Cavs 91, 76ers 88
--Strong second half performance by the Cavs in this one. Philly played well in this one and it was a fair playoff-type game. The Cavs defense in the second half was much improved. The Cavs went to a smaller and quicker lineup at times and it seemed to slow down the break. They held Philly to 38 percent shooting in the second half, mostly because they made them play halfcourt basketball. --LeBron woke up big time in the second half. More than his late-game heroics -- and his layup at the end was ill-advised and yet incredible all at once -- was the way he changed his strategy. He went down into the post and made the Sixers defend him down there, which threw off their defensive floor balance. He also penetrated looking to pass, which is different than what he did in Detroit. As a result, the ball moved much, much better. This is growth from a previous game and credit is due for that. --This was a good game for Delonte West, we'll see if it lasts. He made four 3-pointers which made the Sixers pay for their help on James. He's not going to do that every night. He also was pretty strong on defense. Andre Miller is very skilled, but he is not a super-quick guard like Mo Williams and that is such a better matchup for the Cavs. Yes, Miller had a good game, but he didn't change the game. Delonte had three blocks and two steals, his activity on the defensive end helped start breaks. --West's 3s were important because the Cavs had no shooters in there late. Damon Jones is on the outs again, which I think is a mistake. The man has defensive issues but he is a really good shooter. And Daniel Gibson was in the back after tweaking his left ankle again. Devin Brown, who did a Sasha impression by going 3-of-12 shooting in the start, and Delonte are not exactly floor-stretchers. --I spoke with Daniel after the game. He tweaked it his left ankle in the third quarter, but there is no new injury. He is just going to continue to fight soreness in there over the next couple weeks. That is a serious injury. --I thought Andre Iguodala's shot was in at the buzzer, it looked good from my vantage point. Had it gone, it would've been the sixth time the Cavs have given up a buzzer-beater to win or force overtime this season. Remember Raymond Felton and Rudy Gay nailing shots to force OT back in January. --While I am sure everyone would like to see Washington in the playoffs for rivalry purposes, I think the Cavs actually match up better with the 76ers. Unlike Washington and also Toronto, Philly doesn't have reliable outside shooters or an ultra-quick guard. Philly will give the Cavs problems with their tempo at times, but when slowed down in a playoff setting I think they Cavs would have a great edge. Plus Philly is untested in the postseason. I am not sure they have anyone on their roster who has won a playoff series, at least nobody in the rotation. Oh wait, Reggie Evans when he was with Seattle. Even still, you get my point.
76ers: Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala, Reggie Evans, Sam Dalembert Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Ken Mauer, John Goble, Luis Grillo
--Ben Wallace has been cleared to play but Mike Brown has decided to sit him until further notice. This has to be the right decision. How many times can the man come up lame before he just has to shut it down. --Devin Brown has replaced Sasha Pavlovic in the starting lineup. I would not be surprised if Sasha doesn't play very much at all tonight. He gave Sasha a very long leash and he has not played well at all except for a game or two. He has been lazy on defense at times and he hasn't been able to make an outside shot. It has been a long time coming. Devin has played very well for the last six weeks and he deserves it even though he is not a great shooter. --The 76ers are a run and gun team, they are great on the fast break and overall are a hustle team. To beat them you must be careful on taking too many jumpers that cause long rebounds and punish them on the offensive boards because they take off. If the Cavs don't respect this, they will get beat.
Halftime -- 76ers 48, Cavs 43
--After going 4-of-17 last night, LeBron is 3-of-7 this half. He is facing a smaller defender and settling and playing without much energy. It is possible that he is just tired and no one would blame him. But in a game like this, the Cavs of course need his activity to have a chance. --The 76ers have 14 fastbreak points and 26 points in the paint. That means they are getting all the easy shots they want. I know this is not a good matchup for the Cavs, but they are not the Memphis Grizzlies, they have to start controlling the game better. --Sasha and Damon Jones have not played in the game. It seems Mike Brown is starting to narrow his rotation. Damon has value and should be playing some, West played 20 minutes and that is probably too much. Though he does have eight assists, he has been good in transition. As for Sasha, he hasn't earned time right now. --Joe Smith has three shots and he is keeping the Cavs in the game, he needs to get more chances on offense. I have been pushing for this for quite some time now.
Stars LeBron, 26 points, nine rebounds, nine assists West, 18 points, 11 assists Miller, 16 points, nine assists Andre Iguodala, 19 points
Quotes West: "I think three days off definitely got my legs back under me. I found myself back to pushing the ball." Mike Brown on Iguodala's near miss at the end: "We've been snakebitten a little bit. Part of me thought it could've gone in."
