Archive for March, 2010

Links To The Present: March 22, 2010

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

“With a clear lane to the basket, Powe pushed off his recovering left knee to take a step and then slammed down his first competitive dunk in nearly a year.” [Brian Windhorst]

“‘He adds an intimidation factor to our team which really helps us. . . . He’s very comfortable out there in getting to the free-throw line, and that’s a good trait to have.”  [George M. Thomas’ Game Recap]

“During the first quarter while his teammates were out playing the Pistons, Shaquille O’Neal was in the weight room at The Q working out and doing some light rehab with his thumb, which is out of a cast and now in a small splint.” [Brian Windhorst’s Beat Blog]

“The Nike Zoom LeBron VII, the most recent version of James’ signature shoe, has been successful and is being worn by numerous college players as well as an increasing number of NBA players.” [Brian Windhorst on LeBron’s Shoe Deal Plans]

“But the Celtics knew better than anyone (except perhaps the Lakers, who Powe killed in the 2008 Finals) what Leon could do on the court, and the fiber he’s made of, and that he would come back from this stumble better than ever. The Celtics should have known.” [Tom Ziller is a Leon Powe Fan]

[Trey Kerby echoing logic – Cavs’ fans greatest ally] “The good thing for Cavalier fans is that all of this money makin’ is taking place in Ohio. It’s almost like LeBron doesn’t have to be in New York to be a global icon. Call me crazy, but I think marketers have found a way to reach people outside of major metropolitan areas. This basketball in Cleveland thing just might be profitable for LeBron James.”

“Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers have tried to incorporate Shaquille O’Neal, lost him to injury, been with and without Mo Williams and Delonte West, traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas and waited for him to clear a 30-day moratorium to re-sign him — and still maintained the best record in the league.” [J.A. Adande with some perspective on adversity]

“Big Z comes back soon. Leon Powe has started to contribute. And Shaq is apparently in OK shape while his thumb heals. The Cavs, folks, are heading to the playoffs with more momentum than last season’s Cavs had.” [Marc Stein’s Power Rankings]

Charley Rosen answering an email on his LeBron HS Scouting Report

LeBron misses Big Z

Fun Tweets:

“raining in cleveland today. great day off. i might not get out of bed.” [Mo Williams]

“Leon Powe officially has a nickname: The Six Million Dollar Man. They can rebuild him. He has 12 points, five rebounds.” [George M. Thomas]

Recap: Cavs 104, Pistons 79 (Or, Powe knows how to get back to dominating teams)

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Overview: The Cavs beat the Pistons with a stifling wire-to-wire effort, controlling the entire game and cruising to a 104-79 victory. In a balanced effort, six Cavaliers scored in double figures. Leon Powe led the way with 16 points, and LeBron James was able to sit for the entire fourth quarter.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Finally, 48 good minutes against an inferior team. If I had to sum up what the Cavs did tonight in one word, that word would likely be POWESMASH. The Cavaliers beat the Pistons up in the paint and on the boards, and nobody was doing that better than Leon Powe. Despite barely leaving the ground, Powe was grabbing rebounds left and right and wouldn’t be denied when he got the ball in the paint. Every time he got it down low, Powe either finished the play or got to the line, and the rest of the team matched Powe’s effort en route to an easy win. Powe ended up drawing eight fouls on Sunday, but the Pistons were the ones who came out looking worse for the wear.

-The Cavs also did a complete 180 with their ball movement, getting the ball from side-to-side with ease. 68% of the Cavs’ field goals were assisted, and Mo/LeBron/Parker combined for 20 dimes on their own.

-Great night for JJ Hickson, who did a great job finishing from odd angles inside and creating paths for players to get him the ball. The more JJ can do the things Powe does, the better he’ll get.

-Bit of a bounce-back game for AP, who scored in double figures for the first time all month. When he runs to his spots early and gets an open look at a three, he’s great. When he gets closed out on but still feels the need to get a shot up, problems arise.

-Mo did a great job getting inside and making the pass to the open man, never more spectacularly than his behind-the-back dime to Andy. His shot was also on, although the Godfather music and the honking geese after a made three by Mo is a little much.

-If Z’s minutes end up coming at the expense of Jawad so Powe can stay in the rotation, I’d be okay with that.

-I realized something about the way I watch LeBron tonight. I was absolutely thrilled with his performance, even though he put up one of his lowest scoring totals of the year. I’ll admit to having some LeAnhedonia about LeBron’s game — he makes the good things he does look so easy that I end up taking them for granted more often than not, as hard as I try not to. I often find myself basing my opinion of LeBron’s performance on how many bad things he didn’t do. Missed free throws, forced jumpers, bad passes, all of them stick in my mind while a crazy drive and finish for an and-1 just looks like something LeBron can do as easily as I turn on a light switch.

Tonight, LeBron played nearly mistake-free ball, missing zero free throws, only missing four shots, and not even turning it over once. I was as happy as a clam. A happy clam. Also, that lefty block of Jerebko was magnificent. And that play where he backed down Stuckey at least 10 feet with two dribbles, then turned and casually drained the lefty hook? Pure ecstasy.

