Overview: Playing sloppy basketball on both ends of the floor, the Cavs were unable to beat the Nuggets on Friday night, getting outscored 30-24 in the fourth quarter and losing 97-99.
-Tonight’s high scorers:
6. Mo, Z, J.R. Smith (tie)
-To me, that indicates that the Cavs had some issues with their balance on Friday night. The offense never really got going. The Cavs don’t have a lot of guys outside of LeBron who can initiate plays. This much we know. And against the Nuggets, Mo wasn’t getting where he wanted to go offensively and only had one two-point basket. Delonte was passive offensively, and didn’t record an assist all game. Shaq only played 16 minutes.
When none of those guys can take the playmaking pressure off of LeBron, the Cavs just have to pray that LeBron is on his game. Unfortunately, LeBron’s output in this one was a mixed bag, to put it mildly.
LeBron went 6-8 at the rim, and 6-20 on shots outside of the paint. Call me crazy, but I think LeBron should’ve been a little more aggressive in this one. True, the Cavs weren’t doing much to take the pressure off of him, the Nuggets did a good job of cutting off his driving lanes, and he wasn’t getting to the line as much as he felt he should have, but he needed to mix up his attack more than he did. When you consider that three of LeBron’s four makes from midrange game during one stretch in the third quarter and both of LeBron’s threes came in the last 11 seconds of the game, it becomes even more obvious that LeBron wasn’t effective from the perimeter in Denver.
And then there were eight turnovers to boot, on everything from stepping out of bounds (twice), to a travel, to trying to dribble through traffic, to throwing bad passes. Some of it’s a product of forcing it too much, some of it’s a product of being too lackadaisical. Whatever the cause of LeBron’s hiccups, the Cavs weren’t able to overcome them with all the other mistakes they made.
Defensively, the Cavs had a lot of trouble with Chauncey Billups early, who was absolutely carving Mo Williams apart. This was a game where Delonte’s move to the bench hurt the Cavs. During Chauncey’s first stretch of the first half, when Delonte wasn’t in, he scored eight points. During his second stretch of the first half, when Delonte was playing and guarding him, he didn’t score a point.
During the first stretch of the third quarter, when Delonte wasn’t in, Chauncey scored 12 points in five minutes. After Delonte came in, Chauncey scored three more points over the rest of the game. As good of a player as Mo is, scoring points can rip him apart, and the Cavs have to do a better job of trying to hide him defensively.
-Cavs were -8 in the seven minutes LeBron sat. Not good at all.
-Andy was all over the place on the boards and on defense in this one, but the controlled frenzy he normally plays with wasn’t so controlled against the Nuggets. Andy rushed some shots around the basket and committed five fouls, including some cheap ones, which contributed to the Nuggets getting into the bonus early in the fourth. And a bad pass-and-crash charge down the stretch from Andy. And five misses from the line. Not one of his best nights.
-AP played a great game, making all three of his shots from the field, including two threes, with four assists and two steals to boot. He’s growing on me with every game…
-And helping to force Boobie out of the rotation, who played two minutes, bricked a three, and got yanked on Friday. Not sure if keeping a shooter on that short of a leash is the best thing for his confidence.
-Shaq being limited to 19 with foul trouble really hurt the Cavs, because he was getting the ball in deep position and absolutely beating up the Nuggets’ slightly undersized frontline.
-Z banged in a short-corner three, made some nice plays going to the front of the rim and depositing LeBron threes, and while he looked slow against the Nuggets’ frontline, Z actually had a game-high +10, which players on the losing team usually don’t get.
-That said, Nene is the kind of big who can give the Cavs nightmares defensively. The Cavs like to give lots of help, shut down the paint and the three-point line, and leave some seams in the in-between areas. Nene is fast, athletic, has soft hands, and can finish, and he was finding the seams, grabbing passes, and getting basket after basket, finishing with 20 points on 9 shots and 10 free throws.
-As much as anything, it just wasn’t the Cavs’ night on Friday. The Nuggets got a three from Affalo to tie the game, a mid-range jumper from K-Mart to get the lead, and a 28-foot bomb from a 1-9 J.R. Smith to break it open. Of those three shots, only the Affalo one could be considered a shot the Nuggets wanted, and even that was far from a gimme.
-The Cavs are now 1-4 in games decided by three or less. Last year, they were 3-3 in those games. You can talk about how the Cavs aren’t “closing” games, or don’t have that “it” they did in close games last year, but a lot of what’s going on is luck. And I’ve said this before, but we all saw what having “it” in the regular season did for the Cavs when it mattered last year. Have a good weekend, everyone, and see you Sunday when the Cavs play the Blazers.