Monday, October 25, 2010

Didn't See That One Coming...


What a strange league the current NFL is. And as long-suffering Browns fans, we should know that more than any other fan base. This team seems to have an uncanny knack at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Entering yesterday afternoon's game in New Orleans, the floundering Browns yet again found themselves with an embarrassing 1-5 record. I lamented the fact that they basically gave away the first two games of the season - losses in Tampa and then at home against the Chiefs. Those were basically must-win games for these Browns, especially considering their brutal 2010 schedule. Yet the hapless Browns found a way again to squander the opportunity for a respectable record and instead were in their all-too familiar position in the cellar of the AFC North.

So why even bother to watch the carnage that was sure to ensue yesterday in New Orleans? Because we are Browns fans. And for once we were finally rewarded with that rare game when everything just seems to go right. How else can you explain their improbable 30-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champions? It was a game they should have had no business winning, but instead they won it going away, with no chance of any fourth quarter collapse this time around. And it was actually fun to watch.

Sure it took some trickery and a few gadget plays. But that's what desperate teams need to do - find a way to win, in any manner possible. And the Browns surely did that yesterday, from the moment they got their hands on the Saints' first punt. I loved the ballsy special teams call there to have Josh Cribbs find Eric Wright on that beautiful cross-field pass. And the play nearly worked to perfection, with only a shoestring tackle preventing a touchdown. The 68-yard fake punt call and then the 4th quarter direct-snap from Peyton Hillis to a wide-open Colt McCoy (on a crucial 3rd down, no less) were also brilliant calls.

The defensive strategy employed by coordinator Rob Ryan also should be applauded. They had Drew Brees confused all-day long, resulting in four interceptions (there honestly could have been at least two more that were dropped). It resulted in a banner day for David Bowens, who got to return two of those interceptions for touchdowns. And Scott Fujita was used perfectly against his former team. Kudos to the entire Browns coaching staff. They severely their opponents in this game and deserve much of the credit for what is surely the biggest win in the 21-game Mangini Era thus far.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that this will become the norm. A lot of things went right for the Browns in this one and it became the perfect storm that eventually overwhelmed the Saints. But this could be a victory to build on. The Browns are obviously much-improved over last season, and until yesterday had nothing to show for it. They now need to start learning how to win. They have the bye week to prepare for even bigger things - hosting the Patriots and then the Jets. Mangini obviously has those games circled on his calendar. Let's just hope the Browns didn't use up all their good karma yesterday.

Random Notes: I honestly didn't think there would be any chance of a quarterback controversy this season, but I guess I forgot this is the Browns we're talking about. With the next game not until November 7, there is a chance the team could have all three quarterbacks healthy again. So if and when that happens, who gets the starting nod? I say it has to be McCoy. He has shocked me with his poise so far and I don't think he has done anything that warrants turning away from him. The team needs to figure out what to do with this position before the draft. McCoy deserves an extended look to help figure out where the team is headed... I love the fact that the coaching staff tried to get Eric Wright involved in a positive play right off the bat yesterday. But it still doesn't change the fact that he is being severely exploited by opposing offenses. Wright's downward spiral this year is dismaying to say the least. And his tackling is horrific. I've rewound a couple plays the past two weeks just to verify his poor tackling effort... I can't believe another Cavs season is just just two days away. My eighth as a season ticket-holder, and obviously first without LeBron. I'm eager to get the post-LBJ era underway and the betrayal behind us. I will probably have some Cavs-related stuff here on Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Look what I've become

Before I dive into this topic, let me preface it with a little background info from my most formative years - those being my time in college between 1994 and 1998. I was just a fresh-faced kid from Strongsville, still very Cleveland-centric in all my sports views, and hadn't really spent a lot of time around fans from other cities. That changed when I decided to continue my education two hours west of Cleveland in Bowling Green, OH.

First, you have to understand something about Bowling Green. Although it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, windy ALL the time, and spring doesn't seem to arrive sometime around June, most people that attend BGSU love their time in that town. There's just something about it that you can only understand if you live there for a significant amount of time. I can't even put my finger on it and I lived there for the better part of those four years.

What I did notice during that time period is most that students in BG seemed to hail from the following six general locations: 1) greater Cleveland (I'm including Akron, even if LeBron won't ever acknowledge that it is Cleveland), 2) Columbus, 3) Toledo/Michigan, 4) Dayton/Cincinnati, 5) Buffalo, and 6) other small Ohio towns (Wapakoneta, Marion, and many other nondescript places like those that just need a category). I was always confused by the Buffalo dynamic. Maybe I just hung around a small group of people from there and I'm remembering it wrong, but it seemed weird to me that people from there would choose Bowling Green.

Anyway, as a rabid Browns/Cavs/Indians fan, my college years were a strange time to be away from home. At the end of my freshman year Art Modell decided to yank the Browns out of Cleveland and take them in Baltimore. They didn't return until a year after I graduated and was already a productive working member of society... or at least pretending to be one. And in hindsight, their "return" to the NFL has brought us nothing but embarrassment for the better part of the last decade. The Cavs were also an afterthought between 1994 and 1998. It was a bad mix of the defensive era in the NBA (routine Mike Fratello coached wins came with scores like 73-70), a team stuck in an undefinable time period (post-Price/Ehlo/Nance/Daugherty and pre-LeBron), some hideous uniforms and court design (who the hell designed that anyway?), and years of playoff failure. So we were left with the Indians...

After 41 years of futility the 1995 Tribe was a team like no other. A 100-win wrecking ball - in a strike-shortened 144-game schedule, no less. They provided some of the best sports memories I've had in my life, most coming during my sophomore year while living in Rodgers Hall in Bowling Green. Which finally brings me to my point... after decades of failure I was of the naive opinion that sports fans from other cities with no real rooting interest would also get behind the Tribe - a feel-good story for baseball after the strike. A city that was able to re-invent itself with Jacobs Field, Gateway, and the Flats. Almost the real-life Major League.

But I was wrong. I quickly found out that fans of the Reds and Tigers were definitely rooting against the Tribe. They couldn't stand the success that Cleveland fans were finally experiencing and hated our late-night screams of joy when Tony Pena gave us our first playoff win in 41 years. The trend continued over the next two years when the Tribe was shocked by the Orioles in the 1996 ALDS, and then by the Marlins in the 1997 World Series. Reds fans that lived in the apartments below us could openly be heard cheering against the Tribe in the 1997 ALDS vs. New York and the ALCS when we got revenge against Baltimore. And a neighbor from Buffalo across the hall was praying the Marlins would stop the Tribe. The goddamn Florida Marlins!?!

I never understood it at the time, but I do now. I've become those bitter fans. The 2010 MLB playoffs have allowed me to come full-circle. Now I'm the one praying the Yankees don't win. I'm the one with the look of smug satisfaction after seeing the Reds get swept by the Phillies. I've come to a cold realization: I can't stand seeing you succeed. If my team can't win then I sure as hell can root against the others that I don't want to win. It's what we've been reduced to as fans of Cleveland teams. So here's to you John Elway, Michael Jordan, Jose Mesa, Edgar Renteria, and LeBron. Thanks for turning me into something I used to hate. Go Rangers!

(I'm chuckling to myself that my previous post had "hope" in the title and centered around the Browns. LOL.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hoping for progress

Before I jump headfirst into another season of Cleveland sports, let me first invoke a couple quotes from my favorite movie.

First, from the immortal Red:

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.

And then later, from Andy Dufresne:

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

As a die-hard Cleveland fan, I'd like to think I know a thing or two about hope. After the nutshot of all nutshots earlier this summer, it seemed like all hope was lost. Our superstar took his talents to South Beach and we were left to pick up the pieces without him and nothing to look forward to but a miserable Indians summer, likely followed by more disappointment from our Browns. The same Browns who have given us just 59 wins (and 117 losses) since they were reincarnated.

Thinking about all of itwas enough to keep me from posting here for two long months. Hope is indeed a cruel thing and I nearly turned my back on it altogether. But time marches on and has a funny way of rebuilding optimism. I actually started feeling a little better about things for the Browns when I thought more about last season. Things seemed to hit rock bottom in Week 13 of when the they fell to 1-11 with yet another loss. Of course, the lone victory at that point was a brutally ugly 6-3 "win" over the hapless Buffalo Bills - a performance in which the Browns completed just two passes for a grand total of 23 yards.