-Defensively, the Pistons’ luck on mid-range jumpers finally ran out, and they couldn’t get anything going all game. By my unofficial eyeball count, the Pistons shot 9-35 on two-point jumpers outside of the paint, and they had trouble mounting any kind of solid offense. Rip and Tayshaun finally had a crappy game against the Cavs, combining to go 5-19 from the field.

Cleveland Bracketology: A Look at the Road to the Finals.

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Thanks to the blend of March Madness and June weather, lately I’ve been thinking about Cleveland’s journey through the east this postseason. Anxious for the playoffs to begin, only a dozen games remain before the Cavaliers begin one of the most anticipated postseasons in franchise history. But who are the biggest threats to this dangerous Cavs team that already clinched another Central Division title and hold a six game cushion as the big dogs of the east?

Well, in the spirit of March Madness, I decided to break down the eastern conference playoff teams and their threat level as it pertains to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cinderella’s.

Dwyane Wade, who once led a Cinderella Marquette team to the Final Four, needs a lot of help before making the NBA's final four with this Heat team.

Toronto (currently the 8th seed)

Toronto is one of those teams that could give the Cavaliers a run for their money based on some matchup issues. The key for Cleveland is to attack Toronto’s porous transition defense, which ranks 27th in the league allowing 17.4 fastbreak points per game. Cleveland, known for favoring a slower halfcourt tempo, is 17th in the league in fastbreak offense, averaging 13.9 points per game. In their only loss against Toronto, the Cavaliers were outscored in fastbreak points 12 to 9. However, in their two wins combined, the Cavs averaged 27.5 fastbreak points per game compared to just 16.0 points per game from Toronto (+11.5 points per game and +13.6 more than their average).

While the Raptors have played the Cavaliers tight this season, winning the first matchup by 10 points and losing the other two games by 8 points each, they don’t present that great of a threat. The Cavaliers are notorious for starting out the year slow, opening up the past three seasons 1-2, explaining the early loss in Toronto. Also, Mike Brown experimenting with his twin tower lineup of Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas against very good jumpshooters in Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani didn’t help out much either. In the end, with the Raptors dropping 10 of their last 12 games, they may lose their playoff spot to a bubble team like the Chicago Bulls.

Miami (currently the 7th seed)

Miami was always one of those teams that you just didn’t want to see the Cavaliers play in critical moments of the season. With great duels between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Miami was 10-5 against Cleveland in the first four seasons of those superstars. Now, only the great duels remain, as the Cavaliers have won 9 out of the last 10 matchups dating back to the start of the 2007-08 season. Simply put, the Heat are not a threat. Even if you go beyond the fact that LeBron’s supporting cast is light years ahead of Wade’s, Miami has no one to watch James, who has averaged 31.6 points per game in 18 games against the Heat since the 2005-06 season.

If the Cavaliers were to meet the Heat, Dwyane Wade could easily average 33-35 points per game. But, I’d also be willing to bet that Cleveland’s margin of victory would be at least 10 points per game. The biggest threat in this potential matchup would be the lure of those South Beach weekends.

Milwaukee (currently the 5th seed)

The Young Bucks in Milwaukee, led by Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, have surprised quite a few people this year. They’ve overcome some injuries and Scott Skiles has turned them into a top 10 NBA defensive team. But should this revitalization in Bucks land trouble Cavaliers fans? I wouldn’t go that far. Going 1-2 against the Cavs so far this season, this is the same Bucks team that allowed Cleveland to go on a 29-0 run… in Milwaukee. Their sole win against the Cavaliers was a 7 point victory in which the road team suited up without LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. For some perspective, in the two wins against Milwaukee, those three players combined for 36.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per game.

Granted, the Cavaliers could be without Shaquille O’Neal for most of the series should they meet Milwaukee in the early rounds, but Ilgauskas will certainly be back in action. The key is having a true center to slow down Andrew Bogut. In Milwaukee’s win against the centerless Cavaliers, Bogut scored 15 points on 55.6% shooting. On the other hand, in the two games that featured Z, Shaq, and Bucks losses, Bogut averaged only 5.5 points on 27.8% shooting. Ultimately, the youth of the Bucks should prove no match for the experience of the Cavaliers, who have never lost to a playoff team seeded worse than 3rd in the LeBron James era. I think that makes almost all of the Cinderella teams non-threats.

The Mid-Majors.

Stephen Jackson averaged 22.7 points per game in three games versus the Cavaliers this season, winning all three of those matchups with the Bobcats.

Charlotte (currently the 6th seed)

Now Charlotte is 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, yet they’re considered a mid-major? Against the Cavaliers they certainly are. One of only two teams to win the season series against the Cavaliers (the Nuggets being the other one) and the only team to beat Cleveland three times this season, the Charlotte Bobcats match up extremely well against the Cavs. But how are the Bobcats managing to pick apart the best team in the NBA?

