all the way on its heels like he had earlier in the game. He doesn't beat anyone up, and he doesn't get anyone into foul trouble either (which was a major issue tonight). The point being, I believe this is how LeBron can have a massively successful individual game and not maximize the effectiveness of his teammates. Even while racking up 9 assists. That doesn't often happen, and it didn't even happen for a full game tonight, but I think it was an issue. The threat of LeBron getting to the rim, even more so then the most perfect of passes, is how he makes the other Cavs better. Tonight, at the most perilous points of the game, he really didn't do that. Over the course of an 82 game season, I'm thinking all Cavs fans should decidedly prefer this bit of evolution, so that LeBron can keep his body as healthy and fresh as possible for the playoff run. But on a game to game basis, LeBron is shooting a higher percentage of jumpers then in years past, and I suppose I'm just curious how it will cumulatively affect the way the other Cavs perform. Truth be told, with anything LeBron has thus far "evolved" over the course of his eventually always seems to be a positive. So, with that... (end running stream of consciousness.)

Lastly, (in keeping with the LeBron theme) during the majority of the winning streak, LeBron has been playing the distributor, then turning it on late. The result has been a series of close games, finished off by a series of aggressive possessions by LeBron. Tonight, down by 3 entering the fourth, I just thought he needed to be in the game for us to have a shot. You could sense it getting away. Even with that said, I'm okay with Mike Brown giving the second unit a chance to play those minutes alone (Phil Jackson would have done it). But regardless, by the time LeBron came back in, the momentum was entirely on the Wizards' side. It was a 9 point Washington lead that went to 12 on LeBron's first possession back on the court. Just a different ball game.

Okay, let's transition. How about Mo Williams? In spite of the unnecessarily massive LeBron analyzation, the 'as Mo goes, so go the Cavs' theory continues to hold true. Mo looked like he never really got into the flow of the game tonight. He was shooting shots he doesn't normally shoot (and posting up Earl Boykins? I get it, but...that's not Mo), and when the offense bogged down, he seemed unable to do anything to rectify it. I never would have said this earlier in the season, but...I think Mo could have used Shaq out there tonight. Mo didn't seem like he got a lot of great looks, and I think hammering away at the Wizards interior with Shaq might have helped. Although the Wizards implied the contrary, I've always felt that Haywood has his way with Z.

Again, with the Defense...

This is kind of what I've been harping on even through the win streak. Yeah, it was frustrating to see the offense hit a speed bump like it did tonight, but...aren't we supposed to be prepared for that kind of occurrence? You know, like the defense oriented team we consider ourselves to be? The Cavaliers scored 91 points tonight, which on the road, is supposed to be enough to give yourself a chance to win. I think that's what I take issue with more then anything.

The Cavalier defense hasn't been there in full all season, but I feel like it will eventually round into shape. It always has (and really, the Wizards' 42.9 FG % tonight is in the realm of what the Cavs are shooting for). However, not in Mike Brown's 5 years as coach can I remember the Cavs rebounding so poorly. It is a major contributor to the large opponent point totals we've been seeing lately. I know Shaq and Andy were out tonight, but tonight was the exclamation point on the sentence: 'We have got to rebound better!' This has been an issue all year. The Cavs have to find a way to be more aggressive on the glass. Not defensive rebounding is akin to not stopping the run in football. You're just not going to give yourself a chance to win. Or in the Cavs the big ones. I think the solution starts with a more concerted effort from the team in general, but it's pretty apparent that J.J. and Z each have their issues on the boards. Tonight they were forced to play together, and there was no other big who could mask their weaknesses in that area.

And now...because this review has come together over the course of the last four hours, thereby giving me ample time to cool down...

A Few Positives

For everything I just nit-picked him for above, LeBron continues to play really well. I'd like to see his monster assist first quarters start to continue through to the rest of the game, but LeBron just looks like he can do, quite literally, whatever he wants out there. And, as aforementioned, it's looking increasingly more like LeBron wasn't just hot with the jumper in the playoffs last year, or in the first 12 games of this season. It's starting to look like this dramatically improved shooting is now the norm for him (and Lord, let that not be the equivalent of a free throw streak acknowledgment).

Jamario played another nice game, and is proving to wield some pretty wicked hands both in terms of fielding rebounds, and handling LeBron's 80 mph passes. That dunk off LBJ's lob in the third quarter was spectacular all around, but perhaps most impressive was Jamario catching a high velocity chest pass at his waist, and basically turning it into an alley-oop.

Darnell Jackson seems fully capable of playing the role of J.J. Hickson, except two feet lower to the ground.

