Archive for December, 2009

Rockets At Cavaliers Open Thread

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

That 6:00 start time, it will sneak up on you. Um, much like the Rockets can if the Cavs don’t come in with their A-game! Seriously, the Cavs are coming off easily the best win of their season and starting a homestand, but this is the exact wrong team for the Cavs to think they can rest on their laurels against.

The Rockets will come in and play tough, physical ball, which is what the Cavs did to surprise the Lakers on Christmas. We’ll see if Shaq can pick up where he left off on Christmas and get some revenge on Chuck Hayes, who flat-0ut embarrassed Shaq last time these teams played. I’ll be chatting on the live dime, so come by and join me, and fill this open thread up. Until tonight.

Recap: Cavs 102, Lakers 87 (Or, A Silent Night At Staples, At Least Until The Thing With the Foam Fingers)

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Overview: The Cavaliers were able to dominate the Lakers the entire way through on Christmas day, getting 54 combined points out of LeBron James and Mo Williams and holding the Lakers’ three best frontcourt players to 21 combined points.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-I mean, whoa. I can honestly say I was not expecting that to happen. That performance was one of the Cavs’ most dominant 48 minutes against any team this season, period, and it happened against the best team the Cavs have faced so far, on the road. You can probably see this if you go back through today’s marathon dime chat, but what was happening didn’t fully sink in until the final buzzer had sounded.

-Every Cavs fan already knew it, and now the world does too: as Mo Williams goes, so go the Cavaliers. And on Friday, when Mo Williams got a season-high 28 points on only 13 shots (True Shooting % of 78% on the night), the league’s best defense had few answers for the Cavs, even with LeBron James playing at a merely human level for most of the game.

-Mo was draining jumpers from just about everywhere on Friday night, with half of his eight field goals coming off assists and the other half coming off his own dribble. He made a PUJIT three (Pull-up Jumper In Transition), drained fadeaways over Derek Fisher from the right side of the floor, drained a corner three off the corner dive play in the fourth quarter, drained shots off the curl, just about everything. And seven assists for Mo to boot, with six of his assists leading to baskets at the rim and the seventh leading to a three.

-By the way, 28 matches Mo’s season high. The other time Mo scored 28 this season was on the road against Orlando, the Cavs’ second-best win of the season. As much as people will focus on the new faces making a difference against the elite, a big factor in the Laker and Orlando games this season has been a guy from last year stepping up in a major way.

-That being said, let’s hear it for the new faces. First off, Shaq. The party line on Shaq is that his poor play in most regular season games doesn’t reflect on whether he’s doing the job he was brought into do, which is help the Cavs match up with the Celtics, Magic, and Lakers. Now, I happen to think that’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard in my life, because there’s not a lot of precedent for one of five starters on a championship-level team to only truly be effective against a few teams, and be much better against great teams than mediocre ones. That’s just me.

But feed me a piece of bread and call me a duck, because I’ll be darned if that crazy party line didn’t improve its record to 2-0 on Friday night. The big fella was fantastic. He shut down the paint, made each of his five fouls count, bothered Bynum and Gasol on post-ups and didn’t give Kobe easy layups, didn’t turn the ball over or throw up bad shots, went 5-8 from the floor, and helped the Cavs get into the bonus in the final period.

My positive note would be that all five of Shaq’s made field goals came off of assists, which is hugely promising. As I’ve noted, Shaq’s main offensive problem hasn’t had anything to do with him “clogging the lane” when LeBron has the ball, but simply not being that effective when the ball gets tossed to him on the blocks. On Friday, he was moving and looking to get dunks or alley-oops, making the catch and going up strong before he could get stripped or put on the line.

Also, Shaq came in with the second unit to start the second quarter with LeBron sitting on the bench, which is something I’ve wanted ever since the Shaq deal went through, and the 2nd unit had its best stretch of the season. The offense got a little stagnant force-feeding Shaq a few times and the Lakers were able to get some steals and deflections by jumping the feed into the post, but that’s more a lack of creativity from the coaching staff than anything Shaq was doing wrong. The Big Fella was a huge factor in the win. It’s Christmas, and I’m rarely this happy to be wrong. And I’m wrong a lot. Even the Giant Lineup of Doom and Ulcers worked like gangbusters in this one.

-Anthony Parker missed all four of his threes, but had a phenomenal game defensively, bothering Kobe Bryant all game long and even blocking two of his shots. Kobe missed a lot of mid-range shots he usually makes (0-5 from 10-15 feet, a bread-and-butter range for Kobe), and definitely got frustrated going to the rim and not getting a whistle, taking 15 shots at the rim but only making seven of them. He made Kobe work for everything, which is all you can ask of anyone who draws that defensive assignment.

-Jamario Moon, you are a mysterious bucket of jumping and magic. When Mike Brown put Jamario on Kobe for the last possession of the first quarter, I somehow knew Kobe would eat him alive, and he did. When Jamario got subbed in for Anderson Varejao to close out the second quarter, I nearly had an embolism, and the Cavs gave up nine points in just under two minutes.