Well, not only does Larry Brown have the Bobcats playing inspired defense, but they’re also winning the battle of easy buckets. In the first game of the season series in Cleveland, Charlotte was outscored in points in the paint 32-24 and shot only 42.6% from the floor compared to Cleveland’s 58.1% field goal percentage. In the three games following that loss, Charlotte out scored Cleveland in the paint 130-106 and shot 50.5% from the field, compared to just 44.0% shooting by the Cavaliers. Considering the Cavaliers are number one in opponent’s points in the paint allowed (36.0) and second overall in opponent’s field goal percentage (43.8%), I’d say allowing the Bobcats to average 43.3 points in the paint per game on 50.5% shooting in three straight games is an issue of focus and desire.

Charlotte is one of those teams that I convince myself is not a threat because the Cavaliers can turn it on whenever they want to beat them. But as hard as I try, I don’t completely buy it. While I think the Bobcats would take only 2 games in a 7 game series versus the Cavaliers, they’re still a viable threat. And don’t forget that new addition Stephen Jackson was a huge part of the Golden State team that knocked off #1 Dallas back in 2007. This team can be scary.

Atlanta (currently the 4th seed)

Tied with the Boston Celtics for the third best record in the east, the Atlanta Hawks are more major than mid-major. But it’s hard to favor a Hawks team that is 5-23 against the Cavaliers during the LeBron James era, having lost eight straight games against Cleveland including a second round sweep last postseason. While this Hawks squad is certainly different than past teams, it’s hard to picture them as a legitimate threat given the back to back collapses against Cleveland this season, the four double digit losses in the playoffs last season, and the fact that they haven’t won in Cleveland since November of 2006.

On area of concern, however, should be the addition of Jamal Crawford. In the two games against Cleveland this season, Crawford averaged 18.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and shot 5-7 (71.4%) from three. Crawford, a notorious Cavs killer originally drafted by Cleveland, has averaged 21.1 points per game against the Cavaliers in his last 18 games dating back to the start of the 2003-04 season, making at least one three-pointer in all 18 games (2.3 3pm per game).

With this new cast I could see the Cavaliers struggling with the Hawks, should they meet in the playoffs. Then again, it’s hard for Atlanta to put up less of a fight than they did last postseason. Regardless, I still believe that the Hawks aren’t as big of a threat as a team like the Bobcats, which match up fairly well against Cleveland. While I feel the Cavaliers have bigger threats, Jamal Crawford could make the Hawks a tough team to square off against in the playoffs.

The Top Seeds.

Once reliant upon LeBron James and countless others to help defend Dwight Howard, the Cavs will need Shaquille O'Neal to make good on his "no more double teams" offseason promise in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston (currently the 3rd seed)

One of the two most recent teams to knock the Cavaliers out of the playoffs, the Boston Celtics have seemingly gotten the best of Cleveland since the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. That is, up until now. From that 2007-08 season to last season the Cavs and Celtics squared off 15 times, including 7 postseason games, in one of the most stubborn duels you’ll ever witness. On all 15 occasions the home team came away with the victory, giving the number one seed Boston Celtics the edge in game 7 of the 2008 playoffs.

This season, however, gave way to those past trends. The Boston Celtics opened up the season strong, winning their first game in Cleveland and holding onto the eastern conference number one seed for quite some time. But the Cavaliers eventually rebounded, winning in Boston by 20 points, at home by 11 points, all while distancing themselves from the rest of the pack as the leaders of the east.

In the meanwhile, the Celtics have been trying to find their identity and return to that defensive prowess that netted them a championship two seasons ago. In that 2007-08 season, Boston’s defense allowed only 90.3 points per game on 41.9% shooting. Against the Cavaliers that year they allowed 95.0 points per game on 42.5% shooting. Last season, the Celtics allowed 93.4 points per game on 43.1% in the regular season and 96.0 points per game on 48.5% against Cleveland. And so far this season, those averages have continued to worsen, with Boston allowing 94.3 points per game on 44.7% shooting. Furthermore, those numbers have become unjustifiable against the Cavaliers, who have averaged 100.3 points per game on 45.1% shooting through 3 games.

The Celtics have many problems to juggle, from an aging trio and injuries to new role players and inconsistent play. However, their biggest concern is the collapse of their defense, especially in regards to the Cavaliers, who have averaged 106.0 points per game their last two meetings with the Celtics, including a 108-88 trouncing in Boston. With all of these issues and a large question mark next to the health of the team come May, I have a hard time believing that Boston is as big of a concern as they were two years ago.

Orlando (currently the 2nd seed)

From Boston to the other team responsible for one of Cleveland’s last two playoff exits, Orlando still presents the largest threat to the Cavaliers in the eastern conference. Fans all remembered what happened last year (if you know how to forget that series, please email me the trick). After the most successful season in Cavaliers history, the postseason ended abruptly, when Cleveland failed to defeat the Orlando Magic, a team that was a matchup nightmare.

