Archive for November, 2009

Links to the Present: November 20th, 2009

Friday, November 20th, 2009

-Apparently this LeBron football thing is something I’m supposed to care about. He was a pretty darn good receiver in high school, and as a tight end might be a force. I feel like a lot of this story is LeBron responding with some confidence to a fairly leading question, and that it’s been made into something a lot bigger than it needs to be, which I suppose is par for the course with LeBron at this point.

I’ll float this out there: I don’t think tight end would be LeBron’s best NFL position. There’s a precedent for guys LeBron’s size and freakish quickness excelling in the NFL-it happens at left tackle. Look at Jonathan Ogden of the Ravens, and one of the most interesting things in “The Blind Side” is that Michael Oher honed his quickness because he grew up wanting to be a basketball player. (Quickly: I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY TURNED A NON-FICTION BOOK THAT COMPELLING AND AMAZING INTO A FEEL-GOOD SANDRA BULLOCK MOVIE. I HAVE NEVER BEEN THIS MAD AT HOLLYWOOD. READ THE BOOK.)

Just my two cents. And yes, the notion that LeBron James would ever play offensive line does make me laugh out loud, but that’s probably where he could make the greatest impact if he wanted to give up the glory and put on some weight.

Amazing article in the New York Times from a very cool USC grad on the pick-and-roll’s importance. For all of those who rip the Cavs leaning on simple PnR sets with LeBron too much, notice how good LeBron is when he runs the Pick-and-roll, and that’s with roll guys nowhere near as good as Amare.

MJ on LeBron’s possible number change.

Every blogger in the league is currently dreaming about a trade that would bring Chris Paul to their team. I’m not even going to allow myself to start daydreaming about this until real rumors start.

Also, Kevin Martin+Sergio Rodriguez’s contract for Z’s expiring would work, and I love K-Mart a bundle, but see a lot of obstacles on both sides that would keep this from happening.

Alright, that’s all for now. Pacers tomorrow-get excited for what should be a bounce-back game.

Recap: Wizards 108, Cavs 91 (Or, another long night in the Verizon Center)

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

fail-owned-fire-extinguisher-fail

Overview: After surging out to an early lead, the Cavaliers got steamrolled on the road by the Wizards, getting outscored 64-40 in the second half en route to a loss. This game snaps a winning streak for the Cavaliers and a losing streak for the Wizards.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Bleech. Of all the teams to have a game like this against. Let’s break it down.

-Well, that first quarter was awesome, wasn’t it? LeBron was getting doubled every time he touched it and was punishing the Wizards by finding the open man or simply going to the hole himself.

-Best of all, Big Z really looked like himself. He banged in three of his four mid-range jumpers in the first quarter, and made flare screens on the man cheating on LeBron to free up an open three-point shooter in the corner twice. (This is an action the Cavs loved to run with their starting lineup last season-I’ve always thought of it as the signature Kuester play, and it’s been retained this year.) The Cavs were whipping the ball from side to side and draining their open threes, and on defense it was all long jumpers for the Wizards. The Cavs seemed well on their way to consecutive win #6, and all seemed right with the world.

-And then, the meltdown. Pretty much everything went wrong, but here were the big things that I saw:

-I’m not a big “four factors” guy in post-games, because it makes me feel like the machines are coming for my job, but the four factors graph tonight was pretty jarring in terms of the Wizards’ advantage in offensive rebounding rate and foul drawing rate.

-First, the offensive rebounds. The Wizards got 16 offensive boards, compared to 29 defensive boards for the Cavs. That’s just unacceptable, and it was what fueled the Wizards getting back into the game and eventually taking it over. Here’s what I think went into that:

-No Varejao, no Shaq. Those are two great rebounders who weren’t in this game for the Cavs. 12 of the 16 Wizard offensive boards were snagged by Jamison and Haywood-Varejao’s speed makes him a perfect counter to Jamison in the paint, and Shaq’s physicality was sorely missed against Haywood.

-JJ Hickson is just not a great rebounder right now, especially in traffic. Only two rebounds in 20 minutes for JJ, and that’s not a huge anomaly for him.

-The back-to-back may have played a factor in this aspect-players do get tired, especially with the Cavalier frontcourt thin.

-Only two rebounds for LeBron-he’s gotta get in there if the rebounds aren’t coming for the rest of the team. There’s a reason people care about the points/rebounds/assist lines you put up-the rebounds are important.