But offensively, he ran the break for a beautiful dunk in transition and skied for two amazing alley-oop finishes, and somehow got 7 points on the four long jumpers he took, with all three of his made jumpers coming in the fourth quarter and all three being of the “Oh God, why would you…YES!” variety.

-LeBron was also present, putting in a fairly standard effort that would have been a paradigm of efficiency if not for too many silly long jumpers (8 points on 12 jumpers outside of 15 feet), and turnovers (seven of them, with most being of the absolute brain-fart variety.)

There were also some missed free throws, but the meat and potatoes of LeBron’s game were definitely solid. He went to the hole judiciously and finished when he got there instead of forcing drives, going 5 of 6 at the basket, with four of those buckets coming off of assists and the other one coming in transition. He made the pass when it was there and ended up with 9 assists, and overall did a wonderful job managing the game without ever really needing to take it over.

From the “Shots that I love” file:

-MY FAVORITE PLAY EVER in the first quarter, with Mo going left-to-right along the baseline and finding LeBron cutting the other way for the slam. I knew then it was going to be a good game, beneath my layers of psychosis.

-LeBron, in transition, posts up early, pushes Ron Artest all the way under the basket and seals him, gets the pass at the front of the rim, and is close enough to lay it in with his left hand. THAT’S IT. That’s the ugly post game that I want. Early in transition, get close enough to use either shoulder, bully your way deep, make the easy layup. And if LeBron could push Ron Artest that deep, he can push any wing player in the league that deep.

-Later, LeBron with the “prettier” post move, draining a 10-foot modified jump hook over his left shoulder. He’s been trying to add that all year, and if he gets it down, watch out. Still takes it about a dribble too far out for my liking, but when it works it works.

-In transition, Delonte West gets the pass, sees Kobe sag way down to cut off the drive to Delonte’s strong side (in all honesty, great use of the scouting report by Kobe there), and calmly pulls up to drain his second three-point shot of the season. Delonte with his outside stroke back is a major weapon.

(Very efficient game all-around for Delonte, in fact, making all three of his shots, two of them off the bounce, getting four assists, and tossing in three steals and a block defensively.)

-And finally, the up-and-under move of Anderson Varejao claims yet another victim. I don’t know if opposing bigs are ever going to catch onto that shot.

-7 blocks overall for the Cavs tonight; absolutely crushing interior defense.

-The only caveat to this victory, other than that the refs are going to dominate much of the coverage of this game thanks to the techs and the foam finger incident, is that the honeymoon on JJ Hickson is pretty much over. As Shaq seems to step his game up against the elite, Hickson pretty clearly doesn’t belong on the floor against them at this point, and was a -9 in his 10 minutes before getting the quick hook.

-Hey, remember how I said that finishing at the rim would be a key for the Cavs? They ended up shooting 79.2% at the rim tonight, which is absolutely off the charts, and had 42 shots at the rim or from behind the arc to 28 shots from midrange, which is a good thing.

-Defensively, everything went according to plan for the Cavs. Kobe ended up being a volume shooter, which is the poison you want to pick with Kobe, Artest and Fisher got more field goal attempts than Bynum and Gasol, and Vujacic had more shots than any other Laker bench player, including Lamar Odom. Since the Lakers are so top-heavy in terms of talent, keeping Odom, Gasol, and Bynum from getting opportunities was a huge factor in the Cavs’ victory.

Bullets of Randomness:

Seriously, give Kobe Bryant a lot of credit. He’s got a broken finger, tweaked his knee in the Lakers’ last game, plays 45 minutes, almost gets a triple-double trying to do everything, and puts on a full-on Delonte West “screw the scoreboard, this game is not over until I allow it to be” show of effort in garbage time. Absolutely amazing competitive drive.

LeBron responded to the challenge, and Kobe did take 32 shots and let the refs affect his game a bit, but you’ve just got to admire that kind of drive in a player so talented, regardless of what side of the “debate” you’re on. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be the kind of fan that doesn’t appreciate that kind of a show of effort from anybody, even after Kobe’s little “bump” on Mo Williams earlier in the game.

Alright folks, not a bad Christmas to be a Cavs fan. Have a good weekend and I’ll see you guys later.

Cavaliers At Lakers Preview and Open Thread

Friday, December 25th, 2009

December 25th, 2009: Cavaliers (22-8) vs. Lakers (23-4)

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Cavaliers 93.1 (28th) vs. Lakers 97.4 (6th)

Offensive Efficiency: Cavaliers 107.4 (8th) vs. Lakers 105.1 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: Cavaliers 100.3 (5th) vs. Lakers 96.4 (1st)

Preview:

As you can see from the stats above, the strengths and weaknesses of these teams aren’t quite what conventional wisdom would have you believe. The Cavs have long been regarded as a defense-first team, while the post-Gasol Lakers have always been an offensive juggernaut. This season, however, the Cavs are actually a little better offensively than the Lakers, but the Lakers have the league’s best record thanks to the league’s best defense.

