Archive for January, 2014

Recap: Cleveland 86, New York 117 (or if this team was a horse, someone would shoot it) — Updated

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

That was awful. I’ve had surgeries that were more fun than that game. Cleveland didn’t compete in the first half, spotting the Knicks 17 points on a 38-21 first quarter, and then mailing in a 22-15 second quarter. A token effort was made in the third.  Cleveland actually cut the lead to 15 at one point, and outscored New York 29-21 (this game’s lone moral victory), before the Knicks “rallied” to post a 36-21 fourth.  There was very little good, and a lot of bad in the way the Cavs played tonight

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Disappointing Easy Feeling

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

 

Every year there are teams that disappoint.

Sometimes it’s because of injuries. Last year’s Philadelphia 76ers organization thought they’d built themselves something (marginally to very) competitive, until Andrew Bynum’s knees said otherwise. This year, injuries to Derrick Rose and, to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook have altered what NBA fans thought they were in for when they re-upped for the 2013-14 season.

Sometimes it’s because of off the court issues. In 2010, Gilbert Arenas, fresh off a season lost to injury and only a year removed from signing a massive $111 million six-year contract with the Wizards, was suspended, along with Javaris Crittenton, for the remainder of the season for bringing handguns into the team’s locker room. The suspensions caused the Wizards to officially write off the rest of what had already been a disappointing season. It was already disappointing because the team had just traded the sixth pick in the 2009 draft for Mike Miller and Randy Foye (rather than have a chance to select Steph Curry … which, don’t worry, the T-Wolves didn’t take advantage of either) to make a (final?) run at playoff success with their Arenas / Antawn Jamison core. Arenas still scored (over 22 points a game) that year, but his efficiency had been eviscerated. In 2010, Wizards fans saw a team who no longer could function on a winning level, then they saw the suspensions, then they saw the team trade Jamison to the Cavs for Zydrunas Ilgauskas (only to, then, see the Cavs get Ilgauskus back … and watch Jamison get torched by Kevin Garnett … and – well, you know the story) and they finished in full-blown tear down mode and a 26-56 record.

Sometimes it’s because of on court issues. In 2004-05, the Indiana Pacers rode the “Malice at the Palace” from a legitimate shot at the championship to 128 total games suspended for Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal. That team was still able to ride Reggie Miller’s final league go-around to 44 wins and a playoff spot, but was never again (until now, anyway) the threat to win it all that it was when 04-05 tipped off.

And sometimes teams just aren’t as good as NBA fans and pundits alike thought (or hoped) they would be. This year’s Pistons, for example, have yet to figure out how their collection of disparate pieces can work. Right now (surprise!) they don’t. And, of course, this year’s Cavaliers, for many of the same reasons.

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Recap: New Orleans 100, Cleveland 89 (or, do Care Bears have opposable thumbs?)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

gumdrop

Well, the Cavs kept it close for a quarter and a half tonight. With a 44-42 lead with five minutes left in the second, Dion Waiters lost the ball coming off a screen, and then committed a clear path foul on Eric Gordon. The Pelicans got a four point possession after Gordon canned the freebies and then drained a jumper in C.J. Miles’ grill. New Orleans scored eight more unanswered points to close the quarter on a 16-0 run. The future best player in the NBA, Anthony Davis, made sure the game was never again in doubt. But we did have a silver lining. Gum Drop Bear provided heartfelt entertainment throughout the evening. If you watched this game as if it was a cartoon made for six year olds, it wasn’t that bad. (more…)

Kyrie Irving and the Context Problem

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Kyrie+Irving+NBA+Star+Game+2013+uxsBa25KydHl

Kyrie Irving is a 2014 all-star. He was a 2013 all-star. These two actualities are equal, but the thrill is gone this year. While all-star status always imbues a certain prestige or legitimacy on a player’s season, this go-round it has come on the back of a war of attrition rather than a pyroclastic announcement of intent. Kyrie Irving and the Cavs are sputtering around aimlessly, similar to last year, but trajectory and expectations have created a different environment. With Kyrie at the center of the team, his all-star selection served as a natural jumping in point for writers to consider the intertwined struggles of Irving and the Cavs.