-Also, the Wizards just wanted this one more. They love playing at home against the Cavs, they’ve got their core on the court together, and they just get more pumped up than the Cavs do for this game, especially when they’re at home. The effort gap showed on the glass.

-Then there’s the free throw disparity. Please, let’s not make it about the refs. Yes, the Stevenson jump-ball should’ve been a foul. But that’s one call. You know how many layups the Cavs missed in the second half, according to the play-by-play data I have? One. If the refs were letting the Wiz get away with hacks, there would’ve been more missed shots at the basket. In reality, there just weren’t shots at the basket. The Cavs lived by jumpers off of ball movement early, and died by jumpers off the dribble as the game went on.

-On defense, the Cavs got reaching, and JJ and Darnell gave some silly fouls, as did a clearly frustrated Mo Williams in the fourth. Bottom line: refs favor the more aggressive team, and I’m not sure how anyone can say that wasn’t the Wizards tonight.

-Another bad defensive night for the Cavs tonight, giving up 108 points with Butler having a mediocre night from the field and Agent Zero going 6-22 behind a lot of ill-advised jumpers.

-Almost all of the serious damage was done by two guys: Jamison and Mike Miller. Jamison, we could see coming. He looks great and eager to be a force again coming back from injury, and he’s just a nightmare matchup for JJ. This is another area where having Varejao healthy could have made all the difference, but Jamison flat-out took JJ to school. Quick-release shots from the post, threes when JJ got caught thinking about his rotation, everything. Jamison looked like a man with something to prove tonight, and he proved it.

-Mike Miller can just flat-out play the game. He’s a lights-out shooter who’s more than competent when he puts the ball on the floor, and that can just be a nightmare. He was doing it all tonight-threes in transition, catch-and-shoot threes, nice plays both passing and finishing off the dribble when they ran him off the three-point line, a mid-range J off a pin-down. On paper, a big guy like Parker would be who you want guarding Miller, but he’s a guy that’s just going to hurt you if he’s aggressive and he doesn’t have to be the focal point of an offense.

A really nice game from LeBron wasted tonight. He really wanted to show this crowd up, and he was on his way to doing it. He was making the passes, he was finishing with authority, he was feeling it on his jumper. Windhorst, who I obviously respect and admire to no end, is of the opinion that LeBron shot the team out of the game by trying to show up Stevenson in the second half. Windhorst almost never makes “storyline” statements like this unless he really sees them, so that aspect does deserve some consideration.

But I do have to disagree a bit-I didn’t see LeBron’s shooting habits as anything wildly out of character. When the offense gets stagnant, which it was, LeBron will often fire a jumper out of an ISO to try and kick-start things-look in the second quarter, when the Cavs were in a dry spell and Stevenson hadn’t even entered the game yet. LeBron took the inbounds, danced around the perimeter for 20 seconds, and drained a pull-up 20-footer to try and get the offense going. And in the third, he hit a few long-range jumpers and started “heat-checking,” which he’ll do against any team in the league. LeBron will fire the Nitrous Oxide a little too early in games sometimes and put the team into “watch LeBron” mode for the rest of the way, but tonight I felt the offensive stagnation came before LeBron dominating the ball.

A brilliant stat from the same article: the Cavs have been outscored by 43 in the fourth quarter over the last 6 games. Complacency has been an issue, clearly.

Mo Williams: 2-13 from the field, of course. We are now officially into Matt Christopher novel territory with this.

Good stuff from D-Block tonight. 7 boards in 21 minutes tonight, and he knows how to catch and dunk when others penetrate. Although I don’t know why the Cavs think he has the best hands on the planet: I counted five crazy, impossible, thread-the-needle passes thrown his way in the first half alone, with only one turning into a basket. One of the few bright spots.

Bullets of Randomness:

Hey, Earl Boykins is closing out games for Gilbert Arenas again! I feel like watching Chapelle’s show right now to complete the return to 2003. Although I do remember hearing back then that Arenas felt insulted by Boykins closing out games for him back with the Warriors, and that was a factor in his decision to leave, so seeing this again is strange. However, the way Gil was cheering on Boykins from the bench, he certainly seems fine with the current situation.

Alright, that’s all for tonight. I’m dressing up as a real journalist and covering Bulls-Lakers tomorrow night for SLAM, but hopefully I’ll have time to get a post up here as well. Until later. Happy coping, everyone.

Preview and Chat: Cavs @ Wizards, November 18th

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The-Wizard

Just a few things to watch for in this one:

-The Wizards are off to a nasty start, but with Jamison returning to the lineup, the Wizards pumped up about playing the Cavs, the Cavs on a back-to-back, and the fact the Verizon Center has been a twilight zone for the Cavs, this could be a much trickier win than the records would suggest.