But how do they look against the Magic this year? Well, first off, instead of being 1-2 against the Magic as they were last season, the Cavaliers are 2-1 so far this season, winning their first game in Orlando since February 2008 after going 0-6 in between that time frame. And while last season saw the Cavaliers completely embarrass themselves in Orlando, losing both regular season games by a combined 40 points (-20 points per game), this season they were +3 in their season split in Orlando (+1.5 points per game). Furthermore, the Cavs were able to flip the script in regard to three-point shooting this season. In the playoffs, the Orlando Magic shot 62-152 (40.8%) from three compared to just 42-130 (32.3%) from the Cavaliers. So far this season the Cavaliers are 22-50 (44.0%) from three-point range, while limiting the Magic to 22-64 (34.4%) from deep. Just to reiterate, last postseason the Magic made 20 more threes than the Cavs (+3.3 per game) and shot 8.5% better from beyond the arc. In three games this season, the two teams have made an equal number of three-pointers and the Cavs are shooting 9.6% better from three.

But limiting the Magic to a human three-point percentage is just one of the ways in which the Cavaliers have improved against Orlando from last season to this season. The other would be their defense on Dwight Howard. In the conference finals Howard averaged 25.8 points per game on 54-83 (65.1%) shooting. Thanks to the assistance of Shaquille O’Neal, Howard has averaged only 17.3 points per game on 16-27 (59.3%) shooting in the three games this season. O’Neal has also forced the Magic center to defend as well, averaging 13.3 points per game on 18-27 (66.7%) shooting, leading to an average of 4.7 fouls per game for Howard.

The Magic still present some matchup problems for the Cavaliers, but not nearly to the degree as last season. The Cavs have also implemented some new pieces as well, such as a more-than-capable scorer at the power forward position in Antawn Jamison, who will make Rashard Lewis defend unlike either Ben Wallace or Anderson Varejao could last postseason. Should the Cavaliers and Magic meet once again in the eastern conference finals, which everyone is expecting, it will make for yet another great series. In the end, however, with a healthy Shaquille O’Neal and several new pieces in place to limit the Magic’s three-point shooters and big men, the Cavaliers should be more than ready for redemption.

Make sure to join the discussion at Numbers Don’t and Real Cavs Fans!

Recap: Cavs 92, Bulls 85 (Or, 15,000 reasons to dislike a six-game winning streak)

Friday, March 19th, 2010

vertical limit

Overview: After an inconsistent three and a half quarters, the Cavaliers outscored the Bulls by nine points in the final six minutes to pull out a 92-85 victory over the Chicago Bulls. LeBron James finished with a final line of 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, and became the youngest player to reach 15,000 career points.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-So, the Cavs’ leading frontcourt scorer was Leon Powe with seven points. The four centers and power forwards on the Cavs combined for a total of 16 points. Meanwhile, rookie power forward Taj Gibson went off for 20 points. Despite the fact they’ve been winning, the Cavs are really starting to feel the absence of Shaq and Z.

-The bottom line is that the Cavs never found any sort of offensive flow in this game. Mo’s jumper was dialed in for much of the game, LeBron was able to bully his way to the line, and Leon Powe grabbed some offensive boards. Nothing else worked. 10 turnovers for Mo and LeBron, who got caught out of place far too often. Eight misses, three turnovers, and one assist for Delonte. Ten combined shots for Varejao, Jamison, and Hickson, who get opportunities when there’s good ball movement. I saw the Cavs run one of their signature sets once all game, and that was a half-hearted corner dive that the Bulls easily jumped. On offense, the Cavs played like it was a pickup game.

-Fortunately for the Cavs, the Bulls are a bad offensive team missing their two top scorers and the Cavs have LeBron James. With seven minutes left, the Bulls had actually managed to take the lead by one, and the Cavs asked LeBron to bail them out. Fortunately, he obliged. LeBron went on a scorched-earth campaign from the minute he got in the game, catching an alley-oop from Anderson Varejao right after he got in and never really slowing down. LeBron scored 13 points in the final seven minutes of the game, and got an assist on the Cavs’ only other field goal during the final seven minutes. The only points LeBron wasn’t responsible for after he came in were two free throws by Mo Williams thanks to an intentional foul. It’s good to have LeBron James.

-I could dwell on how awful it is that the Cavs needed LeBron to bail them out against a team who has now lost 10 straight games. But the fact of the matter is that the Cavs have won six games in a row while with some major injuries while playing about as bad as they can play. There are worse laments to have as a fan. Also, I’m not going to pretend “give it to LeBron and pray” isn’t going to be a major part of what the Cavs do in the playoffs.

-LeBron didn’t play very well at all by his standards, and still finished with 29/11/7, two blocks and steals, and took over the game in the fourth with some soft jumpers and a ridiculous and-1. I gotta give Chicago credit — they seem to collapse on LeBron’s drives as well as any team in the league over the last year or two. I thought it was just a Tyrus Thomas thing, but maybe it’s the system. LeBron finished 9-21 from the field despite shooting a not-that-bad 5-13 from outside of the paint, and got caught with nowhere to go a number of times, which almost never happens.

-Leon Powe can find the ball and find contact. This there is no denying. I may never understand how he gets that many offensive rebounds without ever seeming to jump.

-Every time AP gets the ball, a defender dares him to take it left to the baseline, and he takes one dribble to the right and shoots a 20-footer instead, God kills a kitten. If Boobie still played for the Cavs, he would probably be a good candidate to take some of AP’s minutes.

-Jamison only getting two points has very little to do with Jamison. He gets his shots when other guys force the defense to ignore him, and the Cavs didn’t do that tonight. The question is whether he takes tonight’s game in stride or starts forcing stuff off the dribble in the next game.

