Friday, December 25, 2009

Game 31 Review (23-8) (...and an exclamation point!)

Oh. My. God.

Super-Mo, and LBJ, demonstrating an "It ain't no thing" pose

There is no way I can adequately describe the level of good feeling coursing through my body right now, while at the same time maintaining the strict moral guidelines that would seem appropriate for blog-literature published on Christmas day. So let's start with's been a while! And I'm thrilled to be returning on a Cavalier high note. I'm still feeling like I'm on a high right now. Moreover, I feel dirty, and dirty in a way I haven't felt since the Cavs beat the Pistons in Game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in the type of game where everything just went right, with good stuff building on good stuff, culminating in Rasheed throwing LeBron to the ground in commencing perhas one of his more memorable self-combustions, and basically signally an end to the Pistons short lived dynasty. The only difference tonight is that this wasn't the playoffs, and we play them again within a month, in what is sure to be a more heatedly fought game. That said, let's enjoy the hell out of this game. Merry F'ing Christmas everyone.

Game Review

There is so much to talk about here. Almost entirely good, with the vast majority of the bad coming from my wandering mind wondering if certain things that took place today were sustainable. But the cool thing is...I think most of what took place in Los Angeles today (as with the Orlando game earlier in the season) is replicable. Starting with...

Mo Williams drives around The Candy Man

Mo Williams - Good God was Mo on his game tonight. I said to my dad toward the end of the second quarter (when it looked like we might be in for a dogfight) that if the Cavs won tonight, it would be because of Mo Williams. And then the third quarter started. Every once in a while, I look smart. (The other times feature me spouting off such golden nuggets as "Anthony Parker mustn't be allowed a second's time on Kobe"...and then spend the next two and a half hours marveling at how much effect a smart defender can have guarding the guy. Also, can we officially put it into the 'Kobe Bryant defensive gameplan' to send KB toward help and then try to get a hand on his shot when it's on the way back behind his head? At least 3 times that resulted in a block tonight...and we've seen it work numerous times before too. It helps that the refs stopped instinctively calling that play a foul when Doug Christie retired.)

Back to Mo Williams. LeBron graciously took the brunt of the attention, but against a team like the Lakers...that's a lot to deal with. So in the case of tonight, it leaves the onus on a second party to ignite the offense. Enter Duraflammable Mo Williams.

Before we even get to his shooting, let's talk about his ability to handle against pressure...which tonight I thought was very strong. The Lakers started to come back on the heels of their pressure, and the Cavs handled it so beautifully in the second half.

I'm an over-reactor (I feel like it's necessary to continuously point that out), but boy...I would have fought Derek Fisher on the street tonight had I seen him. A threat which is probably emboldened by my steadfastly refusing to leave my apartment for the entirety of said night, but nevertheless...I was angry. This game got really chippy...surprisingly so...and I'm not quite sure what to make of it other then this...I don't think Kobe shares the same level of reverence for LeBron that his image would insinuate, and I think the Lakers follow suit. The more LeBron, and the Cavs as a team, learn to follow suit...the more effective they'll be against the Lakers. Tonight obviously was a step in the right direction.

LeBron vs. Kobe (plus Ron Artest, plus the 20.9 ft. second line of defense)

I want to take a look at LeBron's game tonight:

26 points (9-19 fgs, 2-7 3pt fgs.), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 turnovers (although at least 3 were of the 'receiving player not looking' variety.), and a really great, unbelievably focused defensive effort.

The only negative to me stemming from the game (other then the realization that J.J. Hickson is not quite ready for primetime), was actually one I've not seen pointed out to extensively. LeBron's final tally tonight was very much positive, status-quo LBJ (even the 7 turnovers weren't completely out of the ordinary in gauging them against his recent play), but watching the game, I never got the sense that LeBron could've gone off if needed. Had he been hot from the arc, maybe...but he wasn't tonight, and because of that didn't really have a consistent go to weapon. And that's a rare and disconcerting feeling to have as a Cavs fan. Because really that's our ultimate luxury...that if all else breaks down, LBJ will bail us out. Tonight, we played a perfect game. LBJ faciliated masterfully and seemed to be consistently baiting his defender far away from the action, and, as he is wont to do, getting teammates wide-open shots. And tonight, the rest of the Cavs hit them...they made the plays, and they needed no bailing. Over the course of a seven game series...will that always be the case? Will it be the case four times? The last time I can remember facing a team that LeBron just didn't have an immediate offensive answer for was the 2007 Celtics. He figured them out, but perhaps a little too late. Then again, maybe this team is good enough to win a series without LeBron just flat out kicking butt...