Most prominent was Jason Lloyd’s scorching referendum at the Akron Beacon-Journal. In the piece he takes Irving to task for being overly concerned with his brand and image at the expense of improvement. He calls Kyrie immature and details how he acts as if he is above the team and thus shielded from rational criticism, which could theoretically help the Cavs unmire themselves. Irving deflects, blaming his struggles on team defense or entropy but Lloyd does have a valid point. Kyrie has been aloof for a while.

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Recap: Cleveland 90, Phoenix 99 (or, this team is maddening)

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

i-70

By the end of a game like this, it is hard to form a coherent story line, or put much effort into a recap.  The first half was exhilarating, the other, frustrating.  Deflating.  Disheartening.

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Recap: Milwaukee 78, Cleveland 93

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Editor’s Note: Trying something a little different, tonight. I’m  turning this one mostly over to guest blogger, Elijah Kim, who drove up from the CBus.  Anyone who would travel five hours in this garbage weather, must be a fan. I reserve the right to interject now and then.

After starting a very favorable five game homestand with a pair of frustrating losses to the Dallas Mavericks and the severely undermanned Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers looked to rebound (quite literally) against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.

I had the privilege to drive all the way up to Cleveland from Columbus, risking my life and basketball sanity, to watch a divisional game that seemed like a “must-win” for Cleveland.  The Cavaliers did respond in this contest, starting out on fire, cooling down just as fast, and then putting it all together after the first quarter.  Cleveland finished the rest of the game with much more energy and fight as the game progressed.

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The Nudge

Friday, January 24th, 2014

irving-wall

It’s fair to say that this Cavaliers season is not going the way anyone planned or hoped it would. Even the Master of Measured Expectations, Mike Brown, who warned everyone that things might get shakier before they started to get better, couldn’t have planned for the overall lack of mental and physical toughness displayed by his young team time and time again this year.

“You’d have thought we were down 20 points by our body language,” Kyrie Irving said following the team’s latest deflation at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. “We were only down six points.”

It’s somewhat encouraging to hear Irving, at least, admit to his team’s lack of cohesion and belief in each other. It shows that he’s watching the same games as the rest of us. Still, after the fact, it’s very easy to cop to what went wrong out on the court. What would be really encouraging is if Irving and some other Cavs were able to translate an understanding of why they’re failing into correction of said behavior. Until then it’s just more losing.

And losing is like a ticking clock on this team. Losing is the reason that Chris Grant traded for Luol Deng, not because he was “panicked,” as those who disagreed with the trade as potentially only a half-season rental argued, but because losing, we all know, begets a losing culture and makes additional losing easier to swallow for young players who come into the league used to losing, at the most, rarely.

But is that really the case? (more…)

Recap: Chicago 98, Cleveland 87 (or out-coached, out-executed, and out-hustled)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Well, that was a depressing game. Cleveland fell to a Chicago team missing Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer, and turned those players’ replacements into all-stars. Cleveland has now lost 14 of the last 16 to the Bulls.

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Chris Grant’s Report Card

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

The Cavs’ record is 15-26. They’re half way to 30 wins for the season. For most of us, they are falling short of pre-season expectations.

The optimists among us see the “glass” as half full: the Cavs are still an up and coming, extremely young team that has developing talent and a slew of draft picks coming over the next three years. They have a strong organization and they are stocked with high character people from the top of the roster to the front office to the owner.

The pessimists among us see the glass as half empty: the Cavs seem to have a coaching staff that is still unable to master offensive execution. They allowing their young players to develop habits that are anathemas to winning. And they’ve a front office that consistently fails to make good talent evaluation decisions. The Cavs just selected the least productive NBA number one draft pick since 1955’s Dick Ricketts.  They spent nearly $11 million dollars worth of cap room last summer on two free agents that are playing terribly.

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Mavericks 102, Cavs 97 (Can we sign an inbounder this offseason?)

Monday, January 20th, 2014

The Cavs played like crap in the 1st half, played really well in the second half, and crapped their pants in the final few minutes.  The bench played like this:

1st Half:

Shawn Marion canned 3 baseline jumpers of varying distances/difficulty and C.J Miles scored 6 straight points to keep the Cavs hanging around in the first quarter.  Luol Deng’s 2 free throws tied the game at 21 with just under 3 minutes remaining in the 1st quarter.  After that, the Mavericks went on a 38-16 run before the half.