-Hey, LeBron went 11-12 from the line! I’m already planning a “Why hasn’t LeBron broken 100 points in a game?” post for next week.

Bullets Of Randomness:

-Did Flip Murray and Kirk Hinrich combine to shoot 35 field goals in this game? Yes. Yes they did. They made 10 of them. By the way, LeBron and Mo combined for 31 field goal attempts.

-Gotta say I’m happy for Taj Gibson. When you see a player up-close in college, you like to think he’ll be able to do the same things in the pros, but you can never be sure. Well, Taj has picked up right where he left off at USC. Solid in the post, able to catch and finish, competent with his face-up jumper, good rebounder, good shot-blocker, and never forgets his role. Just the picture of a dependable NBA big man.

-Everything about James Johnson is intriguing. Power forward size, small forward skills, insane wingspan, used to kickbox, had a chase-down block on Mo Williams, loves to handle the ball, and wanted to ISO up against LeBron in crunch-time tonight. Also, he shoots Radmanovic-like moonballs from the outside. I feel like he’ll be a player too interesting to trade and never quite good enough to make an impact for the next three years, but I’m very willing to be wrong about that.

-Have we ever figured out what happened to Kirk Hinrich?

-Wait, the Bulls have Devin Brown AND Flip Murray on their roster? Is it too late for them to sign Damon Jones?

-Alright, that’s all for me tonight. Have a good weekend, campers.

Preview: Cavaliers at Bulls, March 19th

Friday, March 19th, 2010

toro

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Cleveland 93.3 (25th) vs. Chicago 96.0 (9th)

Offensive Efficiency: Cleveland 109.3 (3rd) vs. Chicago 100.2 (27th)

Defensive Efficiency: Cleveland 101.1 (7th) vs. Chicago 103.3 (11th)

Notes:

9-game losing streak for Chicago coming into this game. If the Cavs play hard, it should be a TCB-type situation. One thing that worries me is that the Bulls’ anemic offense does revolve around deep twos, which is the shot the Cavs are the worst at defending. That said, with Rose and Deng out, the Bulls shouldn’t be able to do too much damage from the 18-22 foot range.

Oh yeah, no Noah either for the Bulls. The Cavs really should win this one.

Recommended Reading:

Blog-A-Bull

Bulls By The Horns

Links To The Present: March 19, 2010

Friday, March 19th, 2010

[Terry Pluto talks about the Cavs’ impressive resiliency]  “The Cavs are 11-3 since Jamison put on a Cleveland uniform. He is averaging 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and shooting 48 percent since joining the Cavs. The only alarm bell has been his 44 percent mark from the foul line.”

“The Cavs struggled against the Pacers and Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons. In the final 13 games of the season, they will face only three teams with losing records, and the Cavs aren’t playing their best basketball. Translation: It’s not going to get any easier.” [George M. Thomas on the stretch run]

“Danny and I debate which team was better,” Williams said. “It’s not even close, our ’05 team would beat his ’09 team by 20 points. We were one of the best North Carolina teams ever.” [Brian Windhorst]

Said Kuester: “You’re talking about one of the all-time best people.” [Bob Finan on Anderson Varejao]

“Astute fans, though, also surely know that landing James from this summer’s prized free-agent market is the only way to stamp the Bulls instantly as title contenders.  Thus, shower him with love.” [K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune]

“The final 47 seconds played out inconsequentially, Indiana adding a point on a free throw to make the final score 99-94.  There would be no last second, buzzer-beating, game-winning shot, a la Kobe Bryant, because LeBron had already imposed himself on the game and closed it out between the four and one minute marks.  There is no other player in the game who could have done what LeBron did in those three minutes.” [Karl from BleacherReport on LeBron James the “closer”]

The NBA Playoff Match-up Matrix

[Eddie Johnson on being Old-School] “I could not understand why the media seemed so interested in LeBron James walking off the court last year without congratulating the Orlando Magic. Oh, so after the Magic players and fans beat him up, berated him and then sent him home, they felt it necessary for him to turn around and say congratulations?”

In his “All Night” podcast segment, Ric Bucher thinks the Cavs have no shot at winning the title if they keep enjoying one another.

“However, they have not lost a game this year when leading by more than 5 after three quarters, with the official number standing at 34-0.” [Colin Zvosec on the Fourth Quarter Cavs]

Marc Stein weighs in on the new NBA Jam – Still No Mention of Z.  How does he get a puppet commercial but no video game love?!  Maybe he’ll be an unlock-able character like Al Gore.

[Jacob Rosen on Casey Nance] She also continues to look fondly on growing up with a Cav for a dad. “Indescribable,” she said in a recent interview in reference to her childhood experience in the early 90s. “A entirely different generation looked up to my father.”

Fun Tweets:

“Went back to catch OT of ORL-MIA. Critical def. lapse by Beasley in Magic’s W. D-Wade to Beasley: “Why?” (No Nancy Kerrigan voice)” [JA Adande]

LeBron James, Free Throws, and Everything

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Towel

“This was the overgrown kid whose friends often teased him about his big ears, the often quirky player whose unorthodox free-throw shooting style — arms extended straight up above his head in follow-through, eyes following the arc of the ball instead of focusing on the rim like most shooters would — left his cousin Maverick mystified that those free throws ever went in.”