LeBron, on the receiving end of a 'Mo Cut.'

How was LeBron able to get his points today? Well, in a few, but especially successful post-plays in the second quarter, LBJ was able to score relatively easily over Artest. Which makes one remember, even if (and I still give Artest an 'if') Ron can match LBJ's strength, LeBron can just shoot over him. Height matters, and so does jumping ability...

I think it's of the upmost importance to find LeBron better shots against a team like the Lakers. Getting LeBron off the ball seemed to be the key. Running Artest or Kobe off screens is the perfect way to allow LBJ to utilize his speed advantage over Artest, and his strength advantage over Kobe. What LeBron needs is just a sliver of space to get his momentum going

But why does LeBron look a little shakier then usual against the Lakers? Why did he last year as well? The first and ridiculously obvious answer is that Artest is one of the best matchups in the league for LeBron on account of his strength, and certainly that was evident tonight. But when LeBron was running Artest of a myriad of screen and then curling into the lane, he was able to get some of his most makable shots of the evening. And I'd like to think there is no easy fix for the Lakers because if their bigs show harder in an attempt to stop LeBron from getting his "1-2" take off toward the rim, then Shaq or another big is able to finish at the rim.

The fluidity of Carmelo's post game certainly plays a part...but I don't think that tells the entire story.

It's been seven years now, and few and far between are the players LeBron really let's get into his body. And really, no one as much so as Kobe.

Do you recall any of the Kobe-Carmelo battles of the past year? Kobe, of course, has assigned himself to Carmelo whenever Carmelo need be contained. Carmelo proceeds to rip Kobe to such an extent that Phil Jackson, in a rare recent show of "Kobe doesn't know what's best for him...", makes it a point to get Kobe the hell away from Carmelo. In the post-game conference, Phil likens Carmelo to a tiger (or perhaps a bear) of some sort, saying Kobe just can't bang with him down there. So I guess what I'm thinking the hell does LeBron consistently let Kobe get up in him and keep him 30 feet from the basket? It's not like LBJ isn't able to operate as per usual, but I Kobe definitely slows him a bit in this manner.

So what's going on? Minimally, yes, I think it has to do with LeBron's developing (and it is developing) post-game. But even more so, I present this theory: That Kobe Bryant is the last player in the league I think LeBron shows any reverence for. That, and the hand-checking rule has not applied to Kobe Bryant since it's institution.

The BIG Expirings

I wasn't able to post for about two weeks...which gave me a lot of time to think about the state of the team. What was nearly the resulting return correspondence was a lengthy 'State of the Cavalier Union' article...basically landing on the conclusion that the ballsiest, but perhaps most prudent move the Cavs could make would be a 2007-style blowout of the current roster. A call to abandon Plan A, and look for something better for the future...and something completely different for now. I think I stand corrected. The team on the floor is working as we hoped it might in the areas we needed it to.

So, maybe we shouldn't trade both of the bigs. Maybe we should sign and trade Wally. Maybe I was wrong with the massive blow up every tradable asset we had article with which I was planning to burst back onto the scene.

To Be Continued...

Blog post one on the return! I'll be back tomorrow to finish this off in it's entirety!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Game 20 Review (15-5)

It's a good time to be a Cavs fan.

A happy bunch.

But for the next week (until next Sunday to be precise)...I'm going to be a busy one. Thus, I'm thinking my more extensive game reviews may end up being a touch "on the fritz" for 7 days. I'll try to keep you updated with some quick thoughts, and links to my favorite game reviewers...which you probably should be reading anyway!

First off...