Delonte looked very rusty offensively, but is consistently looking as aggressive defensively as he was last year when he erased Joe Johnson in the conference semi-finals.

And finally (boy, I just vented out four days of reviewing energy...), in a lot of ways, this is probably as appropriate as a loss will get for the Cavaliers. It absolutely highlights the issues with which they're struggling...but sometimes you just catch a tough Wizards team on your second game of a back to back, in their place, on a night in which they get their best player back, while your best two big men are out. Yes, I think the Cavs might've won had they played a little harder and with a little more focus...but I always think that. This is as close to a schedule loss as you're going to get.

Up Next

Another tough road game. At Indiana. Taking 3 wins out of this '4 games in 5 nights' gauntlet now seems like it would be a pretty major success. The next one (again sans Shaq, and maybe sans Andy too) will be the test.

Who We Lost To (New Segment!)

Mike Miller: humanitarian

Am I a bad person if this doesn't make me feel any better?

Game 11 Review (8-3)

Happy LeBron

Sorry for another cop out! Below is a link to the Yahoo Sports incredibly exciting game review. And there is much more featured in the blog roll to the right.

Cavs 114, Warriors 108.

This particular blog's analysis will be returning as soon as I start getting my game feed again. Which is...(cue anticipatory drum roll)...tomorrow. (end anticipatory drum roll.)

Up Next

The Washington Wizards, and DeShawn Stevenson's now completely numb face.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Game 10 Review (7-3)

Editor's Note (11/18/09): In remembrance of the fallen games played while your reviewer was sans League Pass (vs. Utah, vs. Golden State), the following semi-formed "game review" will be left as it was initially published...bare, in it's original, unfinished state. Naked, for the world to see. Related tidbit: I'm extraordinarily lazy.


On Saturday, November 14th, the landscape of The Cavalier Thoughts of an Over-reactive Realist was changed forever. For on this day (a day which will live in infamy) my NBA league pass free preview-sample abrutply ended. The resulting withdrawal prevented me from posting my game thoughts right away, and has led to the following Utah Jazz game/first 10 games of the season review.

What I Like

The Utah Game (Cavs win 107-103) was the Chicago Bulls game of last week, and LeBron was able to turn on the jets just in time to avoid another completely unnecessary loss. These are the types of games you don't lose if you want to have home court throughout the playoffs. As we saw last season, home court is not a cure all, but it certainly is something to strive for.

The most important thing to be looking for over the course of this season is progress. I think the team as a whole is aware of this.

Project J.J.

It is sometimes difficult to tell how much of J.J.'s recent surge is simply due to increased minutes, and a significant effort by LeBron and Co. to produce high percentage scoring opportunities for him. While I think our 21 year old prodigy's numbers of late may be slightly skewed by those factors, it is clear that J.J. Hickson has some serious tools to be working with.

Things are feeling fairly chipper in Cavs-land lately. The Celtics, Magic, and Lakers all took one (or two) on the chin this week, and the Cavs are right back at the top of the league record-wise. The Cleveland offense is clicking.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game 9 Review (6-3)

I have no read on this team.

Teammates? If D-Wade's not in Cleveland, then I hope not

Another night in Florida, another great road win, and I can't help but feel completely disoriented when I look at the Cavaliers. Quality wins are starting to come, and 6-3 could very easily be 9-0 right now. But at no time last year did I look at the team and see so much, so tenuous. Maybe that will prove to be a good thing, but for tonight, it's preventing me from enjoying a really nice win in Miami.

Concerned about the Defense...

Defense has been, for the past four years, the pillar of what the Cavaliers do. That's why it's disconcerting to me that the past two wins, while great wins, were won almost exclusively through offensive means. With LeBron as dominant as ever. With Mo blisteringly hot. With J.J. Hickson's best career games. If we can keep this up, we'll be fine. But that seems like a lot to ask. At no time in this young season have I seen any truly elite defense...the kind you ultimately have to rely on to win the whole thing.

If anyone can get them there, it's Mike Brown. What worries me is that a lot of the issues seem to revolve around the absence of Delonte West (I think Wade has a tougher time tonight with Delonte hounding him), and the lack of mobility from the center position. I think everyone is hoping one of these issues will resolve itself by season's end, and Delonte will be a big part of whatever the Cavaliers do.

The center issue isn't so easily solved. No team is without holes, and this may be ours to deal with for the long haul. I don't know if I find it comforting or just, beyond horrifying that, at season's end, only certain matchups will prove to actually matter for the Cavs. All Shaq and Z really need to keep up with Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. That's all.

