I have no read on this team.
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 do...is 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?
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 with...it 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.
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.
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.