-Moon, Varejao, and Shaq all expected to be out for the Cavaliers tonight-Hickson and Ilgauskas will have to continue the solid play they showed last night, and hopefully we might see some small-ball looks for the Cavs, although Moon is a guy who makes a lot of those small-ball lineups work on paper.

-Hickson’s defense will face a stiff test if Jamison is anywhere near 100%-he’s got the perimeter abilities and veteran savvy to give Hickson the howling fantods if Hickson doesn’t show maturity on that end.

-Gotta stop penetration defensively-Anthony Morrow hurt the Cavs from deep, and a newly healthy Mike Miller, who’s shooting almost 60% from deep thus far, will punish the Cavs if he’s left alone.

-I don’t have much more to say here, so I’ll just point you to this epic WizzNutzz screed from earlier this morning, which covers the game, twitter, and life in general. There’s only one WizzNutzz, folks. See you tonight.

Recap: Cavs 114, Warriors 108 (Or, Finding the good in a hot mess)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Overview: Despite giving up a season-high 108 points, the Cavs beat the depleted Warriors behind huge performances from LeBron James and JJ Hickson, who combined for 52 points.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

JJ Hickson. The honeymoon continues. This is absolutely amazing. This was the perfect game to shine for him, and he did. Hickson’s greatest weakness at this point is an inability to finish at the basket (a full 20% of his “inside” shots have been blocked); fortunately for him, the Warriors have absolutely no interior defense, and JJ took advantage. 9-9 shooting from the field, and 21 points for his third consecutive game setting a career-high in points. (Elias, help me out; what’s the longest streak of career-high scoring games?)

Breaking down how JJ got his buckets tonight:

1 dunk off an Anthony Parker feed

1 layup off a Mo Williams feed

1 9-footer off a LeBron James assist and an unassisted 20-foot jumper

2 baskets cleaning up on offensive rebounds

1 dunk off a beautiful counter-motion play with a Mo Williams handoff

1 fast-break alley-oop from James

1 inside shot off a LeBron assist

Everyone’s starting to look for JJ, and he’s rewarding them, even from mid-range. The power forward of the future has become the power forward of the present, and it’s been beautiful to watch. By the way, JJ’s 9 rebounds tonight tied his career-high. It just keeps getting better. However, JJ’s streak of having the best plus/minus rating of anyone has been snapped, as his +4 mark was bested by LeBron’s +8.

LeBron was, of course the other major reason the Cavs won tonight. It’s just too easy for LeBron when he’s facing a defense this bad. It really is. 31 points on 65% true shooting and 12 assists tonight, and one gets the feeling LeBron could have done a lot more if he’d decided to go for the jugular early on. LeBron racked up 12 assists in this game, 8 of them coming in the first half. In the third quarter, LeBron realized that nobody on the Warriors had a chance at stopping him, and rained in some jumpers from the left wing and crushing dunks through a Warrior defense that is currently protesting making rotations. In the fourth, LeBron put the game away with two deep jumpers, one of them from three, to cap off a night where he went a very nice 6-12 from outside the paint. This defense had no chance against LeBron; part of me wishes they were wearing orange and blue so LeBron would have felt compelled to roll off a 50+ point performance, but that’s not the kind of player LeBron is.

And LeBron’s two blocks tonight were both incredible-I’m surprised the ball didn’t pop when he packed Monta Ellis’ layup off the backboard on a chase-down, but perhaps even more impressive was LeBron’s block of Anthony Randolph’s dunk attempt-that’s the first dunk Randolph’s missed this year, and part of me is surprised that the universe didn’t collapse upon itself when those two met at the rim.

Almost as good as seeing JJ continue to take off is seeing big Z looking like himself again. Finishing at the rim, draining a few midrange jumpers, scoring 14 points on 12 shots-he’s gotta get his swagger back in a major way, so it’s nice to see him making a positive step.

Delonte was back in the lineup tonight, and he was pressing both in a good way (making a lot of effort plays, coming up with a block, feeding his teammates, pushing the ball) and bad ways (forcing some mid-range shots). Honestly, this is a tough situation to write on. Clearly he’d be more comfortable being back in the starting lineup, playing with the teammates he knows, and getting consistent minutes, and the team would ultimately benefit if that happened, but his off-court issues make it so that MB can’t count on him playing starter minutes. Hopefully this can have a happy ending this season, although it’s looking increasingly unlikely.

