In a battle of two of the NBA’s largest players, Dwight Howard and the Magic prevailed against the Cavaliers on Sunday. The Magic outscored the Cavaliers by seven points in the final quarter en route to a 101-95 win. This is the first time in two seasons that the Cavs have lost three games in a row.
-Jamison trade fallout: The Cavs have dominated in the first quarter for the last two seasons. They’re not quite as good in the first this year as they were last year, but they’re still a hair away from being the best first-quarter team in the league. In the losses to Denver and Orlando, the Cavs have been outscored by a combined 17 points in the first quarter.
-After Shaq comes out, the unit Z heads up has been extremely productive. That wasn’t the case against the Nuggets and Magic. The Nuggets went on a 13-3 run to end the first quarter on Thursday. The Magic went on an 8-2 run after Shaq exited the game on Sunday. All four of the Magic’s baskets were in the paint, with the deepest shot coming from seven feet out. Z’s lateral movement on defense may be glacial, but a 7-3 player keeps opponents away from the rim. The small lineup that currently finishes the first quarter is having trouble doing that.
-The good news of the Jamison trade fallout: the third quarter. The third quarter has long been a problem for the Cavaliers. They tend to get stagnant offensively, and often allow teams back into the game going into the fourth.
On Sunday, the third quarter was easily the best quarter for the Cavs, and Jamison was the reason why. Jamison started the third with an 8-0 run, really showing his versatility as a scorer. He posted up, he cut for a layup, and he banged in a pick-and-pop 20-footer.
Jamison did exactly what the Cavs want from him on Sunday. He made good cuts, he hit open shots, and he provided a scoring boost when they needed one. I’m not quite sold on his ability to keep defenders from driving on him, but he did a good job of staying with Rashard Lewis on the perimeter. Jamison finished with a game-high +10, and it was clear that he was helping the Cavs when he was on the floor.
-The big reason the Cavs lost this one was the play of Mo Williams and Delonte West. Both of them looked rusty, and they went a combined 3-18 from the floor with no threes. Delonte provided hustle, but very little else. Mo really looked out of it. He wasn’t running the offense, he wasn’t hitting open shots, he wasn’t making a good effort to set himself up with good looks, and he was getting abused on defense. Other than that, though, good game for Mo.
-The offense in general looked pretty bad. Last time the Cavs played the Magic, they started the game moving the ball as well as they have all year. This time, the offense looked terrible. They weren’t cutting, they weren’t spacing the floor, they weren’t setting back-screens to free up shooters, they weren’t running the corner dive, they weren’t using Mo in the pick-and-roll to get LeBron moving without the ball, they weren’t moving when Shaq had it in the post. That kind of offense isn’t going to get it done against a defense like the Magic. The team clearly needs some practices to figure things out.
-The Cavs: best three-point shooting team in the league. The Magic: 2nd-best team in the league at defending the paint, just behind the Cavs. The Magic are the 23rd-best team in the league at defending three-pointers. So I’d say the Cavs going 3-16 from beyond the arc was a problem. If you set threes up like the Cavs usually do, they’re good offense.
-LeBron may have had 30 points through three quarters, but he wasn’t playing his game. The Magic took away LeBron’s drives to the rim in the half-court and his passing lanes, and turned him into a scorer. LeBron flashed some mid-post moves, scored on the break, hit some jumpers, and drew some fouls, but he wasn’t able to control the game the way he likes to. LeBron also wasn’t shooting the ball well enough to carry the Cavs to a win, going only 3-12 from outside the paint.
LeBron was able to have success during the first three quarters, but in the fourth the Magic’s strategy paid off. LeBron went 1-5 in the final quarter, and the Magic were able to take the game late.
-What a battle between Shaq and Dwight. Shaq wanted Dwight to come in with something to prove, and he did just that.
According to ESPN stats and information, Dwight was actually winning the individual matchup against Shaq coming into Sunday’s game. Here’s what they did when matched up against one another in the first two games:
Shaq: 5 points, 2-7 shooting, 2 fouls drawn, 2 turnovers
Dwight: 19 points, 7-8 shooting, 6 fouls drawn, 1 turnover
Shaq was doing a good job keeping Dwight in foul trouble and from taking over the game, but Dwight was actually doing much better than Shaq when he did try to score on him.
Here’s how Dwight and Shaq did going up against each other on Sunday:
Shaq: 14 points, 6-7 shooting, 1 foul drawn, 1 turnover
Dwight: 9 points, 4-9 shooting, 4 fouls drawn, 2 turnovers
While Shaq might’ve gotten the better of Dwight one-on-one, Dwight played like he had something to prove the entire game. Dwight Howard is a cat-quick 265-pound man. A pissed-off Dwight Howard is a bad thing to be facing, especially when you’ve just traded a center.
Dwight played 44 minutes, snatched 16 rebounds, blocked four shots, drew nine fouls, and generally looked like he was ready to eat a car. He’s getting more skilled, too. He looks really comfortable going to his left from the right block, and made some nice passes for Magic buckets when the Cavs started (ahem, Shaq) doubling Howard in the fourth quarter. Although I might leave that 15-foot banker at home if I were Dwight.
-What broke the game open for the Magic were some 1-2 PnR sets from Jameer and Vince in the fourth quarter. The good news is that Mike Brown will have time to study that set before the playoffs.
-Daniel Gibson is significantly better on defense than Mo Williams. It has to be said. Playing him 20 less minutes than Mo was probably the right move long-term, but the Cavs would’ve been better off with Boobie out there tonight.
Well, that’s it for now. Three tough games, three losses, with two of them coming in winnable games. Jamison looked good. The Wiz and Z are moving towards a buyout. Delonte and Mo should get better. Although if the Cavs lose at home to the Hornets on Tuesday, I am going to seriously start worrying about the curse of Z.