At 1-11, the Browns were again the joke of the NFL. Somehow they looked even worse than the 2-14 expansion team of 1999. Eric Mangini was sure to be canned and the team would be starting from square one yet again. But if you look closer at that 12th game of the season against the Chargers, things began to turn around that cold December afternoon. They lost 30-23 to a very solid team - the 23 points being the second-most the team had scored in a single game up to that point in the season. It was a game in which they could have easily rolled over, but the team finally started showing some fight and soon after found a rushing game on the legs of Jerome Harrison. The Browns gave us a rousing 13-6 win on national TV over the hated Steelers, then capped off the season with three more victories over the Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars.

On paper, it was just another lackluster 5-11 season by the Browns. But in reality, the team seemed to finally find some direction and appeared to have bought into the system that Mangini was trying to install. After Mike Holmgren and Tom Eckert were given the reigns over franchise personnel, they wisely kept Mangini and will allow him to continue what was started in 2009. While the team is still far from perfect, the four consecutive wins to end the season have given some of us that elusively dangerous hope that keeps us watching, yet also waiting for the other shoe to drop - an art we seem to have perfected here in Cleveland.

So what should we expect for 2010? I honestly don't know. A quick glance at the schedule has me hoping for 6-10. While that wouldn't seem so great in most years, we have to remember to be patient. We just need this team to show progress. Jake Delhomme is certainly an upgrade at quarterback, despite the ridicule that is being hurled his way from the national "experts." After being forced to endure Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson last year, anything would be an upgrade. But Delhomme's veteran leadership should be helpful, especially with this group of young receivers. The offense has certainly looked more crisp in the limited looks we've had during the preseason.

The defensive side of the ball has me a little more concerned. But Shaun Rogers returned to full practice this week after his annual mockery of preseason play. I will be particularly interested to see how the secondary performs with youngsters Joe Haden and T.J. Ward now in the fold. Eric Wright has looked solid in his young career and should continue to progress. And D'Qwell Jackson will be a big addition if/when he returns from injury. But there are still a lot of question marks, particularly with the linebackers.

I'm just hoping the Browns can find a way to start the season 2-0. Wins at Tampa Bay, then at home against the Chiefs shouldn't be out of the question. And a solid start to the year could propel the team to an upset win or two when the schedule gets much tougher. All we can really ask for as fans of any Cleveland team right now is for a reason to hope. While not yet a Super Bowl contender, at least there are glimmers of that hope again. And after the summer we've just endured, that should be enough for now. Go Browns.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Open Letter to LeBron James

Dear LeBron,

First of all, thanks for the public nutshot to the city of Cleveland. As if The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Jose Mesa, and The Choke weren’t enough, now we have The Decision to add to that miserable list of sports failures. If it was always your intention to leave that’s fine. You were, of course, a “free” agent. I can understand you caving under the pressure of delivering this region its first major sports championship since 1964. It’s a tall task and obviously you weren’t up to it. Few probably would be. But the public way in which you chose to disclose The Decision was by far the most obscenely egomaniacal thing I’ve “witnessed” in all my years as a Cleveland sports fan.

What makes this hurt the most is that I honestly believed that all they ESPN-driven hype leading up to tonight was a smokescreen. Maybe it was just denial. I thought you and the LRMR management were playing everyone for fools to drum up interest in tonight’s spectacle. I thought in the end you would reveal your true intentions to right the wrongs of this postseason and sign on again with the Cavaliers. After all, you were as one of us. You were the local boy from Akron that could never do wrong in our eyes. But somehow in these last few weeks you managed to take all that local goodwill and flush it down the toilet. Not an easy task, so bravo on that accomplishment. The sudden implosion of your image in northeast Ohio is nothing short of remarkable.

Surely the public display will be defended as an act of charity for the Boys and Girls Club of America. And that’s fine. You covered all your bases. It was a shrewd move and ready-made defense when the accusations fly your way about such a public dismissal of your home team. But please, spare us the outright lie that the decision was made this morning after a long talk with Gloria. Anyone who believes that is as na├»ve as I was when I defended your insanely cocky display of that Yankees cap inside Jacobs Field during the 2007 MLB playoffs.

You have definitely made a fool of me and countless other loyal Cavalier fans who refused to believe that you would ever take that loyalty for granted. What’s most shocking to me is how aloof you seem to the entire process. Almost as if you don’t understand what it means to be from northeast Ohio. And that’s exactly the conclusion I’ve come to. OK, so you were never a Clevelander – you’ve made it clear many times that you were from Akron and just working in Cleveland. But even a real man from Akron would realize the effect tonight’s public stab to the heart would have on this region. You truly are the spoiled boy prince that Skip Bayless has been calling you for years. (I honestly can’t believe these proceedings have brought me to agreeing with that asshole tonight after denying it for so long). I guess one thing I can take from all this is that your true colors have finally been revealed.

So go, enjoy your time in the Miami sun. Enjoy sharing the ball with Wade, Bosh, and six or so as-of-right-now faceless minimum salary scrubs. You will probably have a great regular season and maybe even some success in the postseason. But don’t expect to EVER be welcomed back “home.” You’ve lost your Cleveland privileges.

I read a line this morning by the great Brian Windhorst that read, “hell hath no fury like Dan Gilbert scorned.” I’d like to think that’s true and I’m sure in time the Cavaliers will find a way to recover from this blow. Gilbert has a casino to fill and has proven to always be an active owner willing to do whatever it takes to win. That won’t change anytime soon. And he has to take advantage of the advance tickets sales for next season. You’d better hope Mickey Arison is half as good an owner as what you’re leaving behind in Gilbert because there are going to be problems if you don’t bring a championship immediately to that bandwagon fan base this season.

No matter what, the sun will truly rise again in Cleveland, even without you LeBron. But it’s unlikely that you’ll notice or even care. Just remember that hell also hath no fury like a scorned Cleveland fan. And unlike Carlos Boozer and Art Modell, you won’t be able to get away with only one annual visit “home” in the coming years. You’ll have to bring your posse from South Florida up here multiple times every year. You will have to show your face again and we have long memories when it comes to being screwed over. I guarantee you that it won’t be a pleasant experience. You are no longer royalty here, you’re just another guy who couldn’t get it done in Cleveland. Good riddance.

Sincerely,
A Cavs fan before you and a Cavs fan after you

Friday, May 14, 2010

0-for-103*

I was born on December 26th, 1975. Chronologically, I'm approaching 34-1/2 years old. In Cleveland sports terms I'm 0-for-103. Thankfully, fate intervened in 1994 and brought an MLB strike, thus no World Series winner (err loser), or it would likely be 0-for-104. That's a lot of failure. Just once I'd like to know what it feels like to see my team holding a trophy.

Now I'd like to consider myself a bit more hardcore than your average local sports fan. I distinctly remember when I first fell in love with a Cleveland sports team. My first real memory of crushing defeat (at least in my eyes) is back in 1985 when the Cavs of World B. Free and George Karl lost a hard fought series to the mighty Celtics, 3 games to 1. All games were nailbiters. And this was a Cavs team that began that season 2-19 and defied all odds simply by making it into the playoffs. It was my first experience rooting for my local team rising up and nearly doing the unthinkable. I loved the hope it gave me. Little did I know the disappointment of that ending would be such a common theme throughout my tortured sports life.

I have similar stories about the Browns and Tribe around that time period. Anyone else remember, "Tribe 85... this is my team!"? I watched Pat Tabler, Tony Bernazard, Brook Jacoby, Mel Hall, Otis Nixon, Andre Thornton, Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Mike Hargrove, and Mel Hall religiously that summer. This was an awful team that ended up losing 102 games. But they were my team damn it, and always would be from that summer on.

