On or about the evening of February 21st of this year Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry was visiting long-time friend Josh McDickens in his Cleveland-area apartment. Rumor has it that Ferry and McDickens were playing a friendly game of Scrabble when the GM was heard to complain, "This bites, man. I have a wild-card tile but all of the rest are obscure consonants that don't connect to anything."
McDickens replied, "Dude, you know you can swap out your whole rack if you want."
"You can do that? Keep the wild tile and exchange everything else?"
"Yeah...it's right there in the rules."
"Huh. It is! Who'd have thought you could just sw...heeeeyyyyy, wait a minute. You got a phone?!?"
"Yeah, it's right over there. Use a calling card if it's long distance though!"
The rest, as they say, is history. Cavaliers fans and players woke up the next day to a brand-new lineup, except for LeBron James, of course. He's their key to that elusive triple-word score.
So far the swap meet haggling seems to have worked fairly well. The Cavs are 5-3 so far, which is a better percentage than they were before the trades. On the other hand the teams they've been playing are the weaker sisters of the league. Individually the new acquisitions have each had chances to shine. Ben Wallace has put up 3 double-digit rebounding games. Joe Smith has been shooting fairly well and giving them some points in his 20 minutes a night. Wally Szczezrzbzizazk has tallied double figures in 6 of the 7 games in which he has played with a high of 17 against Chicago last week. He's been playing big minutes. His three-point shooting has been good but his field goal percentage is horrible. Delonte West has also played big minutes and registered some assists, plus he pinned 20 on the Celtics. It's not a group that will knock your socks off but all of them are capable and all of them have burned the Blazers at some time in the past.
Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is out with back spasms, which is a good thing for the Blazers. His offensive range causes problems. LeBron James is still playing though. Check out the totals for his last five games: 30, 37, 50, 39, 38. The scary thing is that didn't even up his season scoring average that much. He's scored fewer than 25 points in only 8 of the games he's played in this year. To put that in perspective, 25 is a memorable night for every Blazer except Roy at this point and a career night for many. The Marriot looks fancy until you meet the guy who owns a yacht...
Outside of feeding off LeBron like piranha in a kiddie pool the Cavs as a team have a pretty basic game plan. They don't shoot that well as a team but they want to outrebound you. They like to create extra possessions off of the offensive boards, a trait which Big Ben accentuates. They can score with you or they can make it a defensive battle. They don't mind either way as long as they stay close. As the Blazers have found out already this season Cleveland figures any game that comes down to 1 or 2 possessions favors them. They just want to string you along so they can trump the last trick and take the game. They tend to win close games and lose blowouts. This is not particularly good news for us, of course, as we seldom blow people out...even more seldom on the road.
Of this five-game road trip this would be the game most folks would give us the least chance to win. Deservedly so. It's going to be an uphill battle tonight even without Z-man.
What I'd Like To See
- We have to find some way to create extra possessions tonight. Unless you open up the door like a Maitre D' at a cathouse they're not going to fast break too much. There are opportunities for offensive rebounds if you can get by Wallace and Varejao to get them. This is one of those games I'd love to have a team that forced turnovers. Sadly we can't rely on that. One way or another it would be great to get up 4-5 more attempts than they do this game.
- Gibson, Smith, Szczerbiak, and West. No, it's not the name of a law firm that can get you immediate compensation for your asbestos-caused afflictions. These are the guys we have to hold down with energy and in-your-face defense. You know King James is going to quote chapter and verse to you all night long. We have nothing and no-one to stop him. That makes this game hard. It's going to be impossible if these four are also scoring on us.
- Cleveland shoots a lot from distance so you have to be alert, especially if you are sagging down to help inside.
- It would be nice if we came out with that same free-wheeling offensive confidence we displayed in New York. Some of it was because of the Knick defense but we had something to do with it as well. We'll need shots to fall tonight.
- If LeBron has one shot to win the game, triple-team him!