Besides some individual brilliance from DeJuan Blair, and Shawn Marion (both 5/5 from the field in the 1st half) the Mavericks methodically picked apart the Cavaliers at both ends.  On offense they utilized an effective combination of slipping high screens and drive-and-kicks, and played with an energy that earned them most of the 50/50 balls.  In the second quarter the Cavs really unraveled on offense, as their attempts to generate some easy baskets with entry passes and splitting screens led to turnover after turnover.  It was quite a contrast watching the Mavericks execute their passing and then the Cavs inability to generate any sharp ball movement.  The Mavericks have guys that can finish on the break, and the Matador defense of C.J. Miles and Kyrie Irving doesn’t provide much resistance to any squad running a break.  So the Cavs gave up 13 points off turnovers in the 2nd quarter alone.  The Cavs are lucky they weren’t down more at the half, as the Mavericks missed a handful of wide open set 3s.  Monta Ellis played at a frenetic pace, looking to score when he had lanes but finishing with 7 dimes in the first half despite his score-first mentality.

Luol Deng kept the Cavs from being completely embarrassed in the 1st half.  You could see him trying to create something where there was nothing and his size allows him to do that better than the Cavs ball-dominant and undersized guards that just get those possessions blocked or stolen.  Earl Clark had a rough first half.  He did two really nice things: the first was an incredible iso defense on Dirk that led to him actually BLOCKING Dirk’s “unblockable” 1-legged fadeaway.  The referee realized that Dirk’s shot is “unblockable” so logic held that Clark must not have blocked it and whistled Clark for the foul.  Moments later, Clark did one of his patented left-handed drives.  Only this time, instead of losing the ball or denting the rim he veered back to the right side of the hoop and gathered for a right-handed scoop layup that seemed to have a very high probability of going in.  He was met in the air by a large body and pushed away from the hoop but somehow no foul was called.  After that, with his confidence shot, Clark was a walking…

[see image above]

2nd Half:

Kyrie Irving started the 3rd quarter off well, looking to attack and scoring in a variety of ways.  Both Marion and Blair missed shots, and Blair was even issued a T after getting whistled for a loose ball foul against Varejao.  Andy, meanwhile, stepped up the energy in the way we are all accustomed.  I’ve wondered about Varejao at length this season.  Early in the season I thought I was witnessing the beginning of the end.  But now it seems as though he still brings a quarter in a half or so of that old Andy energy most games.  As long as he can do that (which is similar to the value he provided earlier in his career) he will remain valuable to the Cavaliers.  It also helps that he has become such an effective mid-range jump shooter.  It’s a really nice safety valve to have on offense.  Kyrie’s shot making abilities coupled with Varejao’s energy, especially on the defensive end, brought the Cavaliers to within 10 before Brandan Wright (I spelled his name “Brandon” twice on the Daily Dime twitter account…::sigh::…) threw down two vicious dunks.  The Cavs played well in the 3rd, cutting the lead to 13 heading into the 4th.

4th Quarter:

The Cavs bench started off the 4th about as well as they started off the second.  Neither Waiters nor Jack were much interested in anything other than useless perimeter passes and contested long-2s.  Mike Brown promptly subbed Kyrie and Varejao back in, and…things got much better. Right out of the gate Varejao got an and-1 off a pretty Irving feed.  The Cavs went on an 11-0 run.  The Cavs held the Mavs to 6 points over 6 minutes which is incredible defense against a team that was shredding them in the first half.  Well done, boys.  Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao completely dominated the boards in the middle of the fourth.  Tristan also did a nice job being patient under the basket and either finishing or drawing fouls.  That’s important – he gets blocked way too often under there, so it was a welcome sign and hopefully a harbinger of things to come.  The crowd really came alive in the 4th quarter and the Cavs energy was off the charts.  The roof erupted when Luol Deng splashed a straightaway 3 to bring the Cavs within 2 points with 3 minutes remaining.