The Browns of 1985 brought in a rookie quarterback named Bernie Kosar. They finished 8-8 and somehow won the old AFC Central. I remember how fun it was watching the newly-nicknamed Dawgs back then. I remember calling my grandpa at halftime of the wild card playoff game when the Browns were up 14-3 over Dan Marino's Miami Dolphins. I remember confidently barking into the phone, full of hope that this team was going somewhere and I was along for the ride. They of course ended up losing that game in the first of many crushing playoff losses that would follow over the next 5 or 6 years.

My point is that 1985 was somehow a formative year for me as a Cleveland fan. I was filled with youthful optimism and hadn't really considered this a "cursed" sports town yet. 25 years and countless sports letdowns later, I'm starting to harbor some serious doubts about whether it will ever happen for the great fans of this city.

The latest of the epic collapses came to a merciful end last night as the Cavaliers walked off the court in Boston. To me, this one doesn't hurt quite as much as last year when they lost to a much formidable Orlando Magic team in a much closer series. Don't get me wrong - it still hurts - just in a different way. I felt sick for the players last season. Now I just feel sick for myself. Sick that I believed in this team so much and in the end they simply let us all down. Give the Celtics credit for seizing the opportunity. But it was an opportunity laid at their feet by a Cavs team that couldn't handle its own success and lacked the playoff fire that we've obviously come to take for granted from this franchise. And given the magnitude of this game, and the potential ramifications of this meltdown, we're once again left wondering if there is any hope on the horizon.

I toyed with the idea of writing an open letter to LeBron in this space today. But I doubt that would have been much of an original idea right about now. And honestly, what can I tell him that he doesn't already know? Something was clearly wrong with him and the team in this series. Whether it was internal strife between the roster and the coaching staff or Elbowgate really existed, none of it really matters. At the end of the day, the Cavs joined a long list of failures that have come to define this region. Of course ESPN had the highlight reel cued up at the end of the game listing all our failures. Would it have killed them to add the 2007 Tribe ALCS collapse while they were at it? I mean, I want to forget it too but it did happen.

I guess if I could say anything to LeBron it would be this: Don't give up on us. We haven't given up on you. Despite all the venom I saw being spewed towards LBJ on message boards and e-mails floating around this week, LeBron is Cleveland. The constant drumbeat of LeBron bolting Cleveland within the national media finally seemed to come to a head this week with some "fans." And coupled with LeBron's less-than-stellar play in this series, many of them seized the opportunity to pounce on the King. I was actually quite shocked by some of the things I heard and read. I won't go that route. I've seen him exceed every expectation since he came into the league. He's the sole reason I became a season ticket holder back in 2003. I remain a season ticket holder to this day and I signed on for next year with full confidence that he'll be back.

Of course my confidence has been shaken by everything I've seen unfold over the past couple weeks. But my gut still says that LeBron will ultimately do the right thing and atone for this latest disappointment. The storybook ending would come if/when he decides to use this failure as a launching pad for his eventual Jordan-like drive to multiple championships. Maybe it's silly for me to hope for such a thing. But I refuse to believe that my hope as a Cleveland fan throughout my lifetime hasn't made a difference. Otherwise it's all been for nothing. I continue to hope, even in the face of endless disappointment... unless LeBron is wearing a Knicks jersey next year. Then I'll just jump off a building. Fuck.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Humiliation at its finest

I'm at a complete loss for words to describe the level of disappointment the Cavs have supplied in their latest tank-job to the Celtics. Game 5 was beyond description. I thought walking out of the Q after Game 1 against the Magic last year was deflating. But last night had a shocking finality to it that I don't think I've ever felt in my years of rooting for any Cleveland team. Many of us just sat there stunned during the fourth quarter, trying to come to grips with what had happened in the arena where we have been so dominant.

There's not even a sadness like there was lingering after last year's ECF letdown. At least then the Cavs fought hard and just lost out to a team that executed at a higher level, victimized by some nightmare personnel matchups. But this year's team was supposed to be new and improved. Ready for anything the playoffs would throw at them. And that's what makes the mystery of what is going on now even more baffling. Where is the heart? The pride? The only evidence I saw of that last night was clad in ugly green uniforms.

There's absolutely no excuse for how flat the team was last night. It was the first loss I've witnessed in person for the Cavs in the 18 or so games I've personally attended this season. I can handle losses, but not in this fashion with this much at stake. I'd be more angry if I thought the team cared as much as I do, but judging by their words and collective demeanor afterward, they don't. Last night's humiliation should be the type of turning point that motivates a team to something greater. But does anyone out there get the sense that it will?

Game 6 will likely define LeBron James' Cavs career thus far - if there even is a career in Cleveland beyond this spring. All I know is that last night at the Q is not how this was supposed to play out. That cannot be the way it ends here for #23. Watching him and his teammates just go through the motions with a complete lack of energy and focus is not what I envisioned from this bunch. Finding a scapegoat at this point is fruitless. I'm sure there will be wholesale changes for this franchise if/when they ultimately go down in this series. But how will this team immediately respond to this level of adversity? If I were a betting man I'd say they will melt under the pressure in Boston. Prove me wrong MVP. Please.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A three game series

Well, I got my wish. I wanted the Cavs to at least get a split in Boston and they stomped their way to a 29-point win on Friday night to at worst guarantee a 2-2 tie coming home for tonight's Game 5. So why am I down on them? Because of the way Game 4 went on Sunday afternoon. After looking so focused on Friday night, the Cavs looked equally as passive and disinterested on Sunday. It's like they were satisfied to get the split and just ended up conceding the loss in Game 4.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I will defend most everything LeBron does. I don't think I've ever called him out on this site for anything he's done. But I am now. It all starts with LeBron and he was passive and tentative again on Sunday. As LeBron goes, so go the Cavs and he set the tone again on Sunday with his passive play. One play in particular stands out to me. It was a crucial possession midway through the fourth quarter when there was a Celtics miss and three Cavs standing in the paint. LeBron was the only one not boxing out and the ball squirted to Rajon Rondo for what seemed like his 200th offensive rebound, which he easily converted for a big basket to help start the finishing run that killed any hopes of a Cavs win. As the broadcast went to commercial I made a point to rewind this play and re-watch it in slow motion to single out which Cav missed his assignment. And it was just one example of a missed assignment on Sunday. I won't even begin to try to figure out how a hobbling Kevin Garnett can beat the entire Cavalier defense down the court for a long pass that ended in an easy layup...

History says that LeBron will bounce back tonight and have a big performance. I'm not doubting that. But MVP players on championship teams usually don't rely on the ability to flip the switch. They know when it's time to squeeze the life out of their opponents. My original prediction for this series was the Cavs in 6. That may still be the way it plays out. But I wouldn't have predicted such a passive/aggressive nature in the way this team has shown up at various times. It's extremely frustrating to see how well they can play, but at the same time never knowing when to expect it. Tonight would be a good time to flip the switch back to "on" and keep it there for the remainder of the season.

I get that the Celtics are a proud team and they won't roll over for anyone. That's fine. And it will probably ultimately end up being a good thing that the Cavs have been challenged in this fashion, while the Magic have been handed a free pass through the first two rounds. But it's only a good thing if the Cavs win this series. I almost get the feeling that they only have one eye on Boston and the other looking ahead to Orlando, even if no one on the team will ever admit it. There needs to be a sense of urgency (a tired but appropriate sports cliche) from here on out. This is a scary time to be a Cavs fan given everything that is at stake. I don't want to think what may happen if they don't take care of business tonight.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Win or go home

"Win or go home." That's TNT's long-running playoff slogan. I see it everywhere. On TV. On the web. It's even on two or three billboards off of I-480 along my commute to and from work. And that's exactly what the Cavaliers need to do either tonight or Sunday afternoon. Win or go home. They go down 3-1 and you can stick a fork in them.

Am I nervous? Yes. I've had four days to stew over the mess of Game 2 and I still feel no differently. I just want to see them on the floor again tonight. No more talk of injured elbows, lack of energy, defensive matchup problems, etc. Let's just play basketball. I already have that sickening dread/excitement feeling in my stomach that only a big playoff game can bring about. The game is still 7 and a half hours away. I'm gonna need some alcohol to help coax me through this one. And in nearly-desperate times, it always helps to modify the famous Shawshank quote:

I find I'm so nervous, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the anxiety only a Cleveland fan can feel... a Cleveland fan at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope Mo can get hot again. I hope to see Antawn finally make a difference. I hope LeBron's elbow injury is as irrelevant as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Pull out your lucky shirts tonight fellow Cavs fans. Sit in your lucky spot on the couch. Yell at the TV. Do whatever you have to do to help the wine and gold pull out at least one win this weekend. Preferably tonight. Go Cavs.

