Quarters 2 & 3:
Quarters 1 & 4:
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.
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, jeez...it'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.
- 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 positive...it'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.
- 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.
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.