So instead of devoting a lot of time to how the Cavs might be able to stop the Lakers when the Lakers have the ball, I’ll just do a cliff notes version: Try and goad Fisher or Artest into taking jumpers, especially off the dribble, keep Bynum out of ridiculously deep position and hope he misses his first one or two short shots, hope the Lakers don’t feed Pau too much, sag off Lamar Odom, and pray that Kobe doesn’t do that thing Kobe does. That’s about it. Of the five best post players in the league, I think that three of them play for the Lakers, so interior defense will be a priority.

Now for the more interesting side of the ball, here’s a breakdown of how the Cavs’ offense matches up against the Lakers’ excellent D, with all data courtesy of Hoopdata.com:

Zone 1: At The Rim

Here’s the oddest thing about how the Lakers play defense. Even though the goal of almost every NBA offense is to get shots at the rim, the Lakers allow more shots at the rim per game than any other team in the league, and still manage to have the best defense in the league.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, the Lakers are extremely good at defending shots at the rim; only the Cavs and Celtics allow a lower field goal percentage on close shots than the Lakers’ mark of 56.7%.

Second, and even more important, the Lakers don’t foul. They only allow 25.6 free throw attempts per game, which is tied for the lowest mark in the league. Since the only shots more efficient than shots at the rim are free throws, the Lakers allowing more contested shots at the basket rather than giving up fouls is a good strategy on paper, and it’s certainly been working for them thus far.

On the Cavs’ side of things, the Cavs actually attempt a below-average amount of shots at the rim per game, but are excellent at converting those opportunities when they get them; only Atlanta and Boston converts a higher proportion of its shots at the rim. The Cavs are only slightly above-average when it comes to drawing fouls, so they shouldn’t expect all that many free throws against the league’s most disciplined team in terms of fouling.

The bottom line in this zone is whether the Cavs will attempt to work the ball and utilize their finishing ability against the Lakers’ allowance for opposing teams to get shots at the rim, or get discouraged after missing a few contested layups without getting a whistle and settle for jumpers.

Zone #2: <10 feet

The Lakers are the best team in the league at defending this zone, only allowing an opposing field goal percentage of 34.6% on non-layup shots inside of 10 feet. Cleveland is above-average from this zone, but should probably stay out of it against the Lakers, whose length makes little baby jumpers and floaters extremely difficult to convert.

Zone #3: 10-15 feet

The Lakers are actually slightly below-average at defending this area, but the Cavs are the worst team in the league from 10-15 feet, making only 34.1% of their shots from that area, in no small part because this range is LeBron’s Achilles heel at this point of his career.  So basically, midrange jumpers are going to be a bad idea come Christmas day.

Zone #4: 16-23 feet

And to go back, the Cavs are slightly above average from 16-23 feet, but the Lakers are the best team in the league at defending 16-23 foot shots, allowing a field goal percentage of 35.8% on those shots. So, just to put a bow on this section, the Cavaliers are the worst team in the league from the one midrange zone the Lakers are not the best team in the league at defending. Awesome.

Zone #4: Three-Point Baskets

Here’s where the unstoppable force meets the immovable object a little bit. The Cavs come into Christmas day as the best-shooting team in the league from beyond the arc, and the Lakers are the best team in the league at defending it, having given up some of their extreme trapping behavior for more reasonable rotate-and-react schemes, as Kevin Pelton recently noted.

And while threes are a fickle mistress and always tricky to predict, as randomness can often dictate who’s going to hit more threes in a given contest, I actually see one ray of hope that might tilt the three-ball probabilities in the Cavs’ favor a bit.

The most amazing thing about the Cavs’ three-point prowess this season isn’t that they make their threes at such a high percentage, but that they take a higher proportion of their threes off the dribble than any team in the league other than Washington, with more than a quarter of their three-point attempts coming off the bench. Most of that is because LeBron James and Mo Williams are excellent at shooting threes off the dribble, which good defensive rotations don’t have an answer for. If LeBron and Mo can drain a few threes of the bounce like they’re capable of, they might be able to kick-start the Cavalier offense, get the formidable Laker defense a bit out of whack, and open some things up.

So basically, the Cavs’ best hope for success against the Lakers could be to look for the drive, be aggressive going to the hole and make the extra pass instead of trying to draw contact, and go for the three-pointer instead of trying a midrange jumper over the Lakers’ long defenders.

There’s an extremely high likelihood that things will end up playing out differently on the court than it looks like they might on paper, but that’s as close as I can get to figuring out a way to crack this formidable defense.

Other random notes:

-Lots of Delonte and not that much AP, please. AP’s best skill is his ability to make catch-and-shoot threes, and as was discussed the Lakers rotate to cut off the three better than any team in the league. Also, Delonte will make Kobe work much harder at both ends of the court than AP will, which is all you can really game-plan to do against Kobe.

Kobe will be able to post Delonte and shoot over him, but Delonte will fight for every inch and play him physical, keep him from blowing by him on the perimeter and either getting to the line or getting his teammates involved, and you have to give something up against Kobe, even if that something is as formidable as Kobe’s post game.

-The Lakers’ weakness is definitely their bench. If Shaq or Andy can get somebody into foul trouble (Shaq by forcing defensive fouls, Andy by getting a few loose-ball fouls and charges), it could be huge.