Random Notes:
  • Tonight's officiating crew is Bennett Salvatore, Ken Mauer, and Zach Zarba. Food for thought - the Cavs were a combined 11-0 in the regular season with either Salvatore or Mauer on the crew. Let's hope the trend continues. (Update: Thanks to camakazee at www.realcavsfans.com for the updated info - Cavs are a combined 18-1 with any of these three refs working their games this year. 15-1 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs.)
  • Not sure how to stop Rondo, but his constant waltzing through the paint needs to stop. How about a hard foul or two right from the start?
  • I'm begging ESPN to throw us a bone and at least give us Hubie Brown and Mike Tirico tonight. Again, I don't ask for much.
  • I remember the Eastern semis back in 1992. The Cavs were down 2-1 going into Game 4 in Boston and they pulled out a double-OT win and eventually won the series in 7 games. My heart really doesn't need that kind of stress again, but I guess I'd take it if it meant we win the series.
  • My decision to attend the Pearl Jam show on Sunday night at the Q hinges on whether the Cavs can get the win tonight. C'mon Cavs, do it for Eddie Vedder.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The 'Game-Changer'

It happened with 5:20 left in the third quarter on Saturday night. I immediately called it a "game-changer," but it ultimately could end up proving to be a series-changer. The Cavs, looking lethargic for the better part of two and a half quarters, found themselves down 11 points at home in Game 1 to the Celtics. They were shooting terribly, giving up way too many offensive rebounds, and just lacking overall energy and heart. They looked to be on their way to a possible shocking Game 1 loss that could have been a crippling early playoff blow. Then Mo Williams stole the ball and left me and thousands of others shocked and confused. He threw down the first dunk I've ever seen from him, and it was not a cheapie.


From my vantage point in the Q, the play was confusing to me because I was expecting Mo to lay the ball up and when that didn't happen I assumed that Paul Pierce had blocked the shot. And judging by the reaction of those around me, others were as equally confused. I couldn't figure out why the crowd in the lower deck was going nuts. And it still took a few replays on Q-tube to actually confirm what I missed the first time. The video guy for the Cavs must have been as equally shocked because the replay was run at least 6 times.

And that dunk was all it took. That ignited a 21-10 run by the Cavs (including a personal 10-0 run by Mo) that turned an 11-point deficit into a 1-point lead entering the fourth quarter. The Cavs ended up winning 101-93 thanks to some late-game heroics (yet again) from LeBron and some timely baskets (finally) from Shaq. But the difference in the game was that last 5:20 of the third quarter. Without that run, the Cavs probably would have found themselves in a 1-0 hole this morning.

I said earlier that Antawn Jamison's arrival would prove to be a difference for Mo in these playoffs. And so far Mo has delivered, aside from one rough game in the Chicago series. Jamison himself only notched 7 points on just 6 shot attempts in Game 1, but judging from moments like this one, the fire is there. He did add 9 rebounds and provided some stout defense against Garnett. I don't recall Antawn ever playing in such a pressure situation so far in his career and I expect to see him more involved in tonight's offensive game plan. And that's the beauty of the Cavs. There will be different guys stepping up on different nights to help out the two-time MVP in his quest for the ultimate trophy.

There's plenty more to write about this series, but I'll save that for tomorrow when we recap Game 2. My gut still says Cavs in 6, especially considering how well the Celtics played for so long in Game 1. They are one team that won't be intimidated by the environment at the Q. But if/when the Cavs take this one tonight, the writing should be on the wall for the proud Celtics. They won't go down without a fight, but it will be fun to see them go down. Go Cavs.

Random Notes:

  • How cool is it to see LeBron include his teammates in yesterday's MVP ceremony? And consider the fact that all 14 teammates showed up to see the King accept the award. I challenge you to name me another NBA team for which this would actually happen... and two years in a row now. Somehow I just can't picture Ron Artest showing up for a Kobe MVP celebration. I'm laughing just trying to picture it.
  • It's still fun to talk trash to Celtics fans. Walking down Bolivar towards the Q on Saturday we spied two green-jersey-clad C's fans enjoying drinks outside Local Heroes. I said something to the effect of "hope you didn't pay too much for your tickets boys." There may or may not have been some profanity included. And my comments were greeted by a look of confusion/anger from both. Do you honestly expect not to be called out when you show up in that attire?
  • What is up with Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine on the C's bench? I don't think both of them were sitting simultaneously at any point during the entire 48 minutes on Saturday. It was fun to see Allen finally get whistled for a technical, but not so fun when Mo missed the free throw.
  • Is Usher the ultimate fair-weather Cavs fan? I've been to my fair share of Cavs games this year (at least 17 by my own unofficial count) and this is the first time I've seen him there this season. Excuse me for not getting excited to see him there.
  • It would be silly of me not to mention JJ Hickson and his 11 points in 12 minutes in Game 1. The truth is obvious now for Mike Brown/Z/the Cavs organization. JJ has to be part of the rotation, and will be. Doesn't mean we don't love you Z, but we've got a title to win.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bring on the Celtics

I purposely waited a while to post today in the wake of the Cavs' 4-1 opening series win over the pesky Bulls. My immediate reaction while filing out of the Q after last night's game was a combination of disgust and relief. Disgust in how the Bulls were allowed to hang around for far too long in that one. And relief that the Cavs don't have to face that team anymore this year. Somehow the Bulls managed to turn a handful of games vs. the Cavs this year into some of the ugliest slugfests I've seen since Mike Brown's early days as head coach when the team strictly relied on LeBron and gritty team defense.


Whatever it was about the Bulls, they somehow managed to find the right combination on defense to stop the Cavs from playing their normal style for long stretches of games. And to me it seemed like that style lulled the Cavs to sleep on more than one occasion this season. You can't fault the Cavs for falling into the 1 vs. 8th seed trap and leaning on the "we'll turn it on in the 4th quarter" crutch that comes with such a matchup. But that mentality nearly resulted in an unnecessarily bad Game 5 home loss at home - a game which the Cavs should have controlled from the opening tip. I never got the sense the Cavs would lose last night, but it is a little alarming to think that the Bulls were possibly a couple of Derrick Rose in-and-out misses from stealing that game.

All that said, the Cavs did what they had to do in the end and beat the Bulls in five games, as many of us predicted they would. And in the process, they got Shaq some quality minutes in a tight playoff game and found out the big fella can still produce on both ends of the floor. And he can still quickly rack up fouls on the opposition. Maybe this series is what Mike Brown's much-maligned "high-level practices" quote at the end of the regular season can really be applied to. I do know that playing some games like this against the Bulls has to go further than previous first-round cake walks at the hands of the Pistons and Wizards. The Cavs should be more prepared to face the Celtics this next round than they were in last season's ECF vs. the Magic.

And perhaps the biggest thing to take away from the Bulls series is the fact that Antawn Jamison has truly become the bona fide second option offensively for this team. He finished the series averaging 19.5 points on 50.7% shooting from the floor. And he went 16-for-20 from the line after struggling so mightily there since joining the Cavs. He seems to have reached a new level of comfort on this offense and I believe Mo Williams, in particular, will reap the most benefit from this. Even with Mo's clunker (2-of-13 from the field) last night, he still averaged 15.6 points on 41% shooting for the series. Jamison's arrival has taken much of the pressure off Mo and I'm looking forward to seeing how this affects him as the playoffs roll on.

For now, we can forget about the Joakim Noah hate (the guy was pretty much a beast against the Cavs, as was Derrick Rose). It's time to direct that hatred to where it rightfully belongs... squarely on the Boston Celtics. Possibly the most unlikeable team I've ever had the displeasure of watching in all my years of NBA fandom. Bring on the Celtics. We've been waiting for this for two years now and the time has finally come for some payback. Go Cavs.