-Ryan Jones, King James: Believe the Hype!

LeBron is a lot more skilled than he gets credit for, which is a theme I think I’ve addressed on this site a number of times. However, there is no good reason why a player with LeBron’s natural talent, shooting ability, and work ethic has never shot 80% from the free throw line in his NBA career.

LeBron at the free throw line is maddening. Because of the way defenses load up on LeBron and how much better LeBron is going to the basket than settling for jumpers, he might have to work harder for his baskets than any other players in the league. Then when he gets to the free throw line and has an unguarded 15-foot shot, a shot tons of players can make regularly, the NBA’s best player is merely above average, and some nights he’s downright iffy.

Nothing makes me crazier than LeBron missing a free throw. Even if the Cavs are up 12 in the fourth quarter, I will involuntarily stop my foot and yell if LeBron misses a free throw. It drives me crazy to see free points clang off the rim.

Every Cavs fan can go through all the different free-throw routines LeBron has gone through since arriving to the league. The Stackhouse knee-bend. The wrist-kissing. Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst’s book, which has a chapter devoted to free throws, pointed out how he changed his entire stance from the line one season. His stroke is much cleaner now, but it still looks to me like he’s got some lateral movement in his elbow that isn’t present in his jumper, and the ball seems to have a left-to-right screwball motion on his free throws.

How did this happen? Personally, I blame America. There is a reason why the USA dominated the 2008 Olympic Basketball Tournament while finishing 11th out of 12 teams in free-throw percentage, and I think LeBron may illustrate why.

Look again at the quote at the top of this post. LeBron shot 71.1%, 59.3%, and 67.8% from the line during his last three seasons in high school. If high-school LeBron had a weird stroke from the line, you don’t admire its quirkiness. The correct response there is to immediately overhaul that stroke, because he’s still in high school and he will likely end up taking over 10,000 free throws over the course of his NBA career. Unfortunately, because LeBron was already part of a big-time basketball machine at 15, it wasn’t in anybody’s interest to have LeBron take a big step back to overhaul his free throw stroke in the hopes he would take two steps forward in the future.

Because of his once-in-a-generation talent, one could say that LeBron should’ve felt the responsibility to fix his fundamentals on his own, but he didn’t. Whether you think LeBron nobly succumbed to the win-now pressure around him or lazily refused to put the time in at the gym, the fact is that LeBron has been forced to overhaul the most basic shot in basketball while playing at All-Star level in the NBA, and that has caused him some problems.

If LeBron was a better free-throw shooter, it would help in two major areas. First of all, it would give LeBron more confidence to drive to the basket, which is a good thing. LeBron may be the best player ever at driving to the basket, and he’ll only go there more if he’s absolutely confident in his free-throw stroke. I don’t think he shies away from contact at all now, but being better at the free throw line couldn’t hurt in that regard.

Second, LeBron could help the Cavs out in late-game situations if he was an absolute free-throw cooler. The Cavs have had trouble getting the ball to Mo Williams in late-game situations, and LeBron is big and fast enough to almost always be able to get the ball on inbounds plays. LeBron is shooting 82% from the line in “clutch” situations, but Cavs fans and coaches could enjoy some more peace of mind if LeBron was closer automatic from the line. This wouldn’t make everything perfect, however. If someone held a gun to my head and told me that I needed to name four players to make a free throw for my life, the first names I would think of after pondering the oddness of my possible mortality would be Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Dirk Nowitzki — two of those four guys have blown finals games with missed free throws in recent years.

(Actually, who am I kidding? I will always freak out when LeBron shoots big free throws. I still can’t believe I didn’t collapse and die when LeBron was on the line at the end of regulation during game four of the Magic series last year. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not too picky about how I go, but I sincerely hope I’m not on Cover It Live when my time comes.)

Anyways, it would be cool if LeBron was better at free throws. Here are some numbers to demonstrate that:

(Theoretical extra wins are Cavs losses that would have been wins if LeBron had shot the theoretical percentage from the line — for example, if LeBron shot 5-10 from the line in a game the Cavs lost by four, he would get a theoretical win if he shot 80%)

Current LeBron: 76.9% Free Thow Shooter

Points Per Game Average: 29.9

True Shooting: 60.6%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 2 Ties

If LeBron Shot 80% from the Free Throw Line:

Points Per Game: 30.2

True Shooting: 61.2%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 2 Ties, 1 Win

If LeBron Shot 85% From The Line:

Points Per Game: 30.7

True Shooting: 62.3%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 2 Wins, 2 Ties

If LeBron Shot 87.5% From The Line:

Points Per Game: 31.0

True Shooting: 62.8%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 3 Wins, 1 Tie

If LeBron Shot 90% From The Line (Ghost of Mark Price FTW):

Points Per Game: 31.2

True Shooting: 63.3% (!!!)