Pistons 85, Cavs 71
--Cavs qualified for the playoffs tonight, thanks to New Jersey's loss to Phoenix, which is the limited good news for the team. The way they are handled in this one actually may end up being good for them. It is a reality check and a reminder of where they need to get better. Also, it shows how much work they have to do, although I am not sure there is time. The Pistons were upset with the way they played in Cleveland last week and so they pushed back. Now we'll see what the Cavs do. --This is the second time in the last month I have felt the Cavs got shoved around and knocked off their game by pure physical play. The other time was in Boston, when the Celtics play the same roughhouse stuff. Not a coincidence when you look at the standings. The Pistons were way more aggressive on the defensive end and it took the Cavs out of their game. They responded by complaining about calls. Sure there were some missed calls, but why would the officials respect the way they were playing? Want to know the last time Mike Brown got a technical? In Boston. Again, not a coincidence. --Based on my conversations with players and coaches, I think of one the reasons the Cavs and LeBron couldn't answer the move to put Rip Hamilton on him was due to the limited plays they have installed on offense. I am told they are not yet ready to operate with LeBron in the post because they aren't crisp with how to handle the double teams. These are the penalites you pay when you make an 11-player deal this late in the season. Not everyone is up to speed, things have been forgotten, things are in disarray. I supposed they'll have to be more ready when they play the Pistons again on the final night of the season. Although, that game will probably be meaningless to Detroit. --That said, there must be better work by the players and coaching staff to help LeBron out. He was being swallowed up by the Pistons and it didn't seem to me like much was being done about it. He settled for jumpers, too much, but he never had much space and there didn't look like many antidotes were being tried. --The only guy who seemed to play aggressively tonight was Devin Brown. He attacked the glass, moved on offensive and took mostly smart shots. He had 11 points and two assists. --The injury to Ben Wallace is a blow. The Cavs wanted to rest him, but I don't think that is why he was hurt. When he was in the air Antonio McDyess smashed his shoulder and bad his back twisted quickly. At this point, I think you'll see the Cavs try to shut him down for another long stretch. He's left three games with pain now, that conclusion must be reached. --Daniel Gibson looked very rusty in his 20 minutes. I don't think he trusts that ankle yet, several times he swallowed shots because he didn't seem like he wanted to draw his leg up underneath him. When you miss a quarter of the season, things like this happen.
Recap, if you must:
Starting lineups Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas EDIT: West was a late scratch for Damon Jones. Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace
--All the "questionable" guys were cleared. West hasn't practiced for two days and I think the Cavs wanted to rest Big Ben over the weekend, but he seemed to win out. Daniel Gibson is back as well. That is the first time since Anderson Varejao got hurt in January in L.A. and the first time since the trade the Cavs' full rotation has been available. We'll see how it plays out. EDIT: This is no longer true, see the note above. --The Cavs' lead on the No. 4 spot in the East has shrunk to two games, which makes this weekend semi-important. Plus playing the Pistons is always a big deal. There is no excuse for a focus issue here, which has been the case on the road for the Cavs for the last month. Plus, they 've had two days off so there is no rest issue. --In my mind, West is better equipped to guard a guy like Billups than guys like Chris Paul and Mo Williams. He did a good job last week in Cleveland and that is a key matchup. Also, let's see how much the Pistons test Big Ben with Sheed as they did last week. I have no faith in anyone, though, who can cover Hamilton and the Pistons seemed to forget this in the second half last time. Bet they don't this time.
Halftime -- Pistons 49, Cavs 33
--They have are being handled by a much more aggressive and physical Pistons team. This is especially true at the defensive end, where the Pistons are pushing the Cavs around. This is why the Cavs aren't getting any calls, because they have not earned them. In a switch, Flip Saunders has put Rip Hamilton on LeBron instead of Prince. The reason, I believe, is because Rip is better at keeping LeBron in front of him. Otherwise, the Cavs are allowing themselves to be pushed around. Not unlike how the Celtics pushed them around in Boston a few weeks ago. That said, LeBron is 3-of-11 and Z is 3-of-11. Those are bad performances. --The Pistons are shooting the ball pretty well tonight, which means they are going to look good. They have gotten quite a few points in transition, but in the halfcourt they have taken mostly mid-range jumpers. I believe this is the Pistons biggest downfall, they shoot too many jumpers. I expect them to level off a bit on them in the second half, but if they keep getting to run offense before the Cavs are set then it will be a blowout. The Cavs have to be more effective on the offensive end. --Ben Wallace has looked good at times now that he is back, he has four rebounds and two blocks and is 3-of-3 shooting. He is one guy who is bringing it physcially, which isn't a surprise. --Damon Jones is a liability at the Pistons at the defensive end at times, him running the point against this team isn't a great matchup. But he does have four assists, he's tried to run the offense and get the Cavs into things. For what it is worth.
