Monday, February 23, 2009

Changing of the guard

Not only did last night feature the triumphant return of Delonte West to the starting lineup (more on that in a second), but it also featured a changing of the guard in the NBA's Central Division. After the Cavaliers' resounding 99-78 beatdown (highlights) of the Pistons at the Q, there is a new king in the Central Divison - one that is likely to be on top of the mountain for a long time. Of course the Cavaliers have bigger goals than just winning their division, but this is a milestone for the franchise since they have exactly one division title in their 39-year history. The Pistons have ruled the Central for years now and Sunday night was the final proof that their reign is over. With a 16-game lead it should be a matter of days now before the inevitable becomes official.

And even more importantly, last night's win did prominently feature West, who led the Cavs in scoring with 25 points (including a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range). Seeing Delonte back in the starting lineup was definitely a welcome sight. Even though the team did manage to scratch its way to a 12-4 record without him, there's just something comforting about the way the offense looks when Brother Red is involved. And his scrappy defense on the perimeter certainly bothered Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson last night. It's a shame that he wasn't there for either of the losses to the Lakers this year, but maybe we'll get to see that in the Finals come June.

Delonte's back and that could mean big trouble for the rest of the NBA

The Cavs are now 43-11 on the season and will soon be entering their toughest stretch of games in quite some time when they start a four-games-in-five-nights set (all on the road) starting this Thursday. I'd hate to be the Grizzlies, sitting as the sacrificial lamb for the Cavaliers tomorrow night before the road swing begins. And I'd be nuts not to mention how much fun Friday night's win over the Bucks in Milwaukee was. If you didn't see the game and LeBron's insane run in the third quarter, I honestly feel bad for you. His 55-point explosion was one of those games where you just watch in disbelief and thank the sports gods that those ping-pong balls went our way in 2003. I honestly cannot remember a regular season game that was so entertaining.

***One final sidenote about last night's game: Can this PLEASE finally be the end of the ridiculous Taco Bell chalupa promotion? This was a mini-controversy earlier this season and it reared its ugly head again last night. The Cavs were comfortably ahead going into the fourth quarter last night, having amassed 88 points before the final period started. They held a 30+ point lead most of the night and were afforded the luxury of sitting their starters for most of the fourth quarter. The bench players didn't exactly have a stellar fourth quarter, only totaling 11 points going into the final minute of the game. Which meant idiotic urging from some fans to hoist up meaningless shots to get to 100 points so those same fans could go (but likely wouldn't) to Taco Bell and claim a free chalupa. Of course the Cavs didn't get to 100 points, so even though they beat a hated division rival by 21, one of their key starters returned and had a huge night, and they went to 32 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history, some stupid fans still booed when the final horn sounded. Is this really what team management had in mind when they introduced this promotion years ago? Please, I'm begging - get rid of it already. Switch it to a free chalupa if the Cavs hold their opponents under 93 points or something. This drives me absolutely nuts. ***