Random notes:

  • I didn't even mention LeBron in my post above. He's that good that I don't even feel the need to single him out anymore. But how about his series? He averaged 31.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.2 assists. On 56.7% shooting, including 54.2% from three-point range. I've run out of things to say to describe his awesomeness. Even when it looked like he was having a tough game last night, I look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game to see he was one assist shy of yet another playoff triple-double. Sick.
  • Can anyone out there verify if FSN will be broadcasting any of these 2nd round games? My fear of the national guys on TNT is slowly creeping in... my only hope is that they at least give us the tag team of Fratello and Albert. I don't ask for much.
  • I hear the LeBron banner got some major airtime on TNT last night as they headed to a commercial. A true testament to the hard work of many at www.realcavsfans.com. If you're a true Cavs fan and don't at least regularly browse the forums, what is wrong with you?
  • My brush with the stars last night: Before the game, on my way to Wilbert's after picking up my tickets I run into Campy Russell and got a fist bump from him. The guy is a lot bigger in person than I expected. And on the way to the car after the game I got a peace sign from Boobie Gibson as he was being hustled out of there in girlfriend Keyshia Cole's Porsche.
  • Finally, last night was my first encounter after a Cavs playoff game where the team shop wasn't a complete zoo. Note to self: hit the team shop any time a playoff game ends around 11:00pm on a Tuesday night. Gotta take advantage of that 20% season ticket holder discount and you can never have too much Cavs gear.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Much more like it

This was the type of performance we've come to expect from our Cavaliers. Perhaps finally deciding that these Bulls weren't worthy of sharing the same court with them, something clicked in the last few minutes of the 2nd quarter for the Cavs. Two LeBron buzzer beaters (including this ridiculous pull-up jumper from half court to end the 3rd quarter) and a 37/12/11 line later, the Bulls found themselves in an insurmountable 3-1 series deficit. The Cavs will undoubtedly send Chicago packing for the summer in Game 5 at the Q tomorrow night.


So how did the Cavs turn things around so easily and cruise to such a lopsided win? Aside from LeBron's usual greatness there were a lot of other contributing factors. First, Antawn Jamison had his best playoff game yet as a Cavalier. His 24 points on a vast array of jumpers, floaters, and driving trick shots were a welcome sight - and yet another example of just how comfortable he has become since being dealt to the Cavs. His eye-popping +33 on the night was tops for the wine and gold.

The starting backcourt of AP and Mo also combined for 31 points. Any time you can get a solid game from Mo and throw in 12 points from Parker, it's highly unlikely the Cavs will lose. When you add that to LeBron's greatness and Jamison's big game, it is the complete offensive recipe for a blowout win. But the Cavs also showed some defensive tenacity that I haven't seen since the regular season, particularly in yesterday's 2nd half. Numerous trips for the Bulls resulted in one shot and out and they took the United Center crowd completely out of the game.

And it was an interesting day for the Cavalier big men. Shaq only played 17 minutes. Z only logged 3 minutes of mop-up duty at the end of the 4th quarter. Andy played 20 minutes, yet only grabbed 3 rebounds. And Mike Brown dusted off JJ Hickson, who notched 10 points in 17 minutes of energy-filled play. I wrote last week after the ugly Game 3 loss that the mini-controversy surrounding JJ's removal from the rotation was much ado about nothing. Now it appears he may have worked his way back into the mix, at least against smaller, quicker teams like the Bulls. And we all know what effect his inclusion may have against the plodding Celtics frontcourt in the next round. So strike my previous comments on the situation. Hickson may prove to be invaluable in certain matchups as we move along towards the ultimate prize. It's just good to know that guys like Z and Shaq seem to be on board with that final goal, however it may arrive.

Random notes:

  • I know I'm in the minority, but I love Mike Brown. He's done most everything correctly and professionally in what I would argue is the toughest, most thankless head coaching gig in the NBA. That said, why does he always seem to have this expression on his face?
  • The endless post-game coverage by FSN Ohio immediately following the national feed for these games is outstanding. A welcome treat for a Cavs junkie like me that can't get enough coverage. Absolutely love Fred McLeod's enthusiastic player interviews in the locker room where he just takes control of things from all the other media people. And including A.C. in the studio show is never a bad thing. He even dropped a "deep in the United Center" during the highlights and had everyone cracking up. More please.
  • Delonte West's baseline turnaround jumper from the post is absolutely money. Whenever he has a smaller defender on him he goes to this. He will hit a huge one of these at some later point in the playoffs.
  • Hubie Brown and Mike Tirico are possibly the only two national game commentators I can stomach. Luckily we got both of them in ABC's coverage yesterday.
  • On the flip side, we were forcefed the pathetic Jon Barry to provide some halftime "analysis." He actually referred to Delonte and/or Mo as "Mo West" and then later "David West" as he fumbled to get some inane thoughts out on camera. This guy is an absolute joke. I'm certain I could do a better job even though my dad isn't an NBA hall-of-famer.
  • Thank you TV schedule-makers for not making us wait forever for Game 5. I won't even begin to try to understand why the Lakers/Thunder have to wait until Tuesday to play their Game 5 (after playing Game 4 on Friday). Whatever. Go Cavs.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Game 3 thoughts

Just some quick thoughts after the Cavs 108-106 loss in Game 3 last night:

  • I said that the Bulls would have to play a near-perfect game to get a win in this series. They basically did yesterday with a HUGE assist from the Cavs (more on that below). You had to know they would play better in the United Center and they did. Derrick Rose torched the Cavs "defense" and Kirk Hinrich was on fire, which helped the Bulls' cause a lot. A combined 58 points from their starting back court went a long way in deciding this one...
  • That said, the Cavs really handed this game to Chicago by first allowing 32 points in the first quarter... then showing no signs of life on defense for much of the rest of the game even after that initial embarrassment... also missing 10 free throws (a recurrent Achilles heel for this Cavs team all season long)... and finally just taking their 8th-seeded opponent far too lightly.
  • Now with the bad stuff out of the way, let's look at some positives... overall I honestly think this was a good thing to happen to this team. Last year's first two rounds (both uncompetitive sweeps) were far too short of actual playoff preparation for this team and may have had as much to do with the eventual ECF loss to the Magic as their hot shooting. Yes, it sucks losing any playoff game, but if we're going to lose one I'll take one like last night's wake-up call. Go back to the Magic's run through the playoffs last year... do you think it was a big deal that they dropped two games to a dreadful Sixers team? And before the bashing of the Cavs runs too far, keep in mind that the top-seeded almighty defending-champ-Lakers also lost last night to their 8th-seeded competition. All I'm trying to say is let's not overreact here - it's a marathon, not a sprint. I still say Cavs in 5.
  • And can we stop with the whining about JJ Hickson? Yes, he was solid in whatever role was asked of him this season. But Shaq is the starting center for this team and he NEEDS to be worked back into the flow. To me this is similar to the beginning of the regular season when Shaq looked a little lost out there while getting used to his new surroundings. And JJ Hickson isn't going to help keep Noah off the offensive glass. That's just not going to happen. JJ's time will come, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking he's some sort of savior. We knew going into this that one of these big men would be the odd man out. It happens to be JJ. End of story.
  • And in this age of TV dollar-driven scheduling, losses like last night's are further magnified as the wait for Game 4 extends to Sunday afternoon. I'm already tired of hearing the overanalysis and complaining and it hasn't even been 24 hours. This might be the first and only time I ever agree with Stan Van Gundy's blustery complaining. I HATE WAITING FOR THE NEXT GAME. Go Cavs.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2 Down, 14 To Go

I wrote yesterday that the Bulls would have to play a perfect game in order to beat the Cavaliers. And they damn near played a perfect game yesterday. 68 points from the trio of Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and the beloved Joakim Noah... 14 points off the bench from Flip Murray... they out-rebounded the Cavs... they had more assists than the Cavs... they only missed one free throw... and most importantly, they only had four turnovers. So how in the world did they not win this one? As my buddy Nicko said, the Cavs simply have an answer for everything.