Not Anthony Parker’s best game, but that was to be expected. The Warriors’ backcourt speed is tough for AP to keep up with defensively, and his lack of two-point prowess meant he had a hard time punishing the mismatch on the other end. Not a great game for AP, but he did get into the passing lanes and snag two steals-he’s a heady player, unless he’s got the ball in his hands inside the three-point line.

Mr. Gibson banging in three timely threes on four attempts, and even shooting 50% from inside the arc. Give it the shirt? Give it the shirt.

boobie shirt

Checking the Mo-rometer: Mo had an average performance tonight, with 16 points on 14 shots and 6 assists. The Cavs had a somewhat lackluster victory. The theory continues to be freakishly accurate.

Honestly, Shaq really would have helped the Cavs put this team away-the Cavs leaked a lot of their lead when LeBron sat at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and Shaq in there punishing Randolph and Radman would’ve been a thing of beauty. Alas, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back tomorrow against the Wizards, who Shaq had his best game as a Cavalier against.

Defensively, this was not a thrilling performance. Monta had to work to get his, but there was a lot of penetration and kick-outs to Anthony Morrow (toldja he doesn’t miss), and that was hurting the Cavs defensively. And offensive rebounds were a killer-the Warriors beat the Cavs 12-6 in that department, with Corey Maggette getting 5 offensive boards on his own. The Cavs got away with not taking this game terribly seriously and getting caught up in the Warriors’ style of play tonight. Having Varejao and  more minutes for West definitely would’ve helped, but even so you know MB is not going to be pleased with the defensive effort tonight.

Darnell Jackson: definitely looking like a youngster out there despite his advanced age for a sophomore, with 4 fouls and 4 turnovers in only 14 minutes. Maybe MB should try starting him.

Bullets of Randomness:

Steph Curry is quite crafty for a rookie.

I can’t tell if Monta Ellis is in “this is MY team now” mode or “screw this, I’m gunning for mine” mode post-Jax trade. Either way, he sure does like to shoot.

Every team in the NBA passed on Anthony Morrow twice, recently.

Anthony Randolph should definitely be starting-he’s got some rookie tendencies, but should absolutely have the comfort to work them out right now-look what a vote of confidence did for JJ.

Lackluster win? Maybe. But this is one of those times where it seems appropriate to mention that the Cavaliers, despite two straight losses to start the season, a “we’re playing for the playoffs this year” mentality, a former starter floating in and out of the lineup with personal issues, and integrating Shaq, the Cavs are a play away from having the least losses in the league right now. Until tomorrow, campers.

Game Preview: Cavaliers vs. Warriors

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Hey all, new feature alert: I’m going to make a college try at previewing games from here on out. The first couple might be a little scattershot, but hopefully the process will get streamlined and everyone will have a good place to chat about the upcoming/ongoing game on this site for the rest of the season.

Probable Starters:

PG: Mo Willams vs. Stephen Curry

SG: Anthony Parker vs. Monta Ellis

SF: LeBron James vs. Corey Maggette

PF: Vladimir Radmanovic vs. JJ Hickson

C: Mikki Moore vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Notes on the Opponent:

As of yesterday’s Stephen Jackson salary dump, the Warriors are officially in full rebuild mode, and have now lost their three key starters from the cult-classic “We Believe” season. What was once an unconventional terror became a team that could be a threat to any team on any night but collapse on any night, and now the team has become a punchline. It’s not a pretty situation by any stretch of the imagination, and the organization of the chaos the Warriors once thrived in has been lost.

Steph Curry has shown promise as Don Nelson has played around with his minutes, with nice efficiency numbers and more upside than expected as a passer, but hasn’t had the big scoring night he was drafted to have yet. Offensively, he seems a decent enough fit with the slashing Monta Ellis, but that just isn’t a backcourt that can defend anybody in the NBA.

Anthony Randolph is the Untouchable, but he still seems a little while away from living up to his potential, especially with Nellie trying to break down his psyche.

Basically, this is a team that’s fallen apart. They were a team whose success came from their sense of identity, and they’ve lost their identity. At the heart of this is Nellie, who has fully quit on this team and now appears to be attempting a career as a performance artist.

Anthony Morrow is the best player in the league at converting open catch-and-shoot looks. Period. That is all. His talents make him a perfect fit playing next to good players in the starting lineup.

Thoughts on the Matchup:

I know I have more stress than is healthy. In fact, right now my right eyelid is twitching uncontrollably and it’s really annoying. But I worry about this matchup a little bit.

