This, my friends, will be an interesting game.
A Look at the Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are probably the third most scrutinized and fabled team in the league right now trailing only the Celtics and L*kers. It's somewhat likely you've heard of their main guy. His name is LeBron. The French are as particular about their language as anyone you'll find on the planet but I have it on good authority that even they are thinking about adding his name to their cultural lexicon. "Le" would be the masculine form of "the". The translation of "Bron" is somewhat colloquial and therefore nebulous, but a close approximation would be, "Guy who kicks your butt into next week and then time-travels there by the force of his mighty will to set the temporal stream aright by pounding you back seven days, second by agonizing second, so that the next time he shows up you immediately run and cower under your mama's nightdress and ask him not to hurt you." If you were to design an NBA player you'd have a hard time coming up with a better blueprint than LBJ. He's huge. He's muscular. He's quick and agile and can leap. He knows the game. I'm almost embarrassed to relate his stats to you because you'll think I'm lying. The 27.6 ppg average is almost the least of it. 7.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2 steals, over a block per game, a whisker from 50% shooting, 9 free throws per game. The only thing he doesn't do excellently is shoot three-pointers, boasting a measly 28.7% average. My theory is that's his mechanism to prevent people scanning him as he comes into the arena every night to see if he's actually a league-destroying robot. "I was gonna shoot 40% from three but those probes are painful!" Oscar Rob--who in a different era averaged 25.7 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds for his career--was called "The Big O". If this keeps up much longer LeBron should be called "The Big O [Fill in Expletive Here]!!!"
I spend this much time on the self-evidence of LeBron's greatness because he warps the game for this entire team, allowing them to perform at a much higher level than their overall talent would indicate. Nine of the top ten rotation players for the Cavs are amazing shooters from their respective ranges. (Hello, Ben Wallace. Didn't see you standing there.) Yes they have some nice offensive players, but "nice" is about the right word. They're good, lean pork chops, not filet mignon. Put them next to LeBron and the massive attention he draws and all of a sudden you're dining in style. Every shot gets a little easier with King James on your court. Only guys who love to have the ball in their hands all the time would disagree. (Hello, Mo Williams. Didn't see you standing there.)
But really it's a mistake to focus on the Cleveland offense too much. They're plenty good at it (3rd in the league in field goal percentage, 9th in field goals made, enough free throws and three pointers made to win most nights) but it's really the more basic and less surprising facet of their game. You'll see a lot of LeBron with just enough Mo Williams to keep the floor spread. (You could add Delonte West to that list but he's out, so pencil in some Daniel Gibson shots as well.) The Cavs would be just as happy if you were willing to send out one guy to fight theirs in single combat, winner take all. They play a controlled, smart offensive game, dependent upon finding the cracks in your defense and exploiting them. The only teams that really cause them trouble are the ones who have defenders who can match LeBron or who completely overwhelm them with athletes and energy. Neither of those happens often so the Cleveland offense remains predictably good.
The key to their great season so far, however, has been their defense. As of tonight they're first in the league in overall field goal percentage allowed, fifth in three-point percentage allowed, allow the fewest made field goals of anybody in the league, are ninth in turnovers forced, sixth in steals, and third in blocked shots. All of that combined is good for an impressive 89.4 points allowed per game...and yes some of that is a slower pace but most of it is just legit good defense. Either way, when they're averaging over 100 on the offensive end that's plenty. Not only do the Cavaliers have good defenders, particularly in the frontcourt positions, they're not afraid to help each other out. You'll see some wonderfully sharp rotations tonight...a practice the Blazers could learn from.
The Cavs are decent rebounders as well. They're in the upper third in offensive rebounding percentage and about midway defensively but they also outrebound their opponents by more than 3 per game. Only Boston and Your Portland Trailblazers average a clearly bigger margin.
As we said above, Delonte West is out for this game, as is Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Ben Wallace has been played sparingly in the last week due to the flu.
Keys to the Game
Basically all the keys to the game revolved around energy. You have to overwhelm the Cavaliers tonight. You have to push the ball up the court, move it around, and not let their defense get comfortable. Penetration is important, as shooting jumpers without attacking first will just get you misses and them rebounds. Plus we need big games from the guys who can attack: Roy, Bayless, Outlaw. You have to defend energetically too. There's no real solution for LeBron but whatever you try is going to require more than one man. That means everybody on the weak side has got to be ready to charge in and pick somebody up and then possibly to retreat quickly back to their original guy. The interior defenders have to anticipate the play move to get into position before the opponent gets there because if you're late tonight it's a foul. Those same weak-side guys have got to help out rebounding as well. If all of that happens and our three-pointers don't desert us completely we have a chance. If we're watching the game more than playing it though--or even if we come out with a decent effort but not a great one--Cleveland will wrap us in a box and send us to mama...postage due and with a "some assembly required" sticker across our foreheads.
Cleveland has been iffy lately, sandwiching a win against New Orleans in between losses to Chicago and L.A. That could be a good sign, in that they're vulnerable like Boston last time we played them. It also could be a bad sign as nobody would predict them losing 3 of 4. I vote for good sign.
You can live in the Cavs' world for a while at FeartheSword.
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