That's not to say the Cavs played an outstanding game... we all know they have plenty left in the tank and they left a lot to be desired on the defensive end in this one. But let's look at some of the reasons they are able to win games like this:

1) LeBron James: Yesterday I mentioned how "Playoff LeBron" hadn't arrived yet. Well he showed up yesterday. 40 points on 23 shots. 16-for-23 from the field. 8 assists. 8 rebounds. A posterizing dunk and multiple fourth quarter dagger jumpers. It's nice to know that Playoff LeBron is there when we need him.

2) Hot shooting: The Cavs shot 56.3% from the floor last night. They went 50% from 3-point range, making 10 of them. And they were 22-for-24 from the free throw line - a welcome sight after so much struggling in that area during the regular season. Is it just me, or does Shaq look like he put in a ton of free throw practice? The big fella was 4-for-4 from the line. He's taking his time, bending his knees, and putting some more arc on his shot. It's enough to bring a tear to Mark Price's eye.

3) Jamario Moon: In a true example of just how deep this roster is, Moon did his part to ensure the Bulls wouldn't walk out of the Q with a split. This is a guy that has been stuck in the talented roster logjam all season. Of course he deserves more minutes, but where are they supposed to come from? He has never complained, has been the consummate teammate with his fun-loving antics, and has been outstanding in his limited role. Last night he answered the call and went 4-for-5 from outside the arc (his only shots in 20 minutes), getting the chance to show off his trademark "goosey" that has become so popular with the Cavs this year. He was a team-best +16 on the night and even added an insane block of a Noah shot in the 4th quarter that sent the crowd into a frenzy. I love it when bench guys stay ready and come up big when called upon.

4) Mike Brown: The guy has been endlessly ripped for his inability to coach on the fly in the playoffs. His in-game adjustments have been questionable in big playoff games in the past. But credit should be given to Coach for sticking with the proper line-up in the 4th quarter last night. He resisted the urge to re-insert starters Antawn Jamison, Shaq, and Anthony Parker and instead opted for the crunch-time mix of Mo/Delonte/Moon/LBJ/Varejao. That unit turned a 2-point lead into a 10-point win. And this game showed that Brown isn't afraid to make the proper adjusments when needed. Let's hope this trend continues.

5) Home court advantage: I've been to many playoff games at the Q over the last few years. The crowd intensity always builds as the rounds go on. But I think the atmosphere inside the Q for Games 1 & 2 was outstanding. I'm sure the Noah hate helped fuel that a bit, but still it's been impressive for an opening series. And I like how LeBron has learned to play it up when needed. He whipped the crowd up before the start of both halves last night and his "maestro" routine during the 4th quarter was a new one last night. The Q has become a huge advantage working in the Cavs favor, particularly the last two seasons. I expect that advantage to grow over the next few weeks.


And one more thing... I found it quite laughable to hear the TNT guys (particularly Barkley) commenting on last night's game. I flipped the TV on after returning home from the Q and caught the halftime blabber of the Jazz/Nuggets game. Barkley was going on and on about how the Cavs needed to incorporate Jamison and Mo Williams more in Game 2. He was complaining about how LeBron was just "settling" for those jumpers and those shots won't continue to go in. Newsflash Chuck: LeBron always takes what the defense gives him. If they sag off him and dare him to take those jumpers, he will. And he shot 50.3% during the regular season this year, showing off a much-improved midrange game. And that's the beauty of LeBron. He can beat you in so many different ways. Game 2 was just another way that it can happen. I guess it's easy to oversimplify things when you don't watch this team on a game-by-game basis. But as Cavs fans, we have the luxury of doing this and we know how LeBron operates. He's a surgeon waiting to slice open the defense. I can't wait to see what he's got in store for us for Game 3.

Monday, April 19, 2010

All together?

Once again, it's been way too long since I've posted here. But it's playoff time now and that needs to change. After Saturday's relatively easy Game 1 win over the Bulls, it's "All Together" as we march towards 15 more wins and that elusive Cleveland championship. I can't say I'm crazy about this year's playoff slogan... but then again, "Rise Up" and "One Goal" didn't work, so maybe this third one is the charm. We can only hope.

Some questions were answered on Saturday, and I filed away the following mental notes (Terry Pluto-style) as I watched the proceedings in the friendly confines of the Q:

  • I was fairly concerned with how Shaq would be able to fit back into the plans after all the time off with the thumb injury. And I was more than pleasantly surprised by how active he was on both ends of the court. Highlight of the game for me was his spin move and dunk on Joakim Noah, followed by the old-school sprint back down the court on defense. Absolutely loved that.
  • I fully expected "Playoff LeBron" to make a screaming appearance into Game 1. I've maintained that he's coasted through much of this season, smartly conserving himself for the next two months of work. And he's done so while still easily rolling to his 2nd consecutive league MVP award. In Game 1 he still appeared to be holding back a bit, almost pacing himself. Easy for me to say from the seats, but his numbers weren't eye-popping... until you look at his staggering +19 in 40 minutes of action. Or his 4 blocked shots - many of the demoralizing "chasedown" variety. Even when LBJ "only" gets 24 points, he still finds so many other ways to alter a game. In this one he was content to spread the wealth among Shaq, Antawn, and Mo. But you just know he has a huge game waiting for when this team needs it.
  • How about Mo Williams? We've been concerned about his shoulder for much of the season. He hasn't looked like himself for spurts throughout the year since that injury. And on the heels of last year's playoff misfortunes I was really keying on how he would look under the playoff microscope. He has the unenviable task of staying in front of Derrick Rose this series, something that even Delonte West had trouble with on Saturday. But more important than what Mo did or didn't do on defense, he showed up on offense. 19 points, 10 assists is something that all Cavs fans should be thrilled with from Mo in this one. He was 8-of-14 from the field, including 3-for-7 from long-range. And I think my favorite Mo-related moment was when he emphatically waved off LeBron late in the fourth quarter and demanded that he himself bring up the ball to set up the offense. I like aggressive Mo so much more than tentative/passive Mo.
  • You could tell Antawn Jamison was having fun playing for a team like the Cavs on this stage. A couple of occasions you could see him imploring the crowd to get louder while walking to the huddle at the start of a timeout. And his array of flip-shots and quick moves (the ones that used to annoy the shit out of me when he was wearing a Wizards jersey) were on full display again. It's going to be something to have him as an option on offense over the next two months. He has been everything we reasonably could have expected since joining the Cavs.
  • This Joakim Noah character needs to stop. I understand he's an energy guy that feeds off emotion and hustle. But he's quickly digging himself a hole he can't escape by continuing to rip the city of Cleveland - unless his idea of escaping is a Cavalier sweep and an earlier summer vacation. There's a reason the quote "let sleeping dogs lie" came into popularity. Why give LBJ and the Cavs any further motivation for this series? Wouldn't it be better to take the low road and hope that maybe the Cavs would take you lightly? Ain't gonna happen now thanks to Mr. Noah's big mouth.
  • The Bulls basically have to play a perfect game on both ends of the court to get a win in this series... I'm not saying it won't happen. I can easily envision them riding some crowd energy at home in either Game 3 or Game 4 and winning a close one. But to think that this series could go past five games seems completely out-of-the-question to this Cavs homer. Not quite as one-sided a matchup as last year's first round series against the Pistons, but close... at least in my eyes.
  • If you didn't already know it, Dan Gilbert is one hell of an owner. All Cleveland fans need to just stop for a second and thank the sports gods that he fell into our laps. In yet another example of his awesomeness, he stepped in during the 11th hour of the LeBron 2010 banner saga (a grassroots effort by many of us from www.realcavsfans.com and www.lebron2010.com) and made it happen. The quick version of the story: 1) Money was raised over the last couple years to construct and erect a banner in downtown Cleveland right before the 2010 playoffs to show LeBron our support and appreciation before he enters free agency, 2) The banner was created with the amazing artwork of Glen Infante and all the generous donations from loyal everyday hard-working Cavs fans, 3) The great people at Nick's Sports Corner (612 Prospect Avenue) allowed the banner to be put up on the side of their building, and 4) The city of Cleveland squashed the idea late Friday night... just a few hours before said banner was supposed to be raised into place. Of course they did. Why allow the fans of this city to express love and support for LeBron? Another tremendous airball of a blunder by the powers-that-be in this town. Thankfully Gilbert used his influence to right this wrong and the banner went up on Saturday afternoon shortly before tipoff. Can't wait to get downtown tonight and take another look at this beauty. Here's a shot I took as installation was just finishing up. Go Cavs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