First of all, the Warriors are an occasionally potent offensive team that plays no defense. Look at the highlights or tape of Jennings’ 55-point game. Nobody is near him when he’s coming off of picks. It’s absolutely pathetic. If the Cavs are aggressive offensively, they will destroy this team. However, the Cavs aren’t the most aggressive offensive team in the world. Mo’s game is more dependent on whether he gets into a shooting flow than who’s guarding him, and LeBron isn’t the type to take over and go for 55 just because he can. And this is still a defense-first team that will look to control the pace of the game and work the ball around rather than attack the first possible favorable matchup on offense for a quick shot. The Cavs have to put the Warriors on their heels rather than play passive and take the chance the Warriors will have one of those games where their crazy offensive crud actually starts working.

My second big concern is that the Warriors could have a chip on their shoulders. Jax had become a cancer. Everyone is now writing them off. I think the Warriors could have a STRONG desire to show the world that they’re not tanking the season, and if the Cavs take this game for granted there could be issues.

Maybe Corey Maggette could get LeBron in early foul trouble?

Parker and his inability to score off the dribble could be one of the few starting guards to let Monta Ellis off the hook defensively.

If Mo does start hitting shots against Curry, there’s nothing Steph can do.

Man, I’m excited for Hickson/Randolph.

That’s all for now-this one should be a tune-up game and a continuation of the Cavs’ hot streak, but never count out a team in the NBA, especially an insane one.


The day the Stephen Jackson rumors died

Monday, November 16th, 2009

S-Jax has gone to Charlotte, which means he won’t be coming to Cleveland. As many times as I tried to talk myself into what S-Jax may have brought, I’ve gotta admit a huge wave of relief just overcame me. I’m amazed G-State was able to get rid of him and take back that little salary, and a little sad it had to end this ugly for Captain Jack in the bay.

Update: Here’s Windhorst’s take on the situation-in a nutshell, the Warriors wanted talent for Jax and not just a salary dump, which the Cavs weren’t willing to do.

Double-Update: Here’s Hollinger on the trade (insider), and he’s flat-out baffled by the fact the Warriors took Charlotte’s offer over Cleveland’s. I see the rumored Cleveland offer as having some question marks there-a Wally sign-and-trade might have been tricky, and I still find it hard to believe the Cavs were willing to give up West. But if Hollinger’s sources are correct on what the Cavs’ offer was, I agree that this was a strange decision for the Warriors.

Triple-Update: Stein says the Cavs weren’t willing to pull the trigger at the end of his nice writeup, which makes more sense from where I’m sitting, but whatever the case was the result is that we will almost definitely not be seeing Jackson in a Cavs uniform anytime soon.

Links To The Present: Monday, November 16th (Featuring a mini-essay!)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I have a random basketball thought after one of the year’s more exciting weekends in combat sports, with a classic fight between Pacquiao and Cotto, and, even more exciting, the Mayweather-Pacman hype now officially a tidal wave.

(Boxing: I have been paid for one pay-per-view sporting event in my life. I do not see myself paying for more. If this fight happens, it is actually a no-brainer that I would end up paying for this fight with my friends. It just cannot be missed. Please, make this happen. Also, after the Pacman fight, me and two of my friends were in our kitchen. One of my friends said “There’s no way boxing can screw this up, right?” To which me and my friend simultaneously replied “Boxing can screw ANYTHING up.” Between combat sports and college football, I’ve gotta say that I’ve been taking sports that have the best teams actually play each other every year for granted.)

Sorry about that. Anyways, the point of talking about boxing was this: at some point this weekend, it occurred to me that rooting for a team with serious championship aspirations during the regular season is like watching a combat sport. Combat sports seem like the most straightforward thing in the world; two guys get into a ring or a cage, and the guy who gets less hurt or doesn’t give up wins. Refreshing after dealing with LeBron/Kobe arguments all day, right? Sometimes. But really, most of the time you end up with this.

In the eyes of combat sports fans, nobody really just fights their opponent-they’re fighting the ghosts of every other top contender at once. When a guy exists in the ring for an hour every few months but in people’s minds every day, these things can happen. Combat sports revolve around “pound-for-pound” rankings, which are something completely made up, ridiculous, and fun. It’s not enough to win the fight-if you decision an opponent another fighter knocked out, your stock can fall. If you win a mixed martial arts match by taking it to the mat, you’re vulnerable against a great striker. Listen to the broadcast of a Klitschko brothers fight sometime (they’re often free)-when I did, I saw the relevant KB (I can’t remember which one) absolutely destroying his opponent with jabs and straight punches, and the whole fight the broadcasters talked about what more the Klitschko brother could be doing to make the beating more cool-looking.