-The Mo Williams/Derek Fisher matchup is one the Cavs are absolutely, positively going to have to leverage, because past that there aren’t a lot of promising matchups for them.

-Bottom line, the Cavs are going to need to roll on all cylinders and maybe a few new ones to beat the Lakers in their house, but if they can get pumped and do it i could give them a lot of momentum for the next few weeks and maybe even into the playoffs.

-For additional coverage, check out Forum Blue and Gold, Brian and Andy’s new blog at ESPN Los Angeles, and Kevin Pelton’s game preview.

-I feel silly spending this much time on previews because what happens during the game will almost certainly be stuff I didn’t come anywhere near predicting, but hopefully this was fun and got you in the mood for some holiday ball.  Merry Christmas, campers, and be sure to join me in the Daily Dime Marathon Christmas Day Chat tomorrow.

Hey, I’m In A Different Place With Some Christmas Preview

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Hey folks, if so inclined, I wrote a very good bit about tomorrow’s Cavs-Lakers matchup and the Cavs in general in response to some questions asked of me by my former bosses and current ESPN Los Angeles writers Brian and Andy Kamenetzky, who really did give me an unbelievable opportunity very early on in my writing “career” and are guys who I obviously have a great deal of admiration and respect for.

Here’s the link to the Q+A with me. A lot of what I wrote has been covered in this space, but there is some new stuff, and I worked hard. So go check it out if you’re so inclined, and I’ll try to give you guys some preview stuff to call your very own tonight.

Links To The Present: December 24th, 2009

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

-David Thorpe (insider only) with the idea to compare Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He does the “skill-by-skill” breakdown approach, with categories like shooting, pure scoring, rebounding, and intangibles weighted on a 1-10 scale, and has LeBron barely coming out on top. I’ve read easily 20 or 30 of those about LeBron and Kobe in my life, because I enjoy pain, and this is maybe the first time I can ever remember coming out on top when someone went the “skill-by-skill” route in comparing them.

I definitely enjoy the good analysis on display (as always) in Thorpe’s article and like that he went against some of the conventional wisdom surrounding the two. For example, he has LeBron as the better outside shooter because he’s a better shooter on threes and long twos, but says that Kobe has the better shot selection, which is true. Also, he has LeBron as the better man defender but Kobe as the better help-side defender, which is the reverse of what most casual fans would say.

However, as much fun as “skill-by-skill” is as a parlor game and can be a great way to analyze players, it’s not the best way to figure out which player is better. For LeBron and Kobe, why is rebounding given equal weight as a category to scoring? Why is impact in transition a category but post-up moves aren’t? And on and on and on. If the idea is to find out which player is “better,” the focus should be on what kind of impact a player makes, not how he makes that impact.

-The Kamenetzky brothers, now a part of the ESPN Los Angeles roster, have a podcast up with Brian Windhorst. You should listen to it.

-Yes, I’m leading off with three ESPN links in a row, but darn it, they have good Cavs stuff up today. Here’s a roundtable discussion regarding Cavs-Lakers, with a lot of pretty good answers to the questions.

-For Kings folk, here’s an excellent little nugget from “Exhibit G” at Sactown Royalty, begging for folks to wait for Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin to actually play together for a little while before declaring that they can’t play together.

-Please, boxing. Don’t do this to us.

-Kurt Helin of Forum Blue and Gold puts “The LeBron/Kobe debate” under his list of grievances on “Lakers Festivus.” I like Kurt.

-Another note on Simmons’ trade column: If the Cavs end up with Chris Paul and retain Varejao, Delonte, and Mo Williams before the trade deadline (and after January 15th,) I’m taking the weekend off from school, flying to Cleveland, and we’re all doing shots.

-Alright folks, there shall be much more on this Christmas Eve, including some heavy-duty Laker previewing, but that’s all for now. Until later.

Recap: Cavs 117, Kings 104 (Or, The Old Man and The Threes)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Overview: After the Cavaliers and Kings battled each other to a stalemate in regulation with LeBron James and Tyreke Evans combining for 60 points, the Cavs shut out the Kings in overtime, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas hitting three shots from beyond the arc in the extra period en route to a season-high 25 points.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Let’s start with LeBron, who did just about everything on Wednesday night. he finished with a 34/16/10 triple-double, but even his stat sheet doesn’t show just how many ways LeBron impacted the game.

-First of all, LeBron’s jumper was absolutely on tonight, especially in the first half. LeBron ended up getting 19 points on 18 shots from outside the paint, going 8-12 from outside the paint in the first half.

There was one first-half stretch in particular when LeBron showed how he can take control of a game at any given time, especially if his jumper is on. After the second unit leaked seven points over the first five minutes of the second quarter, LeBron re-entered the game with the score 38-42 in favor of Sacramento. LeBron quickly drained three straight jumpers and a technical to put the Cavs up 45-42, and went on to score or assist on every Cavalier basket for the rest of the quarter, accounting for 19 points in just under seven minutes and sending the Cavs into halftime leading 57-53. And that wasn’t even the best thing LeBron did on Wednesday night.