Theoretical Extra Wins: 4 Wins

If LeBron Shot 95% From The Free Throw Line (Now I’m Just Sort of Bored):

Points Per Game: 31.8

True Shooting: 64.3%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 4 Wins

If LeBron Shot 100% From The Free Throw Line:

Points Per Game: 32.2

True Shooting: 65.4%

Theoretical Extra Wins: 4 Wins

So, by any realistic measurement, the most possible games LeBron has lost with his free-throw shooting this year is four. If interested, those games are the Cavs first game against the Bulls in November, the Cavs’ game against the Nuggets in January (which wasn’t actually as close as the final score), The Sundiata Gaines Game (no link necessary), and the Cavs’ recent OT loss to the Nuggets again. Three of those games could have gone either way a number of times, but free throws could have helped the Cavs avoid that situation. I could go on with some pseudo-scientific stuff I’ve spent too much time on (if the Cavs have a 6% chance of losing a game because of LeBron free throws, I think that means there’s a 35% chance they’ll lose one game in a seven-game series because of LeBron free throws), but ultimately I have neither the confidence in the math or the confidence in the reasoning behind the math to make that a worthwhile endeavor.

Instead, here are some videos of really good free throw shooters. I know it’s way easier to hit free throws in a practice situation, but this is still hypnotic to watch:

And here’s Mark Price, whose jumper still gives me chills. Zero wasted movement. What a thing of beauty. Although I’ve gotta say you know you’re a white guy if taking a charge makes your YouTube highlight mix.

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Links To The Present: March 18, 2010

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

“We’ve got to figure out a way to be not as flat,” Brown said. “Obviously you don’t want that to happen, but this is a long season. For us to be able to get the win is good.” [Brian Windhorst’s Game Recap]

“We’ve got to start hanging some banners up there,” James said. “Just got to.” [Brian Windhorst’s Beat Blog]

“Rudoy said Ilgauskas has been working out extensively 3-4 times per week in Manhattan’s Chinatown area.” [George M. Thomas on  Z’s Return]

“The 7-footer had another great game Sunday, scoring 23 points with six rebounds in a Russian Superleague contest. He’s averaging 12.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and shooting 72 percent in the Superleague games.” [Brian Windhorst on Sasha Kaun]

“It’s evident that all of the players have bought into Stan Van Gundy’s grand design and accepted their roles. If this process continues and the specifics are perfected then, at the very least, the Magic will square off against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals — and could easily give the cocky Cavs a run for their money.” [Charley Rosen on the Magic]

Cavs on top of the Fanhouse Power Rankings.

“And then there’s LeBron James who, if you want to get technical about it, beat everyone to the punch on this one. James put his Cleveland on the map, raised its profile around globe; he’s not just bigger than Cleveland, he’s past markets themselves. Yet there’s no reason to believe he’d be willing to do this for any city other than his hometown.” [Bethlehem Shoals re-examining “small-market”]

You can’t vote for Z to play alongside LeBron in the new NBA Jam. We need to start a petition…

Tom Haberstroh looks at the value of assists: “Interestingly, although most three-pointers are assisted (81 percent) according to 82games.com, the effect of a pass is smallest (+3.7 percent) compared to the others.”  By this measure, LeBron’s assists appear devalued since so many of his potential assists are 3 point attempts.

Tweak out your browser with a Cavs Theme!

Fun Tweets:

“Just saw Shaq. He’s looking quite fit and aerodynamic, too…shaved off goatee.” [Brian Windhorst]

“da only thing missin is shaqalicious. happy shaq break http://bit.ly/shaqbreak” [The Real Shaq]

“LeBron James is about to beat Kobe Bryant’s record as youngest to score 15,000 points by a mere two years.” [hoopshype]

“Better hands- Hickson or Braylon Edwards?” [Rick @ WFNY]

Recap: Cavs 99, Pacers 94 (Or, 60% of the game, the Cavs play hard every game)

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Overview: Despite showing inconsistent effort throughout the game, the Cavaliers were able to hold on late against the Pacers, 99-94. LeBron James came a rebound and an assist away from triple-doubles on consecutive nights, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points for the Cavaliers. With the win, the Cavaliers clinched the Central Division title.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-The Pacers kept pace with the Cavs by using a three-pronged attack of Roy Hibbert, contested jumpers, and exploiting the Cavs’ second unit. In the first quarter, the Pacers made 10 of their 17 shots from outside of the paint, including three of their four three-point attempts.

Some of the jumpers were on good looks because the Cavs fell asleep on Murphy on the perimeter, a few were shots by Earl Watson, Brandon Rush, and Dahntay Jones that the Cavs were happy to live with, and a few were Roy Hibbert draining hooks from the 10-12 foot range.

Hibbert was doing the most damage, which is understandable. When a strong 7-2 center with good footwork and touch with either hand goes up against a team missing its centers, there are going to be problems. He wasn’t getting layups against Varejao, which is about all that Varejao could have been asked to do. The Cavs brought a few doubles at Hibbert eventually, but they didn’t change up their entire gameplan and give the Pacers a chance to get hot from outside.