Manny beat Cotto on Saturday, but really he just won a round in his real fight against the ghost of Pretty Boy Floyd for the title of Best In The World. Fedor might not even have gained ground on the ghost of Brock Lesnar when he viciously knocked out Brett Rogers a few weeks back.

And this regular season, the Cavs are off to a great start for a normal team, but they’ve really been playing the ghost of the Lakers/Magic/Celtics/Team X every night. And in wins where the team’s defense looks lackluster in a tight win against a Deron-less Jazz team, they lose a round to the ghost. It’s not just about the game that was played-it’s about wondering whether or not those same tricks will work against the mythical “elite.” That’s what’s making this team so tough to analyze post-Shaq trade. Ideally, I’d love to just write about if the personnel did what they needed to do to win on a given night, but instead what must be considered is if the team beat the ghosts. And honestly, I don’t know the answers to those questions yet, and won’t fully know until this summer. I’m trying to adopt a “win this game, look good in the next one” attitude, but it’s tough with the ghosts lurking after every win and loss. Just something I thought might be worth sharing.

(By the way, if you don’t think that basketball lends itself to combat sports-like analysis, look no further than “power rankings,” which are pound-for-pound rankings in a sport with a playoff system that renders pound-for-pound rankings utterly meaningless. We love this stuff as sports fans. Don’t try to say that we don’t.)

Anyways, here are some quick links:

All good news on the JJ Hickson front: via Windhorst, LeBron has adopted JJ on and off the court and is trying to further his development as best he can. All I’ll say is that we’ve seen the “X is LeBron’s little brother” thing before with Boobie, and that more or less got forgotten after Boobie was given a very nice contract and promptly had a horrible year.

Also, according to Finnian, Delonte may be included in a Stephen Jackson trade. All I’ll say about this is that it would be one of the saddest days in Cavs: The Blog history if it did happen, for a number of reasons. One I’ll get into now: switching teams in general may not be the best thing for Delonte’s mental health, and entering that awful locker room situation certainly might not be. All of this is conjecture, of course, but if Delonte’s not going to be on the floor for the Cavs, I’d like it to be because people truly have his best interests in mind. I’m not going to flip out because of the slim chance it’ll actually happen, but rest assured that there will be some good old-fashioned flipping out if West-for-Jax actually occurs.

Shamless pimping file: you may want to check out my 1st massive MVP race column for SLAM.

Alright guys, that’s all for tonight. Until later, all.

Recap: Cavs 107, Jazz 103 (Or, Bizarro Cavs For the Win)

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Overview: In their first game without Shaquille O’Neal in the starting lineup, the Cavs struggled to put the Deron Williams-less Jazz away, barely holding on down the stretch of a game the Cavs led for the first 46 minutes of play.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-JJ Hickson. Good god. JJ’s just been a beast in the starting lineup, plain and simple. In my profile of JJ, I made a case that he could evolve into a monster playing the weak-side next to LeBron, and he’s started to look like that player over the last three games. (A note on that profile-in retrospect, I did kinda call one of JJ’s biggest weaknesses, his tendency to gather himself before he goes up, a strength. Clearly hadn’t seen enough of him, although he does get off the floor extremely quickly when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.)

He’s been working that weak-side beautifully. His cuts when LeBron’s in the mid-post are deadly, and he’s got more upside than Andy as a weak-side player because of how much ground he can cover once he makes the catch. He’s comfortable taking those one or two big dribbles to get to the hole, and he can take off for the finish from much further out than Andy. Offensively, the main difference between at this point them is finishing ability. Andy’s great at using his body and the rim to keep the ball safe when he goes up for a layup, while JJ’s bugaboo is finishing in traffic-he gets off-balance when he tries to finish with finesse and often gets blocked when he tries to go over people. JJ’s springs could make him a great finisher if that light bulb ever goes off, and if it does the LBJ-Hickson PnR is just going to be scary.

For the third straight game, JJ led all players in +/- with a plus-12 mark in a team-high 38 minutes. JJ appears for real, at least offensively, and he’ll only gets better as his finishing around the basket and mid-range shot improve. And that touch pass to Z after JJ caught it on a roll to the basket? I may have been drooling.