The Others

Cavs: The Blog
The PlainDealer (Mary Schmitt Boyer)
Yahoo! game review

Exceedingly Moderate Game Review

*Good lord I love Delonte. Beastly game tonight. Watching him spearhead that 29-0 run (29-0!!!) was as much fun as I've had watching a run since perhaps LeBron's string of 3's in the same Milwaukee gym last year. This particular run was so enjoyable because it lasted SO long. The Cavs forced the Bucks into bad after bad shot for over for a full quarter's time, and then Delonte and the Cavs playing at a very strong and controlled pace on the other end...and getting whatever they wanted. You could just see the frustration on the Buck players faces, and watching it on TV, I got the impression that I was sharing this sentiment with the Milwaukee crowd: How long can this keep going? Evidently, a while.

*LBJ is a pretty patient superstar. Look up the league leaders in scoring and you'll find LeBron is the only one of the top seven averaging less then 20 shots a game. In fact, substantially less at 18.4. He's also the only one of the bunch shooting over 50% (51.2), and stands head and shoulders over the rest of the bunch in assists (8.4). He's not really looking to score in most games, and he's still right at the top of the league there.

*LeBron is getting better at aiming Shaq's lobs particularly close to the rim. Which is kind of the Big Fella's "range of lob" at this point.

*Brandon Jennings is as quick as I can ever remember Iverson being. The biggest difference I see so far is I remember Iverson being able to work more comfortably from a 3 pt. stance, and Allen had more mid-range finishing ability, but boy, Jennings just glides out there. The Cavs were able to lock him down well enough when they put in the requisite focus on team defense, but as soon as they let up a bit...well, you can see how easily he could go around Mo and Boobie.

*Andy was phenomenal tonight. This might sound like a redundant compliment when you think about what Andy typically brings to the table...but AV has impressed me as a rebounder this year. It's not like he was ever lacking in that regard, but he seems to be exhibiting more physical strength then I remember in the past.

Up Next

The Cavs travel to Memphis on Tuesday for the second game of a three game road trip. Let's hope for a blowout victory, and for Rudy Gay to make a substantial, but ultimately forgivable, transgression that leads Chris Wallace jettisoning him early.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Game 19 Review (14-5)

Remember Game 6 of the 2009-10 season? You know, the one where the Bulls beat the Cavs in the Q 86-85? It was the game where the Cavs seemed content to simply jog alongside an inferior opponent until the last 30 seconds of the game, and then make one play to win it...only they didn't make that play and lost?

LBJ throws one down for breast cancer awareness.

Well, I'm glad the Cavs finally remembered that game at halftime. After a sloppy and unfocused first half, the Cavs showed some really promising signs in running away with this one in the second half and defeating the Bulls 101-87. And while I almost decided to gloss over the Cavs' whooping of a team they were supposed to beat, I've decided not to for several reasons.

The way they did it that was encouraging. That good, old fashioned Cavalier defense. The Cavs held the Bulls to a 42.3 FG% (hitting their magic number), and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-42 (at this point, let's just celebrate any positive rebounding margin our boys stumble in to). They were supposed to be able to accomplish both of those feats against a Bulls team that is a touch smaller on the interior then the Cavs, but "supposed to" hasn't always translated into occurrence for the Cavs this season.