65 Down, 17 to Go

Wow, a lot has happened since my last post. 12+ inches of snow has melted in Cleveland... the Tribe is off to a meaningless 5-0 start in the Cactus League... Derek Anderson was cut, then blasted the fans, then half-heartedly apologized. But my thoughts are still squarely with the Cavaliers. Here's sort of my "state of the Cavaliers" address with 5 weeks left in the regular season (this is cross-posted from my other blogging grounds - www.numbersdont.com):

So here we are in the midst of the Cavs' longest non-All-Star-break break since November. The beautiful weather in Cleveland (for early March) has been a welcome thing. And aside from a ton of dog poop in my yard, the warm weather has also revealed a stroke of genius on the part of the Cavaliers. Their wise decision to sit LeBron against the Bucks and Spurs has allowed the King a rare chance to recharge his batteries before a final regular season push. The selfish Cavs fan in me really wanted LBJ to play on Monday night. But when it was over I walked out of the Q with an even bigger sense of satisfaction after seeing the wine and gold outlast the Spurs in a tough-fought win minus LeBron, Shaq, Z, and Jamison (for nearly the entire 2nd half).

As this current rest period nears an end, the Cavs have 17 games left to get everything ironed out for the playoffs. Their current three-game lead (really 4 with the tiebreaker) on the Lakers for the top overall seed has afforded them this opportunity to rest key players. Over the final 17 games the Cavs only face 8 opponents currently above .500. Just to put things in perspective, if the team completely tanks and goes something like 10-7 over that stretch, the Lakers would need to go 14-3 to surpass the Cavs. Does anyone think that will happen given how the Lakers have performed in their last four games? Or how the Cavs have performed all year? I didn't think so.

Of greater importance is getting all the key players on track so the team will be peaking in May and June. The #1 seed may seem like a mere formality at this point, but there's still plenty of work to be done. The laundry list includes a lot of moving parts:

1) Dealing with Antawn Jamison's creaky knee: This was a known issue when the Cavs dealt for Jamison and something that will just have to be coaxed along with proper rest. He will likely miss tomorrow night's game in Philadelphia but says he'll be ready for Sunday's showdown at the Q against the Celtics. Such will probably be the formula for Jamison over the next few weeks.

2) Getting Mo Williams back into the flow on both ends of the court: Mo arguably hit rock bottom with his 3-for-17 shooting performance in Milwaukee on Saturday night. He looked lost on both ends of the court as Brandon Jennings had his way on offense. It was encouraging to see Mo come back and hit some big shots Monday night against the Spurs and begin to play tougher defense in the 2nd half of that game. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more than a little concerned with the way he seemed to be flexing his previously-injured shoulder before hitting two late free throws to ice the game. We'll have to keep an eye on that one. But I'd rather see Mo get a chance to play his way out of this funk than having to rest that shoulder yet again.

3) Figuring out how to integrate Z back into the rotation: March 22nd is only 11 days away now and that's the date Z has given to "begin negotiations" again with the Cavs. That's a polite way of saying he won't re-sign until a roster spot opens up. Darnell Jackson is likely the odd man out in this situation. Once the final playoff roster is ironed out, Mike Brown has the unenviable task of sorting out the rotation and figuring out who goes back to the bench. Things will be a little easier for the time being since Shaq is still out of action.

4) Incorporating Shaq back into the flow: This one is important to me because we saw how uncomfortable Shaq and the Cavs looked figuring out his role in the beginning of the season. It should be easier this time around now that both know what to expect of each other. But I'm hoping that the big man gets to test that thumb a bit late in the regular season before the playoff grind starts.

5) Getting back to their defensive roots: It's no secret that the Cavs' defense has been lacking for the better part of a month now. In my view, it began to slip in the game against the Knicks on February 6th, a 113-106 win in which they nearly coughed up a 30+ point lead. Aside from the 108-88 win in Boston on February 25th, the defense hasn't really been up to par since. I would be hammering this point home to the team over the next five weeks if I were in Mike Brown's shoes.

The to-do list for the coaching staff is a big one, but all parts are manageable. The Cavs know what they need to do and they have been in this position before. They were the first to 50 wins this year for a reason and we all know what has transpired over the last two seasons with the team that is first to 50. These final 17 games may afford the Cavs a chance to repeat that trend and give this city its first championship in 46 years. No pressure, right?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stuck without a center, but the timing is right

Last night came the news that many of us expected/feared... the Shaq thumb injury is indeed a serious one and surgery will be required. The big man will be shelved for the next 6-8 weeks, effectively ending his regular season. On the heels of losing Z in order to obtain Antawn Jamison, the Cavs are now stuck without a true center on their roster. And given the current slim one-game lead over the Lakers for overall homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, this is probably a good time to panic, right? Maybe not...

As far as the schedule goes, this actually happened at a decent place. Not that I'm thrilled about losing Shaq or the prospect of him being out of action for so long, but the Cavs have reached a point in their schedule where they can afford an injury or two. After the extremely tough stretch of Denver/@Charlotte/@Orlando/New Orleans/@Boston/@Toronto (that's 6 games in 9 days, all against playoff-caliber teams), things lighten up a bit now over the next month. March (can you believe it's already March???) features 15 games, only 6 of which are against teams currently at or above .500.

Now is the time when Danny Ferry's construction of such a deep roster may truly pay off. Anderson Varejao obviously slides into the starting center role for the time being (at least until Z returns on or around March 22). Until then we can expect a big-man rotation of Andy, Jamison, Hickson, and Powe. And depending on matchups, LeBron will surely be playing some minutes at the 4 spot. A week ago I would have been shocked to think that Leon Powe would actually be playing meaningful minutes at this point, but I'm encouraged by what I've seen so far in his limited minutes. And it's nice to see JJ will not be buried on the bench again - his performance in Boston should have all but guaranteed that. Funny that no too long ago I heard some fans complaining about us having too many big men on the roster... I'm not hearing those same complaints now.

Injuries are a part of life in the NBA and we should all be thankful we have a GM that has constructed a team that is built to withstand them. We saw it earlier when Mo and Delonte were down for a while and Boobie stepped up. Now is the time for others to make it tougher on Mike Brown to decide on his playoff rotation. And remember, Shaq was obtained to outmuscle Dwight Howard and the Laker big men deep in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference Finals are still roughly 11 weeks away. Take your time big fella... just stay away from the buffet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not a time to panic

So the Cavs have lost three in a row on the heels of their franchise record-tying 13-game winning streak. Now the sky is falling, Mo can't hit a shot, and the annual call for Mike Brown's head has begun. We are certainly spoiled by this team's winning ways. Were the last three losses fun to watch? Of course not. The team has drifted from its defensive principles and just coasted for long stretches. But closer look at each loss might leave us all feeling a little better...

Last Thursday: 118-116 OT loss to Denver. Your classic "giveaway" game by the Cavaliers. They've been skating on thin ice for a while now at the free throw line and this time it finally bit them. 23-for-40 from the stripe just isn't gonna win many games, regardless of the competition. The fact that they still had a chance to win this one until LeBron's shot at the buzzer rimmed out is actually quite baffling. Denver is a solid team, the Cavs were coming off a long All-Star break, Z was just traded, Antawn was still unavailable, and the Nuggets were surely rallying around George Karl's announcement that he's once again battling cancer. Not surprisingly, the 118 points is the most the Cavs have surrendered so far this season. What makes this loss doubly frustrating is the fact that the Cavs also gave one away earlier in the season to the Camelo-less Nuggets in Denver.

