J.J. Hickson, back at Center
Full disclosure…I missed the first two and a half quarters of this game. Instead, I went to the gym in an attempt to take a jog for the first time in about a month (my body is my temple, but it was closed for the holidays), during which time I ran so far I threw up in the bathroom. I suppose these are the sacrifices you have to make if you want to support a running team. Then again, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown up during a Cavs game this season.
So I got home, started the shower, and flipped on the TV. The Cavs had the ball, and they were looking pretty competitive up 62-60 with 8:21 left in the third, which left me to wonder at what point during my trip to Bally’s Total Fitness hell had frozen over. Apparently it hadn’t (the Cavs did end up losing)…so assuming this is in no way related to the massive barrage of bird and fish death going on in Arkansas, and thus is not the third sign of an oncoming apocalypse, I think it’s safe to say we witnessed a pretty encouraging moral victory tonight.
Zephaniah 1:3 - “ I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth. And after that, maybe I’ll let the Cavs win a game.” – God
Moving on…to the new starting lineup!
SG- Manny Harris
SF- Christian Eyenga
PF- Antawn Jamison
C- J.J. Hickson
As soon as I saw that, I got excited. In spite of how well Andy was playing, and although it’s just awful that our hand was forced, this might be how the starting frontcourt should’ve looked all along. If only to maximize our talent. Andy’s the only one of the three as effective from the bench. Most importantly, the new lineup is younger, faster, and more athletic. The Cavs wanted to get on the move, but that was never going to happen with the likes of Anthony Parker and Joey Graham on the wings. Turns out, if you want to be a running team, you have to have guys who can run.
‘Game’ slash ‘4th Quarter’ summary:
From what I’ve gleaned so far from the highlights, it looked like the Cavs were able to force some turnovers early, and then get out and run faster then usual with their aforementioned new starting lineup. A first half with a nice combo of fast breaks, early offense, and falling jumpers. (In fact, Austin Carr just confirmed this for me on the post-game show. Thanks Partner.) The Cavs had 18 fast break points by half time, and outscored the Suns there 23-9 over the course of the game. They also had 18 offensive rebounds, and shot 31 free throws. The Cavs got whooped from the 3-point line (6-20 vs. 13-28), but really, if you’re Byron Scott, I think the energy numbers are what you’re looking for from this team anyway.
And now, for the part I did see… The activity on the defensive end was improved, but the defense as a whole wasn’t great. Had their shots not been falling, I could’ve seen this one getting away from the Cavs earlier then it did…namely toward the end of the third quarter. But that said, the shots were falling. And to their credit, the Cavs were working to create good shots by looking for transition, moving the ball, and consistently attacking the basket. The Suns pulled away in the end basically because the Cavs couldn’t quite keep pace offensively. They went 1-18 from the field during an almost 11-minute stretch in the fourth, and by the time they came out of that funk, they were down 106-96 with 17 seconds left in the game. They defended at essentially the same rate, the shots just stopped falling.
In games past, lulls like that have looked disastrous. But tonight, I didn’t feel like the team fell apart so much as it just ran out of gas. Byron Scott it said it was a matter of the young kids, the driving force behind the resurgence (you know it’s been a long season, when you label a lone, competitive game as a ‘resurgence’), just didn’t yet know how to win, or how to close a game. I saw some of that. Nash executed while we started tightening up. But further inspecting the issue of closing, I think the real problem is that there just aren’t any real creators on this team. Maybe now, we can start to keep an eye on Manny Harris’s development, but for the foreseeable future, this will probably become the status quo for the end of close games. We’ll just kind of fade away as things get tight. Lots of jump shots, a few forced drives that result in really difficult, contested runners, and J.J. trying to jump over four guys to finish. I don’t have the full game to compare it to, but I’m pretty sure that’s what started happening that wasn’t happening prior. The game slowed down and became a match of execution and playmaking, which are not yet our strong suits. But in general, it was hard not to watch that game and take something positive away. I liked what I saw. Play with that effort and pace, and they’ll win a few games. Literally ‘a few’, there’s still a long road ahead, but they’ll do better then 1 for their last 21.
Cavs Related Bullets:
Youth and…wait, what is that, athleticism?!
I’m going go out on a limb and say that within two years, Manny Harris will be the best player to have ever worn a Cavalier uniform.
Manny Harris races around Vince Carter's textbook defensive stance.
Just kidding. But wow, he’s speedy as heck, and it’s looking more and more like he may be hiding a greater degree of versatility in that 6’5” frame then we initially anticipated. Add Christian “ankles of steel” Eyenga to the mix, and all of a sudden the slowest team in the league isn’t looking so slow anymore.
Let’s start with Manny Harris. Amazing game tonight. I guess it wasn’t completely out of nowhere, but I was reading a Plain Dealer article this morning about how wide-eyed rookies can be in facing their idols for the first time. Manny admitted that, with guys like Nash and Kobe on the horizon, “it could be a tough week.” That certainly didn’t imbue me with the notion that there were any 27 and 8’s in his back pocket. Even more encouraging then his pure statistical output, I got the feeling that the other players started looking to him tonight. I jotted down a note in the fourth quarter that, for a few possessions, it was Manny who had taken to setting up the offense. Not only was he able to get the ball down the court in about ½ the time we’re used to seeing, but he allowed Mo to get off the ball in the half court, run off some screens, and not have the pressure of having to create his own offense. I mean, obviously this isn’t an all-inclusive statement, but at times, Manny Harris was filling the LeBron James role. He wasn’t able to carry us home, and his offense isn’t really reliable enough yet to do what he did tonight on a consistent basis, but it was cool to see someone step up and have that kind of a game. Also, Manny is only 21, and he’s proving that, at worst, he will be a better player then Larry Hughes. (In fact, the only thing that really scares me about Manny so far is that both he and Larry seem to be of a similar body-type. Only Manny’s body is moving much faster and looks like it’s actually trying.)