The law of averages caught up with LeBron in the second half, and he only accumulated six points in the third and fourth quarters, going 1-5 from outside the paint.

-This is where I’d like to interject a brief bit of LeBron theory. It’s weird that LeBron can absolutely immolate from the floor in the first half and only contribute six points in the second half, but it does make a kind of sense if you consider how he plays the game. LeBron mainly gets his points on deep jumpers off the dribble, which are easy to get but have a high degree of difficulty, or shots at the basket, which are difficult to get but have a low degree of difficulty. Again, this is where the post game would be invaluable to LeBron, in that it would provide a sort of happy medium for LeBron between the deep off-the-bounce jumper or the dunk/layup. Also, running some sets to get LeBron a catch-and-shoot opportunity from 15-18 off a curl or a pick-and-pop might not be the worst idea in the world either.

-But like I said, even with all those first-half jumpers, LeBron’s scoring wasn’t nearly the best part of his game tonight, and his true shooting of 52% for the game is actually well below his season average.

-Sixteen rebounds is also very good, although I should probably mention that all four of LeBron’s offensive rebounds were from grabbing his own misses, which is a little easier to do. But 12 defensive rebounds is a good thing, especially with eight of them coming in the second half.

-And then, the passing. 10 is a nice, round number and gave LeBron his triple-double (and since LBJ’s 10th assist came on a third consecutive Zydrunas three with the Cavs up 10 and 14 seconds to go, I’d say LBJ owes Z a beer for this triple-double,) but it was more the philosophy that excited me, especially down the stretch. For the second consecutive game, Mike Brown and LeBron went away from LeBron simply pounding the ball at the top of the key and ran some of the plays they run during the opening part of the game.

LeBron had two bad possessions where he held the ball and forced a top-of-the key jumper, but the rest of the possessions down the stretch actually involved floor spacing and the ball moving from side to side, with Shaq and Z converting nice passes inside from LeBron and Andy, respectively. Just like they did against Phoenix, the Cavs ran their corner dive play, where Mo sets up in the corner with a back-screen. It caught the defense off-guard twice while they were focused on LeBron in the middle of the floor, and while Mo didn’t convert either the open three or the open 19-foot look the set got him, it’s something that shows Mike Brown is trying to emphasize the Cavs doing something other than watching LeBron and maybe shooting a spot-up jumper during crunch time.

And even with the Cavs going (relatively) “LeBron-light” in crunch time, LeBron still scored or assisted on 10 of the Cavs’ final 15 points of the game.

-But I still haven’t gotten to my favorite thing that LeBron did on Wednesday night, which was completely shut down Tyreke Evans down the stretch. Before LeBron switched onto Tyreke, the rookie was 10-16 from the floor and absolutely punishing every defender the Cavs threw at him. After LeBron took the assignment, Evans went 1-9 from the floor down the stretch, and the Kings scored seven points in the 12:43 period from when LeBron entered the game in the fourth until the end of overtime.

From where I see it, there are three main reasons why LeBron was able to shut down Tyreke over the stretch run:

-Physical Matchup: I’ve said Tyreke reminds me of a younger, slightly smaller LeBron, and I mean it. He goes to the hole with authority, and he’s either faster or stronger than anybody he drives against, and often both. But that advantage is against people not named LeBron. If your plan is to overpower LeBron James with speed or strength, you need a new plan. And just like LeBron when he was younger, Tyreke didn’t have a very good plan B when his immense physical gifts weren’t enough to get him the shots he wanted.

-The Kings are Young: The Kings are an extremely young team, and some of their inexperience showed down the stretch on Wednesday night. The team got a little caught up in watching Tyreke try to do his thing, and didn’t really try initiating the play themselves to take some pressure off him or even try to get Tyreke the ball of some sort of a picket-fence that could get him free of a one-on-one matchup with LeBron. Tyreke’s going to be enough of a stud that just putting the ball in his hands and praying is going to be a winning strategy much of the time, but the Kings needed to give their young savoir a little more help than they did.

-Tyreke Is Young: Right when LeBron took the Tyreke matchup, you could see LBJ was in Tyreke’s head a little bit. The first time Tyreke saw LeBron guarding him, he launched into some elaborate shake-and-bake moves on the perimeter to try and show LeBron that he belonged on his level, but ended up getting forced into a fallaway 20-footer for his efforts. Later, when Tyreke actually did ditch LeBron with a beautiful (and much simpler) pivot move in the lane, he rushed the shot so much that he ended up missing the resulting open four-footer pretty badly.

And finally, when LeBron missed a jumper with fourteen seconds left and Tyreke got the rebound, Evans dribbled into a trap and forced up a hopeless shot instead of calling a timeout when he recognized he had nowhere to go. And while Tyreke’s teammates could’ve tried to help him a little more, Tyreke seemed to have few misgivings about challenging LeBron over and over again down the stretch, even as the results got increasingly worse. Overall, the effect this game will have on Evans’ maturity level will probably pay huge long-term dividends for the Kings, but it’s a lesson that cost the Kings on Wednesday night.