Mo was the aggressor offensively a lot tonight, and his efficiency wasn’t spectacular because of that, but he did have a nice night, with 21 points on 19 “attempts” and 6 assists against 3 turnovers. He was more than acceptable, but not quite fantastic, which is how I’d describe the Cavs’ performance tonight.

LeBron was about as passive as you’ll see him get tonight. He didn’t attempt a shot in the pain or a free throw in the entire first half, and spent a lot of the game playing distributor. He actually passed even better than his 9 assists would suggest, spent a lot of time feeling out what Hickson could do on screen-roll situations, and did a nice job controlling the flow of the game, even if it would have been nice for him to go for the kill a little earlier. LeBron’s shot was off for the second night in a row on Saturday-he made his first three jumpers and missed his next eight, and I fear his hot shooting start might be normalizing a little bit. But that three-point play was clutch, and LeBron did a nice job making sure the Cavs took the win home without ever really firing on all cylinders himself.

Big Z’s struggle continues-three buckets at the rim on two tip-ins and an easy layup off a Hickson feed, but only 1-5 on jump shots, and he needs to make those at a better clip.

Great game for Anthony Parker, hitting 4 of his 6 threes, including an extremely clutch three on a fast-break to end a scoring drought down the stretch. Jamario shot well too, hitting three of four threes in only 16 minutes-those threes don’t look like good ideas, but they do go in, especially when he’s catching and shooting.

Defense was the big worry. Utah was doing a lot of damage on mid-range shots, which is something you’ll generally live with, but 103 points is too many to give up to a Jazz team without Deron Williams. I worry Hickson being in the lineup is hurting the Cavs here (can’t blame it on Shaq tonight), but whatever the case is, the Cavs have to remember how important defense is to them.

Mini-rant: after LeBron’s three-point play, the Cavs had to hit free-throws to seal the game. And that’s when 88% free throw shooter Mo Williams got pulled. I get putting in Moon when the Cavs needed a necessary defensive stop, but how do you not call time-out and put Mo in when you get the ball? The first time LeBron got fouled was excusable because it happened right after a rebound, but when you’re up two and have the ball after a Jazz make, how can you POSSIBLY not put Mo in there? LeBron split the pair and gave the Jazz another shot at a three to tie it, and it just wasn’t necessary. LeBron’s never had an ego about taking technicals or late-game free throws, so I’m putting this one on MB. The Cavs had timeouts-they only used 2 in the second half. This was just jaw-droppingly dumb, and I’m just glad the Cavs got away with it this time.

Bullets of Randomness:

The Utah broadcasters on League Pass were absolutely tremendous. As even-keeled as they come, even when they were disagreeing on calls, always making it about the players and not about them, providing good insight, and saying color guy-ey things like “no matter how fast a defensive player is, a moving ball will always be faster.” Jerry Sloan-like broadcasters, I must say-as competent and professional as you’ll find.

The kids are alright in Utah. I’ve liked Maynor ever since I saw him take down Duke in the tournament, and he’s absolutely fearless with his scoring game. He’ll be perfect coming off the bench when Deron comes back. And Wes Matthews can shoot-he contributed all of Utah’s three-point makes and none of their misses.

Two great Kirilenko-related moments late. First was Maynor dressing down AK after he blew the game with an outstandingly stupid three-point attempt, even though he’s the rookie and Kirilenko is the one who should know better. Tremendous. And immediately after that, he gave the foul on LeBron and the Cavs PA guy said his name like he was auditioning for Uncle Vanya. AK-47 just brings me enjoyment.

Alright, everyone. Have a fun weekend.

Report: LeBron will be wearing a different jersey next season

Friday, November 13th, 2009

See what I did there?

Honestly, I don’t have any earth-shaking thoughts on this development. I’ve gotten used to 23, but thought he should have chosen a different number when he came into the league anyways.

It didn’t take that long for me to get used to seeing Kobe as #24, so I imagine I’ll get used to seeing LeBron as #6. And honestly, not only is Jordan a legend, but he’s more closely associated with his number than most legends are. The “If I’m not going to wear 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it” quote was not one of LeBron’s finest media moments.

You want my unique point of view? I remember playing youth basketball and having to pick a number at the beginning of the year, but always having to take a low one because the numbers correlated to the size of the jersey. (My height was speculated on in the comments of the last post-to clear up any confusion, I’m around 5 feet, 8 inches with no shoes on. My wingspan is also nothing special.)

Now the little kids will get to wear LeBron’s number. So at the end of the day, I’m all for this.