-In the second quarter, the Pacers went cold from outside, but were able to get in the paint against the Cavs’ second unit. The Pacers scored 10 points in the five minutes LeBron sat, with all of their points coming on dunks, layups, or free throws. The second unit is the squad that really feels the loss of Shaq; without him, they don’t have anybody who can defend the rim or get shots at the basket, and the bench has become much more of a weakness since Shaq got hurt.

LeBron actually compounded the problem by recording three turnovers and missing a shot on the Cavs’ first four possessions after he came in. When the dust settled, the Cavs were down 37-42, and Mike Brown decided it was time to have a chat. The Cavs settled down on both ends after that, and held a slim lead going into the half.

-In the third quarter, the Cavaliers absolutely dominated. They locked down the Pacers on defense, started moving the ball, and then LeBron got hot from the outside. LeBron hit four long jumpers in the third, and after his fourth the Cavs were up 76-61 and the game looked pretty much over. Unfortunately for the Cavs, they knew that all too well. LeBron and the Cavs started to play a little too loose, and the Pacers were able to catch the Cavs’ second unit napping at the beginning of the fourth.

-The Pacers went on a 12-4 run during the four minutes LeBron sat, which was enough to cut the Cavalier lead to 10. The Pacers kept draining deep jumpers and getting to the line, and the Cavs couldn’t get any of the open threes that fell against Detroit to go. With 4:13 to go, the Pacers had cut the lead to one.

-That’s around when LeBron decided that he’d had enough of this. LeBron found Andy for a layup, finished an alley-oop from Andy, and took the ball to the rack to put the Cavs back up eight. Then he took a horrible jumper, missed it, and promptly stole the ball back, went coast-to-coast, and found Jamison for a layup. After A.J. Price hit a three to cut the lead to four, LeBron hit a fadeaway in the lane to put the game away for the Cavs. In three minutes, the game had gone from scary to in the bag, all thanks to LeBron. Only Cavs fans understand that this statement is almost as much of an insult as a compliment, but LeBron is just too good sometimes.

Other notes:

-Riddle me this: LeBron almost never turned it over that much while he was running the point full-time, but with Mo finally back on his game he’s turned the ball over 10 times in his last two games.

-Brandon Rush blocked LeBron’s layup in the fourth to slay the decoy pick-and-roll. Congratulations to that young man. He defeated the Kracken. (By the way, would it be most helpful for me to refer to that play as the “Decoy Pick-and-Roll,” “My Favorite Play Ever,” or “The Kracken,” from now on? I just kind of like picturing the team going over to the bench and Mike Brown saying “Release the Kracken!” during a time-out. I’ll stop talking now.)

-Antawn Jamison’s trigger on mid-range jumpers is still too quick. The Cavs’ offense is capable of finding a better look than a 19-foot jumper with 15 seconds on the shot clock. If it’s wide-open, take it to keep the defense honest — this is how Big Z makes his living. But Jamison’s too eager to let that thing fly right now. Worst of all, I fear he’s become a bad influence on JJ, who’s off the mid-range jumper wagon right now.

-To be perfectly clear: STOP SHOOTING MID-RANGE JUMPERS, JJ. If you need one of Jerry Lucas’ memory books to remember this, that can be arranged.

-Anderson Varejao creates angles on the pick-and-roll so beautifully. I feel like we must remind ourselves of this every few days.

-I’ve noticed this for a while but can never remember to put it in a recap: Does Anthony Parker ever drive to his left? Ever?

-Jawad Williams makes the dreaded pretty mistakes. He handles the ball well, his stroke is very nice, he’s got good footwork. The issue is that he often uses those skills to set himself with contested jumpers off the dribble early in the clock, which looks nice on the micro level but is horrible on the macro level.

Worst of all, Jawad seems to be keeping Jamario out of the rotation. Jamario makes hideous mistakes, but he also brings a lot of very good things to the table when he plays, and he doesn’t need the ball to do it.

Bullets of Randomness:

-In day two of the “See? Trading for me wouldn’t have been so bad!” tour, Troy Murphy went 4-7 from deep, had 15 rebounds, and somehow made five assists. I still think the Cavs are worlds better off with Jamison — I don’t trust a 7-footer who can have a good game and shoot 2-7 from two-point range.

-A.J. Price does not lack for confidence. He’ll be a solid scoring guard if he gets a little bit more discipline — how does he take three more shots than Roy Hibbert in this game?

-From what I saw tonight, I don’t see how Mike Dunleavy’s career can be salvaged.

Preview: Pacers at Cavaliers, March 17th

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Relevant Statistics:

Pace: Indiana 99.9 (2nd) vs. Cleveland 93.3 (25th)

Offensive Efficiency: Indiana 99.6 (28th) vs. Cleveland 109.3 (3rd)

Defensive Efficiency: Indiana 104.6 (17th) vs. Cleveland 101. (7th)

Notes:

-The Pacers like to run but aren’t particularly good at it — this should be a fun one for the small-ball Cavs, although they can’t fall asleep and give up wide-open opportunities in transition.

-I wish Telfair was active for this one.

-The Pacers are playing the second game of a back-to-back, and had the Bobcats last night. Hopefully the Bobcats wore them out a bit.

Recommended Reading:

Eight Points, Nine Seconds