Manny and Eyenga both showed some serious ability to get up in the air and defensive rebound from the 2 and 3 positions. It helped us to look a little bigger then we actually are. I also mentioned this a few days ago, but fast climbing my list of favorite Cavs related happenings? Christian Eyenga challenging shots. He gets off his feet so freaking quickly and no floater seems out of his reach. Ask Jared Dudley (although, don’t ask him about his 5 threes). Awesome stuff on the Dudley block, and he was inches off several others. The young guys are far from perfect defensively (we still guard the three point line as though it were 1978), but they’re able. That’s a good place to start if you’re Byron Scott.
(Non-Sequitur: Manny and Eyenga, a gift from Who?)
Okay, now on to the important stuff. Baby names. More specifically, the website babyhold.com, home of the internet’s “smartest baby names search tool.” Smartest. So you know I’m not just pulling this stuff out of thin air. According to the much acclaimed baby-name search tool, the name Manny is the diminutive of Manuel, meaning:
“God is with us.”
What does this mean? What was Mrs. Harris implying? I suspect either that God is with the Cavaliers, or God is on the Cavaliers. Is Manny Harris God? And if he is, what are the chances that Ron Artest’s recently recorded scouting report on Jesus is accurate? I think it’s possible that we’ve found ourselves a hell of a player in Manny Harris.
A few more for fun?
Christian: “Follower of Christ.” If Manny Harris is God, I think we might’ve found him a sidekick.
Plus, let’s say we add Perry Jones next year. The meaning of Perry? “Pear Tree.” Our team shall not go hungry.
(Note to Colin Zvosec: I like Kyrie Irving too. But his name doesn’t come up on the site, and that makes me nervous.)
Requisite J.J. Hickson Bullet.
How quickly things change…
What did J.J. Hickson just say to Robin Lopez?
This was the ‘athletic Paul Millsap game!’ Yeah, he’s getting blocked under the rim a lot, but when he’s being this active I can forgive a lot. And this was a very active 23 and 17 for J.J. tonight. I thought that 17 would easily outpace his previous career high for rebounds, but apparently he had a 16 rebound game against Atlanta last April. Nevertheless, a new personal best. Nine of tonight’s boards were offensive, and that represents a career high as well.
Mary Schmitt Boyer wrote this tonight regarding J.J.: “There are those who think he’s more suited for the center position, where his role is more defined than it was when he was playing power forward out on the wing, making poor decisions and launching jump shots.” I’m one of those people. Even last year, I thought J.J. played his best ball filling in for Shaq, within the confines of the center position. We’ll never win a championship with him playing there, but my hope would be that he could refine his interior game enough, and really, accept that type of game enough, that he could bring it to the power forward position eventually. He’s an energy guy with super athleticism. 9 offensive rebounds, 16 of his 23 points in the paint (the other 7 came from the line). No part of his game should revolve around style points.
MSB added: “After the game, reporters were asking about this apparently new-found rebounding ability.” My response: It’s always been there! J.J. was never, and is still not, a natural defensive rebounder…but he is a hell of an offensive rebounder. And I actually think the center position is more conducive to that portion of his game as well. It requires him to consistently work around the rim, and it requires the opposing team to block him out with someone who is, in 99% of cases, much slower then him. J.J. at center puts an emphasis on all the things J.J. does well. Let’s hope this lasts for more then one game so I don’t look like an idiot. All jokes aside, I think it will. He seems to be mentally turning a corner, and with J.J., the most important thing is that he keeps his spirits up.
The Suns – The Suns aren’t very good. I would feel irresponsible not to mention that. Now I just feel like a downer.
Carmelo & Leon Rose – Both on the Ryan Braun ‘S-list’ for costing us 2 draft picks. Carmelo giveth, and Carmelo taketh away. Only Carmelo has never giveth us anything, and I really hope we can make use of that trade exemption for something. I’m getting antsy. I feel like this is the point where if I were Chris Grant, I’d be peeking my head into Masai Ujiri’s office and asking, “Anybody need a trade exemption?” It sucks having to operate with an expiration date on your number one asset.
Speaking of trades, I’m glad we never traded for Vince Carter – He suddenly looks like he’s about 50 years old. And for whatever reason, the number 25 isn’t helping. It’s not even that he was awful tonight, he just suddenly looks out of place.
Grant Hill – It didn’t hit me that Grant Hill went down until the post-game show. I’m sure that helped us a bit, but I hope he’s back relatively quickly. I don’t think there’s a guy on the planet who would wish ill upon Grant Hill. (Save for maybe John Gabriel.)
When Manny Harris shoots a jumper – It looks as though he’s being controlled by an NBA Live player who holds the shoot button about ½ a second too long. He shoots it after he hits the peak of his jump. That said, if he shoots it like he did tonight, keep hitting, and holding, that O button.
The Lakers on Tuesday. They’ll have a ridiculous size advantage, but if we bring this kind of energy I think we might be able to give them at least a few problems. Also, the Cavs have some off days this week, so I assume they’ll get some much needed practice time in. Though hopefully not at the expense of any more ankle tendons.
Once again, it’s been fun. Actually, really fun tonight! This was a much more passable way to lose. Which is kind of a funny thought to be having. But regardless, I believe you can still have fun as a fan when you’re rebuilding. You just need something to follow.
And on that happiest of notes…
Happy Monday everyone.