-Another reason for the Kings’ offense sputtering down the stretch: After making 7 of their first 14 three-point tries, the Kings cooled down from beyond the arc and missed their last 7 threes. The law of averages, she is a fickle mistress.

-HOW HAVE I NOT GOTTEN TO Z YET?

I try not to pimp my twitter in the blog proper, but my twitter from the game reveals some fairly unfiltered emotion when big Z started nailing those threes. And even before overtime, Z was having a nice game scoring the ball. He was able to get some shots in the paint, and went 4 of 6 from inside the lane. Even better, Z was stretching the floor in regulation, hitting 3 of his 5 shots outside the paint and coming up huge by hitting a 22-footer for the Cavs’ last basket of regulation.

And then, the threes. Coming into Wednesday’s game, Z had made all of one three on the season. Then he makes three in the span of 117 seconds to decide the game. I mean, what do you say? LeBron thought the lane was a bit stuffed, he lasered a pass to Z in the short corner, and without hesitating Z just drained it. If he misses it, I probably start pulling my hair out and Z’s confidence takes yet another blow. But he put it dead-center. And the next one. And one more for the icing on the cake. If Zydrunas can carry this confidence over and get his shot back, the Cavs become a different team.

(For those of you keeping score at home, we now have three “The Cavs become a different team when he plays well” guys: Mo Williams, Delonte, and Big Z. It keeps you on your toes when watching the Cavs, if nothing else.)

-Mo did a great job picking up where LeBron left off in the second half, getting 17 points on 12 jumpers in the second half, with a good amount of those Js coming off the dribble. I remember thinking in the fourth that I couldn’t remember the Cavs losing when both LeBron and Mo were on their offensive games like they were, and that ended up being true.

-Shaq made some nice plays in the first, getting good deep position off a re-post and laying it in, then finding JJ Hickson cutting underneath for a dunk as Shaq went across the lane like he was going up for his hook. Overall, a nice line for Shaq, with 8/8/2 in 22 minutes. He had a bad night defensively, but so did everyone on the Cavs’ frontcourt. The Kings have a ton of size, quickness, and energy inside, and that will give teams problems inside.

Shaq got exposed a few times on pick-and-rolls and Spencer Hawes was able to shoot over him, but Z wasn’t much better defensively and, and as Windhorst noted, JJ Hickson got pulled early in the second half with Mike Brown literally describing to him the basics of defense.

-With that being said, Jamario should probably have gotten more than five minutes to try his luck against the Kings’ young giants, particularly since Jason Thompson is a bit more comfortable facing up than he is on the blocks.

-Anthony Parker with a fabulous “no…no…YES!” 20-foot fadeaway for the first basket of overtime. I’m getting more comfortable with him being allowed inside the three-point arc by the game.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Not only does Omri Casspi do the little things, but his release is so quick I literally couldn’t tell if his shot is weird-looking or not. (I’m pretty sure it is, but I honestly couldn’t see where he was releasing the ball from on my LP broadband feed.)

-Jason Thompson has all the skill in the world, but all three of his turnovers were of the “gee, that was an amazingly stupid and unnecessary play” variety, the worst being trying a home-run pass that had a 15% of setting John Brockman up with a look at a contested 40-footer with just over a second left. The ball went out of bounds, and Andy Varejao drained a 20-footer from the baseline as the buzzer sounded, off a pass that apparently went out of bounds. That’s just the basketball gods punishing stupidity right there.

-Subject of twitter discussion between myself, Kevin Pelton, and Ridiculous Upside tonight: Is John Brockman the white Chuck Hayes or the white Reggie Evans?

-Sergio should’ve gotten more minutes; I’ve been waiting for him to blossom into a change-of-pace guard off the bench for years now.

-Donte’ Greene should take his free throws from the three-point line.

-I could write more about Tyreke, but there’s going to be a lot more written about that kid in both the near and distant future. He’s a monster.

-Alright campers, there’s 2,000 words of happiness for you. Let’s see if the Cavs can carry this into Christmas.

Cavaliers At Kings Open Thread

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Hey folks, it’s minutes from tipoff at Arco, so here’s an open thread for you to play in. The Kings actually have a better home record than the Cavs’ road record, so this one won’t be a joke. Also, Tyreke is a beast.

During commercials, Simmons has an article up today with his always entertaining trade ideas, and the Cavs are involved in quite a few of them, with most deals involving Shaq’s expiring contract. Read and talk among yourselves.

For additional coverage, hop over to Sactown Royalty or Cowbell Kingdom, two of the best team blogs out there. Alright folks, have fun.

(By the way, if you think 60% of the reason I made this game thread was to find an excuse to post that picture, you’re right.)

Bonus Links To The Present: December 22nd, 2009

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

-Chris Broussard with an ESPN the Magazine Article (insider required to view online) on how Shaq and LeBron have been working together in Cleveland. I’m not really on board with Broussard’s overall thesis, but some of the points are solid. Read and decide for yourself, but my two cents would be that Shaq’s ineffectiveness in his own scoring game has been a bigger issue than his play clogging up the lane for LeBron. Also, the Cavs play worse than their opponents when Shaq is on the floor; the only other player in the Cavs rotation who that’s true for is JJ Hickson.