Some Out of the Ordinary Stuff...

Michael Jordan was at the game, and in response LeBron announced (pretty definitively) that he would be dropping the # 23 after the season, out of respect for the Greatest of All Time. LBJ suggested that no one in the NBA should be wearing the number, and then proceeded to adopt # 6 as his number to be (which apparently has significant meaning for LeBron, who said, "My second-favorite player was Julius Erving. My first child was born on Oct. 6, it's my Olympic number, my second child was born in June.") It could be cool. It looks good on his Olympic jersey. The only thing I'm waiting for someone to mention is that if dropping '23' out of reverence for Michael Jordan is LeBron's reasoning...does he know that '6' was Bill Russell's?

MJ was in the building

I'd heard "plan # 6" come up in the past, but it's just another something in a series of somethings that seem to be building around this team. A lot of news that has nothing to do with basketball. And worse yet is I can totally feel myself falling into it. I didn't think I'd be the guy worrying about LeBron leaving all season, but the media has a way of doing that to a person. Between LeBron's declaration that winning dwarfs a max contract (thereby opening the door to Miami, Dallas, and the Lakers - as per Sam Smith's article for which I thought he was being flat out irresponsible), and the adoption of a new number (thereby symbolizing the start of a new era), I've at the very least become unsettled. Really, nothing has changed - LeBron has been wearing 6 at practice for years now, and that change seemed on the horizon ever since Kobe Bryant's jersey change prompted his jump to the top of the NBA store sales charts - but things are moving quickly around this team (far more so then any other team in the NBA), and as a fan, you can feel how easy it is to get caught up in that. I'm glad the team seems to be handling itself more professionally than I am.

Another note - and this is clearly where I don't understand today's NBA - but it rubbed me the wrong way a little bit when LeBron was quick to rank Dwayne Wade's dunk on Andy in the top 10 of all time. And I should preface that was. It was an epic dunk. But as a Cavs fan (albeit one more fanatical then most), rather then having a moment of being impressed with the dunk, it just pissed me off from the second it happened. And with a guy like Andy, who puts his body, ego, and hair on the line every night...I just wanted to see some kind of rally to his defense. I know it wasn't really necessary, and I know winning was the best retort, and I know LeBron and Wade are friends, but still...Wade was posturing himself over AV post dunk, and I was just waiting for something to happen. As Charles Barkley said at halftime:

"That is when you clock a guy in the onions."

On the Bright Side...

I can't tell if the Cavs have stumbled onto a prolific, multi-faceted offense, or if they're just hitting shots. One reason to suspect the former is that Cleveland emerged from the four day break before the Orlando game displaying new sets, improved spacing, and some hellacious ball movement. As a result, the past two games have seen the Cavs put up big numbers on (traditionally) good defensive teams.

Shaq is getting touches, but not so many as to slow down the offense. Mo is hitting from all angles, and perhaps more importantly is penetrating at a rate I can't remember having seen from him before. He's finding guys for open shots, and just in general making life much easier for LeBron. Which is great, because LeBron has consistently shown us over the same games that he is still quite capable of doing anything he needs to do by himself. It's just that Mo is allowing him not to.

It's only a three game sample size, but J.J. Hickson is doing exactly what we need him to do offensively. Take advantage of the attention paid to LeBron and Shaq. He's still getting blocked at the rim a surprising amount, but today against Miami he displayed some nifty new moves around the basket, and as such, was able to convert 7-9 field goal attempts.

J.J. Hickson, doing what J.J. Hickson does best

The 21 year old had a career high 18 points tonight and had a very positive effect on the game. He lapsed a bit more on defense tonight then he did last night, but all in all, he's improving. If he's smart, hustles for offensive rebounds (without flailing and committing silly over the back fouls), and runs the court as hard as he has been doing, the Cavs will continue to play well when he's on the court.

Also, a little shout out to Jamario Moon. I keep writing that he's not living up to expectations, but tonight he played really well. I think the onus is on the Cavs to set him up offensively. The guy may not be able to create his own shots, but he can finish at the rim. He scored on an alley-oop from LeBron on a nice set play, and demonstrated some craft around the basket with a finish in the second half. More importantly, he played halfway decent defense on Wade tonight. He didn't keep him out of the lane, but perhaps that's expecting too much. He made Wade work, preventing him from really going off, and thus, LeBron never had to come and guard him.

Up Next

Utah comes to Cleveland on Saturday. The Cavs must continue to build on this momentum and look to string together some wins. Oh yeah, and J.J. vs. Boozer. C'mon Hickson.