Game Review
  • That 21-4 run in the 3rd quarter was huge in changing the tone of the game. Really, in changing how the Bulls-Cavs match-up had been thus far shaping itself this season. I could listen to Hubie Brown talk all day, every day, and he hit the nail on the head with this one. Right at the top of the third, and directly contributing to that run...the Cavaliers just flat out stopped turning the ball over. It also helped that their defense and general sense of urgency turned up several notches, but you get to lock in defensively when you get a team like Chicago to operate in the half-court. It was a timely run for me to watch personally, because after having seen 6 consecutive quarters of the Bulls playing the Cavs to a standstill, I spent much of halftime wondering if Chicago was actually a better match-up for the Cavs then I was giving them credit for. It was nice to see that they weren't. The Bulls do have weapons to give the Cavs some issues (Deng vs. LeBron, D-Rose to attack Mo, and Joakim Noah had always prior seemed to play well against us), but they're a clear notch below in both talent and experience. This is a team the Cavs should beat at least 3 times a year.
If LeBron ever does 'Dancing With The Stars,' I think it's a safe bet that Joakim Noah won't be watching.
  • LeBron continues not to look particularly fluid shooting his jumper. He looks like he's still forcing the motion throughout the games. No matter...he's just making everything happen through effort and physicality. I'm nitpicking this "slump" to an eccentric degree, as again LBJ put up a solid percentage from the field (8-17)...but as Hubie Brown would probably say had he been broached about this subject...LeBron is shooting the ball right now. A little more mechanical then instinctual. And again, still tremendously effective, and again, the stats are still there (23, 6 and 11). I think the reasons I keep bringing this up are A) He's completely unique in the extent to which this is affecting him. In that it barely is. And... B) Look out when the feeling in his jumper returns. You'll know when it will look like something along the lines of 38, 8, 8. I'm betting he's stroking them again way before this...but how about getting the touch back by Christmas Day in LA? It will help to have the outside shot working against a team that employs three mobile 7 footers (counting Odom), and one of the few SF's in the league capable of contesting LeBron's strength. Plus, of all the games of the season...I just hope the Cavs come out firing on all cylinders and drill the champs. I'm looking for an Orlando, part 1 redux.
  • The Cavs aren't consciously going away from J.J. Hickson...but they're certainly not consciously involving him of late either. I continue to think that J.J. isn't playing poorly, and slowly but surely he seems to making better contributing on the glass. He was pretty porous in his individual defense, in that he let Taj Gibson shoot quite a few mid-range jumpers with only a minimal contest. J.J. played only 7 minutes in the first half, and this was the first time I thought I'd like to see him be able to play through some hallow minutes for the time being. He's not Andy, but his defensive rotation are getting progressively solid, and I have to believe it's just from the responsibility of playing significant minutes. He played through them tonight and all of a sudden broke through near the end of the third.
I wouldn't have worn these either.
  • I probably shouldn't even make light of it at all...but I'm also hoping days like today will blow over quickly for Delonte West. According to Brian Windhorst, it was apparent that is was going to be a down day for Delonte from the moment he entered the arena, subsequently refusing to join his teammates in donning pink, breast cancer awareness Nikes (BW's phrase "with venom" unnerved me a bit). Mike Brown recognized that (both in Delonte's demeaner and his lackadaisical play during a 5 minute stint on the court), and the team really didn't seem to miss too much of a beat tonight. Perhaps because Daniel Gibson had 15 points on 7-9 shooting.
Further Game Review to follow Saturday evening...

Up Next

There is no way I should be re-instituting this column. It has provided nothing but bad luck in the past, and it is based on what is always a bad idea for a sports team: looking ahead.

That said...sue me. I get excited easily. Why did this game set me off on a journey through the future? Because it was a sound handling of a lesser team, and with the potential exemption of Portland (but hey, that's in Cleveland), check out the Cavs next 8 games:

@ Milwaukee
@ Memphis
vs. Portland
@ Oklahoma City
vs. New Jersey
@ Philadelphia
vs. Milwaukee

All teams in the talent ballpark of Chicago. I'm laying down a challenge (or, because no Cav is likely to stumble across said challenge...a prognostication). If the Cavs just play to their general capabilities, they're walking into Dallas on December 20th at 22-5. Right back in the vicinity of last years team record-wise...who would have had 4 losses at the same point.

Next Game

The Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. I'm very curious to see Brandon Jennings for the first time this season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Game 18 Review (13-5)

"Phoenix...come out to plaaaaay."

The 1989-90 Cleveland Cavaliers?

My apologies for the late post...coming 24 hours on the heels of a very entertaining game! On Wednesday night, we got to watch a dual the Cavaliers manhandled the visiting Suns (107-90) while watching Zydrunas Ilgauskas belatedly break the record for games played in a Cavs' uniform. Also, check out John Krolik's latest 'Links To The Present' and watch the very entertaining, throwback-specific, Cavs' intro video. It is absolutely worth the 32 seconds.

