The Chicago Bulls came into the Q on Thursday night and handed the Cavs their second home loss of the season, which is the same number of home losses the Cavs had all of last year.
For the most part, LeBron & company didn't seem too down after the game. They seemed to take solace in the fact that they'll surely be a stronger team by season's end than they are now. What concerns me, however, is this: Ultimately, at season's end, I believe there will be three teams in the league capable of beating the Cavaliers in a seven game series, and their mediocre start almost certainly assures that the Cavs will see all three.
An 86-85 loss, at home, to a Bulls team not yet at full strength (Derrick Rose recovering from an ankle injury, Tyrus Thomas with the flu). Any way you slice it, that sucks, and it is the type of game the Cavs just didn't lose last year.
For reasons such as these, it's becoming quite apparent (for better or for worse, I'm not sure yet), that this is a different Cavs team. There's a ton of talent on this roster, but right now, everything about them seems unsettled.
- Pretty clear Mike Brown and Co. decided to do some experimenting tonight. I'm guessing that will be a theme of the season, and I'm guessing this won't be the last time it costs the Cavs a game. Coming off his sensational performance against the Wizards, the game plan seemed to be to force-feed Shaq in the post for long stretches of this game. Not surprisingly (considering this plan of attack has not yet been consistently effective), things didn't go as smoothly as they did two nights ago. The Diesel actually played pretty well, with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks (his defensively ability beginning to show signs of life?), but his teammates failed to have any success playing off him. At no point during the entire game did the Cavs seem to find any type of discernible rhythm, and the blame for that is shared by many.
- There were some new sets added today (did I see the triangle offense being run at one point?), and the Cavs looked in no way comfortable running them. I suppose that will be a necessary evil for a team that apparently made no use of the preseason, but they will have to find ways to incorporate such fare without losing to inferior opponents.
- I never thought I'd be typing this prior to the season, but Daniel Gibson is playing really well. Far beyond my expectations. At one point tonight (it was when D-Gib executed a really strong step back maneuver on Derrick Rose, then canned a baseline jumper), I found myself remembering how pundits once thought Daniel Gibson could possibly develop into a Chauncey Billups-type player once he filled out a bit. I know, it was one freakin' move...but it was a Billlups-esque move, and it was good to see. Why do I go into all this in the game review? Because Daniel Gibson played 17 minutes tonight. A very effective 17 minutes that saw him score 8 points on 3-4 shooting, all while playing some very solid defense. Just was confusing to see him disappear when no one else really had it going.
- I don't want to keep harping on Anthony Parker's shortcomings, but I am getting increasingly antsy to see Delonte back in the starting lineup. Perhaps now isn't the best time to increase his role (and therefore the team's dependence on him), but the Cavs are consistently starting games slowly, and I think at least part of that issue might be resolved with Delonte's playmaking and defense in there from the opening tip. On the whole, the Cavs' rotation seems, at best, inconsistent.
- It frustrates me to no end to watch LeBron take a back seat offensively as the Cavs work through their growing pains. Tonight, although he didn't really have the jumper working, going to a small lineup, with LBJ at the helm, probably would have been enough to pull out the W. But the Cavs stuck with the bigs, and the plodding flow that defined this game never really changed. Looking at the big picture , I'm glad we're giving our new look a fighting chance to develop. Looking at tonight alone, I'm frustrated as heck.
- Continuing with LeBron, the offense, and the rotations: Last play of the game. LeBron drives, gets contact from both Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, but doesn't get the call. Game over. More curious then the no call to me was that Shaquille O'Neal was on the court. I'm wavering a bit on this one, but I'm pretty sure I still think that was a mistake. The 4.3 seconds on the clock made it exceedingly unlikely he would ever touch the ball, and ultimately, Noah just left Shaq alone to go chase LeBron. And Noah's presence is what turned an easy layup into a contested turnover. Just wasn't sure why Shaq was in there.
Cleveland's Twin Towers
Granting a mild exemption for a brief third quarter spurt in the opener, the seven-foot combo look has been a (okay...mitigated) disaster. Which, to most, seemed pretty easy to predict. How can anyone look at this lineup and possibly see the positives as outweighing the negatives? Yes, I get what we're trying to do. It's tough for anyone to finish at the rim with two seven-footers camped out near the paint, and I presume at some point we'll begin to see some resulting benefit on the offensive glass.
But because both seven-footers are camped out near the paint, versatile big men are granted free reign on the perimeter. Also, when both Z and Shaq crash the offensive glass, the Cavs are left completely exposed with their transition defense. Put it this way, neither Z or Shaq is beating many people to the opposite end of the court without a head start. Their collective foot speed will also continue to be attacked via more of heavy doses of pick and roll we're already seeing. The Cavs look for their bigs to show on the ball handler in such situations, and neither has proven to be able to recover when they do.
Also of note, in this lineup Z becomes a glorified stretch 4, where his greatest strengths (his unusual range and skill set for a CENTER), become increasingly marginalized as his defender becomes more likely to be a player used to dealing with such abilities (i.e. a power forward). There's just really not much to be gained here for Z unless he's hammering some undersized 4 in the post. Which has never been something he was good at.
And lastly (and to me this is the big one): What everyone feared could happen with Shaq actually does come to fruition with the two centers on the court.
LeBron has no room to drive. I've been impressed at the way he's managed to keep aggressive with the Diesel on the court, but add Z occupying the other side of the lane and there just isn't any room left. This lineup (at least thus far), has effectively turned LBJ into a jump shooter, which effectively marginalizes what is always the Cavs' greatest advantage...the slashing ability of LeBron James.
The Cavs are at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. On the day of the Yankees' World Series parade. Media blitz, see you at 8:00.
The Knicks! I get it world...no more looking ahead.