-In fact, both of the Cavs’ two most-played lineups, Mo/Parker/James/Hickson/Shaq and Mo/Parker/James/Varejao/Shaq, have been outplayed by their opponents overall, logging a -12 mark in 265.5 minutes so far.

Here are the overall combined +/- scores for the two most-played lineups of every other team in the top five of their conference right now (data courtesy of 82games.com, and last updated December 12th):

Boston: +195 in 582.8 minutes

LA Lakers: +95 in 421.1 minutes

Atlanta: +179 in 456.2 minutes

Dallas: +127 in 203.1 minutes

Denver: +81 in 368.2 minutes

Phoenix: +72 in 496.5 minutes

Orlando: +84 in 259.6 minutes

San Antonio: +33 in 178.8 minutes

The bottom line: of all the teams that could conceivably be called contenders, the Cavs are the only team winning in spite of their most-played lineups, including their starting lineup. They are much less dependent on their starting five than most other contenders, by matter of necessity, which could be seen as them having more depth and versatility come playoff time, I suppose.

Meanwhile, last year’s playoff starting lineup has the best +/- mark of any five-man unit on the team with a +24 mark, and has played together for all of 27 minutes. It’s a small sample size, and they’re playing against bench players more often than not, but that unit’s had success, and it’s not like playing them together would be the most radical idea on the planet.

-Via numbersdont.com, here are some nifty pie charts on who LeBron James’ assists have gone to this season and who’s assisted LeBron the most.

What stands out to me is that LeBron’s most frequent assist target has been Anthony Parker, who’s scored off a LeBron feed 45 times this season; a good reason for him to stay in the starting lineup, perhaps.

Shaq’s also been the target of very few LeBron assists; the only rotation players who have converted less LeBron feeds are Boobie, Delonte, and Darnell Jackson.

On the other end of things, Mo has nearly half of the assists to LeBron, with Anthony Parker and Delonte being the only other players to feed LeBron 1o times or more. Shaq has five assists to LeBron so far this season.

Finally, via Peter Vecsey in the New York Post, Wade sees himself as a future teammate of LeBron’s. Be interesting to see if one of them takes the pay cut to actually go through with the move; I’ll believe it when it happens, personally.

Links To The Present: December 22nd, 2009

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Two quick clips from last night’s game to get everything started:

-LeBron got NBA.com’s assist of the night for his dime to Andy in the fourth. In real-time, I’ll admit that I didn’t even notice he threw that between J-Rich’s legs. Whoa. (Video via Ball Don’t Lie)

-Also via BDL, here’s the video of Delonte’s “I love this game” and-1. I watched this a bunch of times.

-You think the Kings are going to be a little pumped when the Cavs play them on Wednesday?

-From Cowbell Kingdom: “[Evans is] no longer ‘Reking havoc anymore. He is just Havoc.” That is awesome.

-FreeDarko on Darko, FreeDarko.

-Apparently coming soon: TMZ Sports. Hmm. Considering how they scooped absolutely everybody on Tiger Woods-related business, seems like a natural enough leap. It’ll be interesting to see what this ends up becoming: could be Deadspin on steroids. (R-rated language in Deadspin article.)

-Via Bright Side of The Sun, Steve Nash credits about half of the Cavs’ points last night to points off of Suns turnovers or complete defensive breakdowns in the half-court. Sounds about right, honestly.

-Quote of the Recap from Valley of the Suns: “Not a single question was asked of [Shaq] in the Suns’ locker room that I heard, and J.A. Adande wondered when Shaq not being the story is still a story in the Daily Dime’s lead story.”

-Until later, campers.

Recap: Cavs 109, Suns 91 (Or, Reverse Everything! Resume Loving!)

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Overview: The Cavaliers bounced back from a loss to the Mavericks by being the first team to beat the Suns in the US Airways Center since last March, holding the Suns to less than 100 points and getting 53 combined points from LeBron James and Mo Williams.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Well, that was a bit better.

-In the first quarter, LeBron James came out on an absolute MISSION on both ends of the floor. LBJ had twelve points, an assist, and a steal in the first quarter, and was absolutely everywhere on the floor, jumping into passing lanes, filling the lane on the break, and going at absolute maximum speed for the full twelve minutes.

-The Suns were able to keep it even in the first quarter by exploiting the Amare-Shaq matchup for 10 points in the first six minutes of the game, but once Shaq went to the bench with foul trouble, Amare was never able to get back into that early offensive groove, and was in foul trouble himself almost the entire game, with three of his five fouls being offensive.

-When LeBron went to the bench, Delonte provided a massive spark off the bench, and was a big reason the Cavs were able to overwhelm the Suns off their big start rather than fizzle out. Despite not making a shot from deeper than 10 feet all game long, Delonte was a huge difference-maker.