Speaking of things that made me are some Amare Stoudemire linguistics that I found on Yahoo's game recap, in which S.T.A.T. gives his current opinions on both the state of the Cavs and Shaq. It's quite possible that my typing this in the middle of the night is making me see humor in strange places, and I think the quote itself is more innocuous then incendiary, but nevertheless...reading the following made me squint. I present an Amare Stoudemire runaway train of thought:
“They don’t look bad at all. A lot of folks talk about how bad they look with Shaq. I disagree. I think they look fairly good. Shaq played decent out there. He created some havoc defensively, got some baskets deep in the paint and rebounded well. Shaq’s not looking horrible, I’ll tell you that. He’s looking pretty good and the Cavs are looking solid as well.”
My take on Amare's thought process in evaluating the Cavs over the course of the evening:

Don't look bad. Certainly not very bad. In fact, fairly good. They might even be well. They're certainly not horrible. Let's just say, pretty good. In conclusion...solid.

So...thanks Amare.

Game Review
  • I'm guessing it had something to do with the three days off, but the Cavs looked spry today. As such, they were often able to do a good job of transitioning a defensive rebound into a really quick outlet pass (or passes). And because they moved the ball into the front court so quickly, it allowed them to not only attack in transition, but to consistently set up their offense with about 20 seconds left on the shot clock. Especially early in the game. That was a huge emphasis last year (early offense), and it was often credited as a big reason for the Cavs offensive turnaround. They've not always been attentive to it this year, but they seem to be rolling into shape. I don't know that the Cavs can replicate a game in which they have 7 players score between 10-14 points...but I do think they can replicate this early offense.
  • All the above said, the only way to make an outlet pass is to get a defensive rebound. Which meant the Cavs were both playing defense and rebounding far better then they had of late. The Cavs out-rebounded the Suns 51-41, all the while holding Phoenix to 40% shooting (well below Mike Brown's target zone of 42% or below). Really, they did even better then that. In the first half, the Cavs held high scoring Phoenix to a mind-bogglingly low 29 points. I think the Suns were showing some understandable wear and tear in the fourth game of a four game road trip (and they missed quite a few close-range shots), but that doesn't take away the fact that the Cavs were giving great effort defensively (the Cavs challenged every one of said close-range shots), something I've been clamoring to see more of for a while.
  • For the second consecutive game, Delonte West was able to play meaningful minutes...and for the second consecutive game, he was able to have a large impact on the game (8 points, 6 assists, +6 overall, in nearly 24 minutes). I found myself watching him closely in the fourth quarter and picked up the following... Delonte's ability to finish at the rim is head and shoulders above Anthony Parker's. Really, head and shoulders above most guys on this team. D-West is just a surprisingly strong finisher for a 6'3" guard. He has long arms, and such a natural feel for using his body in the lane, where he effortlessly walls off much larger defenders, while getting his little lefty lay-up/hook hybrid up to the glass. There was a really simple, non-descript play in the fourth where Delonte makes an off the ball cut into the lane. As he is wont to do, LeBron hits him in stride, and Delonte is able to finish in traffic with exactly the type of shot described above. It looked like an excessively simple finish...except that it really wasn't. Not a whole lot of guys on our team who can finish in the paint consistently, and Delonte is one of them. He plays at a very comfortable pace, even in traffic, and as such he can make the game look really easy. I have a tendency to fawn over Delonte, but in most cases, I think it's right to. When he's focused, the guy is just a really good player.

