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 -

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?

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