Last Friday: 110-93 loss in Charlotte. This was a scheduling nightmare. A long, late national TV game at home the previous night followed by the 7:00pm start against the much-improved Bobcats. The Cavs had a bad shooting night (39%), played bad defense (55% shooting for Chalotte), and really were embarrassed by a hungrier Bobcats team. Now the chatter is that this would be a horrific matchup should these teams meet in the first round of the playoffs. I'm not ready to think that far ahead just yet, but let's try to not blow this loss out of proportion. It was Antawn Jamison's first game in a Cavs uniform and he clearly was nervous, as his 0-for-12 shooting night should illustrate. The Bobcats are truly a perplexing team... they follow this one up with a loss to the Bucks, then a loss to the Clippers. Go figure.

Sunday: 101-95 loss in Orlando. We knew this one would be tough going into it. The Cavs had beaten Orlando twice already this season. The Shaq/Dwight Howard war-of-words was escalating. Orlando would be ready for this national TV matchup. Their hot-shooting 4th quarter is what did the Cavs in as they outscored Cleveland 27-20 in the final 12 minutes. Encouraging things to take away from this one were Antawn's first solid performance as a Cavalier - 19 points and 8 rebounds, before fouling out on some terrible calls - and Shaq's nice offensive performance (20 points on 9-for-10 shooting). Foul trouble ultimately killed the Cavs as Shaq was also strapped with 5 fouls. It still kills me that Howard seems to get away with most everything, yet Shaq is whistled for any sort of contact. This will likely be the matchup again in the Eastern Conference Finals, so it was nice to get a preview of how things now look with the new line-up for the Cavs. We play this guys one more time in April at the Q and I'll be looking forward to that one as things should be more stable by then.

Also, keep in mind the Cavs had not had a practice with a healthy Mo in a month. And Z is gone from the locker room and the rotation (at least for the next 25 days or so, wink, wink). And the Cavs are now trying to shuffle their lineup with Mo and Antawn in the mix and Leon Powe soon to follow. My point is that Mike Brown is juggling a lot of moving parts right now. And the goal is not to be peaking in February, but in April and beyond. The Cavs have 25 games left to get things running smoothly and soon this 3-game skid will be forgotten. Enjoy the rest of this season and try to keep the big picture in mind. The team will look to get things back on track tonight at the Q vs. the Hornets. I don't expect to be writing about a 4th consecutive loss here tomorrow. But even if I have to, remember to take a deep breath and relax fellow Cavs fans. It's a long season, and titles aren't won in February.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cavs vs. Magic

So the streak has reached 12 after a couple of not-so-pretty wins over the lowly Knicks and Nets on Saturday and Tuesday. I'd like to attribute the sloppy play to boredom (we were up by 24 over NY and 17 over NJ) in the midst of a long winning streak, but the defensive lapses are a cause for concern. The Cavs pride themselves in owning the best defensive field goal percentage in the league and had held the opposition to sub-50% shooting in all but 3 of their 51 games prior to these last two. And oddly enough, all 5 of those +50% shooting nights for the opponent have led to wins for the Cavs. I guess when you're good enough, you can even overcome a hot shooting night from the other guys. And I've said all along that this Cavaliers team can win in a variety of ways.

Which leads us to tonight's game - a showdown against the team that caused all kinds of matchup fits for the Cavs in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic have played much better of late, winning 10 of their last 12 and surging into the 2nd spot in the East. They are currently six games behind the Cavs for the top spot in the conference and would like nothing more than to come into the Q in the last game before the All-Star break and avenge their November loss to the wine and gold.

Of course the Cavs are still shorthanded without Mo, but will possibly have Delonte back in uniform for tonight's matchup. Personally, I'd rather see Redz just sit out one more game and then enjoy the 7 days off before next Tuesday's game against Denver. But if he does return to the court tonight it will be nice to have his defense out there against Orlando's perimeter guys. I will be at the Q for this one and will be looking forward to scouting the Magic with Vince Carter. I've maintained all-along that going VC instead of Turkoglu was a huge mistake for them and I'm looking forward to watching Carter off the ball... something you just can't do when watching on TV.

Hopefully we can run this streak to 13, slip into the All-Star break and grab some much-needed rest, and most importantly - get healthy. And with the trade deadline now just a week away, we should have some more interesting things to talk about besides water fountains at the Q. Sometimes I shake my head at what actually becomes a newsworthy story. Go Cavs.

Friday, February 5, 2010

We're going streaking!




Unofficial rule here on ClevelandChamps... when one of our teams' winning streaks hits double-digits, the Will Ferrell streaking scene must be invoked. The Cavs accomplished that feat with their first 10-game streak of the season last night. They trounced the Heat 102-86 at the Q, in the process grabbing their 21st win in their last 22 games at home. And yes, we are now on the same 40-11 pace to start the season as last year's team.

Another stellar night for LeBron with 36 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. Mind you, he did this on just 16 shots from the field. And he was 17-for-21 from the line. I'd say "efficient" is an understatement there. And he truly did fill in as point guard-de-facto last night with Boobie Gibson missing the entire first half due to his fiancee's "false labor." It was nice to see Gibson show up and play the second half and notch 12 points for himself after that scare. Shaq also recorded his 10th consecutive double-digit scoring effort (coincidence that the Cavs have won all 10 even without Mo and Delonte?). And I haven't even mentioned JJ Hickson's facial served up on Dwyane Wade, or his subsequent rejection, also at Wade's expense.

The Cavs truly are hitting on all cylinders now. They have won their last five games by an average 18.4 points. And the streak could continue with their next two against the Knicks and Nets before another TNT showdown next Thursday against the Magic. Enjoy these days Cavalier fans... especially if, like me, you took those 90's Indians teams for granted. This team is that special.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

50 games in... time for a breather

Unbelievably, the Cavaliers have already hit the 50-game checkpoint in their schedule. It's almost time for the All-Star break and now is as good a time as any to take a look at their body of work thus far. After last night's 105-89 drubbing of the Grizzlies at the Q (ho-hum, just their 9th consecutive win) the Cavs now stand at 39-11 - just one game off their torrid 66 win pace of last season. That means after their sky-is-falling 0-2 start, the team has rallied to play .812 basketball over its last 48 games. Not too shabby. And the general consensus is that there is still room for improvement.

My two main gripes are still free-throw shooting and turnovers. As a team the Cavs shoot just 72.9%, which ranks 27th in the NBA. And they average 14.8 turnovers a game, which puts them just about right in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the league. But I can live with missed free throws (of course a lot of them come from Shaq) because this team gets to the line a lot (8th in the league at 26.8 attempts per game), which means the fouls are piling up for the opposition. And the turnovers mostly come from a lack of focus. There has been some horrendous passing into the post at certain points this season. It seems to have improved lately, but it's still something to keep an eye on. It also should be easily corrected. Now on to the good numbers:

  • The Cavs are 20-3 at home. They have outscored their opponents by an average of 9.4 points in those games. And all 23 home games have been sellouts.
  • The Cavs are 19-8 on the road. They have outscored their opponents by an average of 5.3 points in those games.
  • They are 19-5 against teams from the West and 20-6 against teams from the East. Consistency.
  • They are 22-3 when the game is decided by 10 points or more... just 5-5 when it's 3 points or less. And 20-10 vs. teams currently above .500... 19-1 vs. teams that are not. By contrast, against plus-.500 teams the Celtics are 17-11, the Magic 16-13, and the Lakers 19-11.
  • The Cavs own the league's best point differential (+7.3), best opponent FG% (.430), and best rebounding differential (+4.5).
In short, the Cavs are beating teams anywhere they play them, whomever they play, and they usually do it with relative ease. There is still a lot of basketball left to be played but we've seen this team battle through a rough start, a tough schedule, and injuries to key players. All the while they have done this while incorporating new guys into the rotation (Shaq, Moon, Parker, Jawad) and putting old guys in unfamiliar places (Z & Delonte off the bench, Boobie with a diminished role then forced to start). And I haven't even mentioned LeBron's nightly brilliance yet.

The King is well on his way to a second consecutive MVP trophy. But more importantly, the team seems to be on a mission. They are winning in all different styles this year against both the elite teams and the bottom-feeders. And there's still plenty left to be seen with the trade deadline approaching and 32 games remaining on the schedule. Stay tuned, this should be a fun ride.