This is what a size-advantage looks like.
  • I was writing a few nights ago about effective ways to use Shaq. Well, tonight it was quite obvious that Shaq had no one to guard on that Phoenix team. But when that is the case, it's usually also the case that the opposite is true as well. No one on that Phoenix team could guard Shaq, and it was nice to see the Cavs not let Channing Frye (or Amare) off the hook on the defensive end. There was a comical weight differential there, and The Diesel seemed to make a concerted effort to take as many shots as possible from one foot's distance. That's what he needs to do against a team like limited minutes, and when he's out there, just punish those smaller then him. Hard. He only played 20 minutes with a +4 overall, but I thought his aggressive play tonight was a significant boon to the team. He was consistently able to draw a lot of attention, and as such, I thought his aggressiveness helped make life easier on all those in blue. It helped especially to get J.J. get back in the groove.
  • Speaking of which...loved seeing J.J. back and making a contribution. I never really thought that he was playing particularly poorly in the past few games, it's just he wasn't able to contribute a significant positive. I continue to think there's something to be said for that. J.J. is showing patience in waiting for his opportunities, and is exhibiting a new found reluctance to force the action. That type of self-awareness within the scheme was not present last year. He's looking increasingly comfortable on the court, and he's starting to get to work a little harder on the glass. He's still not very authoritative rebounding the ball, but his attentiveness there is starting to improve. And concurrently, so are his rebounding numbers. Check his $tat$.
  • I kept thinking while watching Frye tonight that had he chosen to sign with the Cavs, his particular skill set would have led to him playing A LOT. He looked great (and has looked great), so I don't think I would have been complaining...but had it happened...we also would not be seeing J.J. on the floor right now. Which is an interesting trade-off to imagine. One that, looking beyond this year, I think we'll prove to have come out on the right side of.
  • Lost in the pretty solid play of late is that we're currently witnessing The Chosen One's first extended shooting slump of the season. LBJ's been a little off with the outside stroke for about a week. All things considered, LeBron is masking it pretty well by continuing to be aggressive on the drive, and as always, remaining tremendously effective in setting up teammates. These things happen to any shooter over the course of a season, and what's been most notable to me is how LeBron's game is diversified enough that it has gone almost completely unnoticed. Pretty amazing.
  • Lastly, the Z-DNP-CD blew up way more then I expected it to. So for a variety of reasons, I was glad he A) got it done and hopefully over with tonight, and B) played one of his better games of the season in doing so...rather then putting up the 4 pts in 8 minutes he very well might have in matching up against a small and quick Suns team. More on Z below...
Z, LeBron, and Loyalty

What happens if Z gets traded?

Okay, here's a thought. In a few months, at the February trade deadline, we will witness what could quite possibly come to be the most significant organizational crossroads of the LeBron era. For a long time, I figured Danny Ferry had to make a move. In truth, I still feel that way. There are far too many key players on this team that are 30+, and far too few building blocks in general. This trade deadline, the last one for a while during which the Cavs will wield the golden combination of significant expiring contracts, draft picks, and at least a modicum of young talent, represent the last chance for Danny Ferry to make a significant addition at a hopefully minimal expense.

After all, only so many times in the career of a superstar do stars align in a way that sees half the league faltering financially while said superstar's team is poised to take advantage. That's how Mo Williams came about. That's how Shaquille O'Neal came about. And to lesser degrees, you could argue that's also how Jamario Moon, Delonte West, and Leon Powe came about (I'm stretching Delonte into that category, but I want that list to look impressive). This is the method by which the Cavs were built from perennial 4th seed into legitimate championship contenders. And now they find themselves perhaps one piece away from winning the whole thing this year, and one piece away from sustaining that success in the future.

And while there are certainly numerous permutations that Danny Ferry can come up with to avoid such a scenario (hello Wally Szczerbiak), let's say, for argument's sake, that it is Z's expiring contract that will end up being the trade bait. After all, he's the only such piece we have that we don't need to guard Dwight Howard.

Cut to this week, where LeBron's rather pointed defense of Z has got me thinking of whether I might have underestimated the ramifications of trading not only the newly crowned 'longest tenured Cav', but also LBJ's only remaining 'Day One' teammate. If Z is traded, what message does that send? Equally interestingly...what message does it send if the Cavs stand pat?

If it's a trade for Chris Bosh...obviously all these issues are nullified. But what if the Cavs are faced with a decision to swap Z for Emeka Okafor at the deadline. Do you do that? One week ago, I would have said yes.

But all that is fodder for another day. How about a quick celebration of our largest Lithuanian. There are a bunch of these videos at Cavalier Attitude, but below I linked up a cool Z montage video. I'm speaking comparatively here, but look how mobile Z looks even a few years into the LeBron era. I'd forgotten he was ever significantly faster then is now.

Up Next

The Chicago Bulls return to the Q this Friday at 8:00. In case you don't remember, we owe them one.

One of the Road

LBJ works on Mind-Control, Part 2. (See part one in Game 15 Review, vs. Detroit.)

LeBron exhibits mind-control on Jared Dudley