There was some bucket getting

After Dirk missed a 3, it really felt like the Cavs were going to win this game.  The crowd was in a frenzy and Kyrie ran down the court and tried a PUJIT bank shot.  It was strong and the Mavericks secured the rebound at least 3 times.  Only they never secured it because somehow the Cavs kept finding a way to jostle it loose.  After a mad scrum that seemed to last an eternity, Kyrie found himself spotted up along the left wing all alone.  The ball swung to him and he gently penetrated the heavy atmosphere inside the Q with his perfectly arcing stroke.  The crowd swelled….and then deflated.  Kyrie missed the 3 that would have given the Cavs their first lead since 4-2.  Monta Ellis streaked down the court and scored, and the Mavericks were never seriously in danger of losing the lead again.  The game continued its frenetic pace but Jarrett Jack made sure the Cavs never got over the hump.  He missed the first of 2 free throws with 17 seconds remaining, allowing the Mavs to maintain a 3 point lead.  A few possessions later, after Monta Ellis missed BOTH free throws (either would have iced the game), Jack failed to inbound the ball before a 5 second violation was called.  Seriously.

[see image above]
Final Thoughts:

-Nate asked me for my opinion of Dion Waiters’ game.  I hardly noticed him.  I guess 0-4 FG, 0 assists, 0 steals will have that effect.  It was Waiters’ first scoreless game of his career.  So I don’t have much to say, and besides, I’m sure a healthy dosage of reasonable Waiters’ analysis will take place in the comment section.

-The Cavs bench was abysmal tonight. They finished 3-18 for 8 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 turnovers.  Jarrett Jack is an undersized two guard that only seems comfortable taking two-dribble contested pull-ups from just inside the 3 point arc.  He has somehow lost the athleticism he previously used to find seams and create mismatches for himself or his teammates.  If Jacks puts the ball on the court now and tries to drive he cannot even get past his initial defender.  In general, he pulls up short, and either takes a contested shot, or just kicks the ball back out to the perimeter, effectively wasting time on the shot clock and nothing more.  The numbers back up this story.  Last season, 27% of Jack’s shots came within 9 feet of the basket.  This season that has fallen to a mere 20% of his attempts.  He’s also less comfortable shooting 3s, particularly off the dribble. This is because the defenders smell blood.  They know he can’t get by them with his dribble anymore.  So Jack, a once dynamic scorer, finds limited to spot-up 3 point attempts or contested mid-range 2s off the dribble.  Consider the differences between last season and this season:
2012-2013: % of Unassisted 3 point makes (dynamic) = 32%
2013-2014: % of Unassisted 3 point makes (dynamic) = 12%
Further proof of Jack’s athletic decline: about 16% of his points last season came in transition.  This season that number is 7%.

– Earl Clark finished -17 in 9 minutes.  The magic is gone.  Earl the stretch 4 is now 4 of his last 28 from distance.

-Luol Deng kept the Cavs from being completely embarrassed in the 1st half and Tristan Thompson had a very nice 4th quarter.  He (TT) finished with 8 offensive boards and got to the line 10 times.  He was only blocked once.  That’s strong finishing for a guy whose biggest weakness is strong finishing.  More of this, please.

-Kyrie played well.  He missed a lot of shots but he took over the game at various points.  He played more than 40 minutes and was +10 and the Cavs lost so you can see how poorly things went without him.

-Varejao was just awesome.  He’s automatic from mid-range these days and his energy is still off-the-charts.  He finished 7-12 from the field with TWENTY ONE rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals for good measure.  He led the Cavs in +/- with +12.

The Cavs put themselves in a hole with their predictable malaise.  It always happens the same way: they struggle to create easy looks and the missed jumpers lead to run outs for the other team.  Then they start pressing and committing turnovers or taking really terrible shots.  Somehow Jarrett Jack always seems to be involved in the malaise but that is just my eye test coupled with my compromised emotions at this point. Look, it’s much more than Jack, it’s just he was brought here to quell those moments of a young team being overwhelmed and mistake prone.  And he’s not.  Oh and we haven’t even talked about the 5 second violation to end the game.  I doubt the Cavs would have won anyway, but what the heck is going on?  I’m shocked teams don’t full court press the Cavs and harass the guards all day long with the way they fold under pressure.