Recap: Cavs 111, Heat 104 (or, the revenge of the leapers)

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Overview: In a high-scoring game, the Cavs outlasted the Heat and 36 points from Wade behind 34 points from LeBron James and 3 other starters in double figures.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

Mo Williams plays well, Cavs win. I thought Chalmers’ length was going to give Mo problems tonight, but I am more than happy to be wrong. Mo wasn’t tearing apart the defense with passing tonight, but he was scoring from absolutely everywhere on the floor. When he got anything resembling daylight, the shot went up and in. Mo is just unconscious from his favorite spot, a three-pointer from the left elbow extended, and he hit all three of the shots he took from there tonight.

The best news tonight was the revelatory play of the Cavs’ two hyper-athletic but erratic forwards, JJ Hickson and Jamario Moon, both of whom had their best game in a Cavs uniform tonight.

JJ in the starting lineup just worked again tonight-for the second night in a row, JJ led all players in +/-, and he’s been fantastic in that starting lineup. JJ isn’t exactly a stretch four, but he’s got enough of a stroke and he’s so explosive going to the hoop on one or two dribbles that teams have to at least pay attention to him on the weak side, and that’s been all the starting lineup has needed to make the spacing work.

But JJ was much more than just a dummy out there tonight-he was converting alley-oops, he had a nice lefty finish off a hop-step, he made a tough leaner in traffic, he got to the line, everything. He still does that maddening thing where he brings the ball down and gathers himself before he goes up, and that led to some blown finishes tonight. Also, he still doesn’t look completely sure of himself rotating defensively, but tonight was a huge game for him and hopefully a turning point for JJ going forward-if he can be a solid rotation 4, a lot of things look a lot better for this team.

Delonte’s absence forced Jamario into the lineup tonight, and he responded with some very solid play in his 31 minutes. He rebounded, got a steal and a block, stayed active, and best of all played well of the ball offensively. 3 of his 4 makes were at the rim tonight, and two of those were dunks of LeBron feeds (An alley-oop and a reward for running the break, both of which I hope to see become staples of his scoring), and the other was a finish off a Mo Williams feed. He’s clearly a guy who plays better when he has better players around him; you let him create and he falls in love with that jumper, and that’s when trouble starts. Defensively, Moon’s length helped him, but the pump-fake thing is comical and horrifying to watch. Just give him the 18-footer off the dribble, Jamario.

Onto LeBron. Well, I wanted more attacking off the dribble from LeBron this game, and I sure did get it. LeBron wasn’t working off the ball as much in this game, and his jumper wasn’t falling, especially from midrange, but he was taking it to the hole at every opportunity, and he either got the finish or got contact and nailed the free throws. He also controlled his turnovers, making 7 assists and only turning it over twice. Not the prettiest performance you’ll ever see, but it was enough to control the flow of this one.

Another really solid performance from Shaq. The other O’Neal did a great job keeping Shaq out of deep position, but Shaq didn’t force much, looked to make passes, played the weak-side and finished off of others, and got to the line. And he more than held his own defensively; his final +/- was +9, behind only JJ. The frontcourt experiment is working thus far.

As for last year’s frontcourt starters, this wasn’t a great night for them. Z continued his miserable slump by missing all three of his field goals, and Andy, kept on the bench by fouls and Hickson’s career night, only managed 2 points and was a game-low -8. It pains me to see Andy on the bench after playing so well in the early going, but I suppose too many good forwards isn’t a problem to complain about.

Anthony Parker and Boobie: 2-7 from three, 0-7 from inside the arc. Were it not 5 in the morning, I would attempt to find a way to make this interesting at this point in the year.

Another night where the 3-ball was key. 9-19 from beyond the arc tonight, with more than half of those coming from Mo. Cleveland’s league-best accuracy won out over Miami’s league-best 3pt defense tonight.

Bullets of Randomness:

Watching Wade and LeBron in the paint all night, it was interesting to see the differences in their quickness. Wade is basketball fast-he changes speeds and directions, and carves through the lane like he’s skiing a double-black diamond. LeBron is a basketball player who’s football fast-he sets his man up with his dribble, then explodes in a straight line and looks to get the corner. Both are equally effective, but it’s interesting how different similar players can get their results.

Mario Chalmers and Courtney Lee would be one of the all-time “solid young guard” backcourts. They’re both just very good at their jobs.

Jermaine O’Neal is BACK, especially on the defensive end.

Alright, that’s all for tonight. Great two days of Cavs basketball, let’s hope they can carry this momentum and the JJ experiment keeps working.