He scored or assisted on baskets that amounted to 12 points in the second quarter, which ended up being the Cavs’ highest-scoring quarter of the game. Defensively, Delonte was an absolute monster, getting in passing lanes and getting three steals, pressuring his man and rotating back to provide help. And to top everything off, Delonte led the Cavs with six assists.  I’ve been skeptical of MB’s plan to start Anthony Parker and bring West off the bench, but tonight we saw what he wants to happen by staggering his talent like he does. With Delonte coming off the bench, the Cavs never let up on the Suns, and by the fourth quarter their constant energy and pressure had clearly broken the Suns down a little bit, and that was what allowed the Cavs to break the Suns’ home winning streak.

-LeBron cooled down a little bit after his hot first quarter, and got baited into taking some bad jumpers, but he still ended up deciding the game down the stretch.

After LeBron got called for traveling and Jared Dudley got a layup on the other end, the Cavalier lead was six points with 6:39 to play. Then, Mike Brown took a timeout.

***(ATTENTION: MIKE BROWN COACHING SUCCESS COMING UP)***

Out of the timeout, instead of letting LeBron pound the ball around the perimeter, the Cavs got LeBron the ball in the middle of the floor and ran their corner dive play, setting Mo Williams up with a three behind a Varejao back-screen, which he knocked down. On the next possession down, the Cavs set up like they were going to run the same set, but Varejao slipped the screen and cut backdoor, and LeBron was able to feed him with a beautiful dime for a layup.

After Amare Stoudemire missed two shots directly at the rim and got a frustration tech, LeBron hit a tough fadeaway out of the post from the baseline and a “no…no…no…no…YES!” three for the dagger, with a layup the next time down for the icing on the cake before LeBron went to the bench. Six possessions used, 12 Cavalier points from a LeBron basket or assist, lead pushed from 6 to 19, game over.

-Miscellaneous LBJ notes:

LeBron really looks like he’s being more aggressive in going to the post and made some nice plays from down there, but it’s clear that his footwork hasn’t caught up to his pure power and speed down there, and that’s limiting his impact. He settled for a few too many high degree-of-difficulty fadeaways instead of just shooting over his man, committed an offensive foul by just barreling over Jared Dudley, and looks like he’s rushing everything a bit too much.

The PHX broadcasters called some slight BS on the “LeBron would dominate in the post if he just decided he wanted to go there” meme, saying that you’d much rather have LeBron posting than driving, and they’re right. If LeBron wants to be anywhere near the same kind of force on the block like he is off the drive, he’s going to have to put the same kind of work into his footwork down there as he has on his shot with Chris Jent over the years.

LeBron had 12 points on 14 shots outside the paint tonight, missing all five of his shots from 10-15 feet (easily his worst area on the court over his career), and hitting 4 of his 7 shots from 16-23 feet, where he’s far more comfortable from.

-Also: Small-Ball. The Cavs closed out the game with LeBron at the four and Varejao at the center spot, and it worked beautifully. The Mo-LBJ pick-and-roll is a simple but devastatingly effective play that can be run at the end of games, and tonight it got the Cavs an open Mo Williams look from three after some beautiful ball movement around the perimeter, among other good looks. More small-ball at the end of games, please, especially after Jamario recovers from his injury.

-I’m 900 words deep already, and I haven’t even mentioned the defense yet. It was superb. The Cavs did a fabulous job pressuring the Suns on their signature high pick-and-roll sets, always a staple of Mike Brown’s Cav teams, and did a phenomenal job chasing the Suns off their threes. The Suns came into the game making 9 threes a game at the league’s highest percentage, but the Cavs held them to a 4-19 shooting night from behind the arc, which took a lot of the teeth out of their vaunted attack.

Particularly promising was the Cavs’ ability to limit the production of born-again stretch four Channing Frye, who never got many good looks from behind the line and only went 1-4 from beyond the arc. That’s a good omen for when the Cavs see that pesky Rashard Lewis fella again.

-Not only did the Cavs finally win the turnover battle, scoring 26 points off Suns turnovers to 15 Suns points off Cavs turnovers, but they actually outscored the Suns 17-4 in the fast break.

-AV just doing his thing, peeving opposing broadcasters, cutting to the basket and getting four of his five field goals off of assists, getting up in Amare’s kitchen and shutting down his production, crowding Nash when his man sets the screen, getting himself a bird and an and-1 off that up-fake that somehow still manages to fool people, and finishing with a +21.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Jared Dudley is now a bona fide three-and-D guy. What is it about the Suns that makes everyone healthy and good at draining open threes? Is there a spring they’re taking these guys to?

-Didn’t Steve Nash feel pretty shut down in this game? He finished with 18 points and 10 assists on good percentages. Although his botched break on an attempted behind-the-back handoff that led to a Cavs fast-break and two Mo Williams FTs ended up being a mini-turning point with the Suns down two midway through the third quarter; the Suns never regained the lead after that.

-Let’s play “Adventures in lip-reading.” Steve Nash to a ref after a no-call on his drive: “(Freaking) call something!” The Suns let the refs get them off their game a little bit in this one.

-For a more fun adventure in lip reading: Delonte gets a steal in the fourth, runs the break, converts the and-1, crashes to the floor, and then says “I love this game” to the camera. I mean, you gotta love it. Until tomorrow, everyone.