Postgame Stars Tayshaun Prince, 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists Antonio McDyess, 14 points, 10 rebounds
Quotes: LeBron: ""It was complete dominatation. They knocked us out of our sets. Rip has guarded me before, he is good but he knew he had guys behind him." Mike Brown: "They came out and got up into us, they were very physical from the opening tip. You have to make sure you are punching along with them or the result will be the same."
Hornets 100, Cavs 99
--Not to repeat what I wrote in the paper, but many times I come on here and tell you the last shot didn't really decide a game, it was just the final line in a book, etc. Tonight the final play perfectly summed up the game. Chris Paul got into the middle and knew exactly where his teammate was going to be. And that teammate was perfectly positioned to execute something he is good at, a mid-range shot. Considering this was what Paul did the entire game, this was the cherry at the end. From the Cavs' perspective, if you froze things with 2.5 seconds left you would have Paul in the air with three Cavs around him and nobody in his sight. Then he makes a great play. Tip your hat, ladies and gents. He did it all night. 20 assists and one turnover and, folks, the one turnover was sorta fake. It was when LeBron tied him up and there was a jump ball. --Technically, Joe Smith messed up on the last play, he was supposed to stay attached to West because the Cavs wanted to use LeBron's length on Paul and not give him an open man to pass to. The problem was there was a screen and Smith figured he better pick him up or Paul may get a layup. Normally in this situation, Anderson Varejao would be there and the Cavs would execute a switch on a screen because they believe Andy is quick enough to defend a guard. But Mike Brown, I believe, was still upset at Varejao for letting Tyson Chandler get a putback dunk on him with 47 seconds left and he was done with him. --The two lowest scoring games in the last 40 LeBron has had have been against the Hornets, 21 points both times. I believe their traps and double teams are very sound, but I still think LeBron was very passive at times. He was better at moving the ball in the second half, but I believe this was a game when he went with the flow too much. But as I said at halftime, the Cavs offense was still strong. They shot 50 percent and had 56 points in the paint. That's a win more than 90 percent of the time. The Hornets are freaking good. --That said, LeBron's final shot was excellent. He saw the double team was set up for him to go left for whatever reason and he went right to get around it. Then when he saw Tyson Chandler commit to James' right, he switched hands and went around him to the left. Super high-quality effort. Plus he was right to try to leave a little time in case of a miss, the game was not tied. --LeBron got all fiery at some of his teammates at times for leaving guys like Peja Stojakovic and Jannero Pargo open. But the way the Hornets play and the way the Cavs help on defense, it is so tough to stay attached at times. Besides, LeBron himself shaded towards Chandler to defend the lob and left Peja more than once. Listen, this is going to be an awfully tough team to beat four out of seven times especially if they have homecourt throughout the playoffs. --I believe, and I have for about two weeks now, that the Cavs will finish with 45 or 46 wins. This will probably get them the No. 4 seed and many of you will be disappointed. It was certainly a disappointing regular season. Especially after they got it going in January before all the injuries started to bite. But you must consider this: this was the third game they lost at the buzzer this season (Deron Williams in Utah, Michael Redd in Milwaukee); they were 0-6 without LeBron, who missed the most games of his career; Z missed the most games in seven seasons, 17 of 21 back-to-backs had the second night on the road. I'd say winning 4-5 fewer games than last season is explained right there. Not that I am giving them a pass.
Hornets: Chris Paul, Morris Peterson, Tyson Chandler, David West, Paul Stojakovic Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Joe DeRosa, Michael Smith, Eli Roe
--Ben Wallace and Daniel Gibson are sitting this one out. With Wallace, the Cavs are trying to give him the week off to try and get his back as healthy as possible. With Gibson, it sounds like the training staff just said no. He said he wanted to play yesterday, although now he's toeing the company line. I guess it'll be Saturday for his return. --The Cavs are getting the Hornets on a back-to-back, but that won't make the matchups any easier. There's nobody in the league that can stay in front of Paul and the way the Cavs play defense when a PG gets to the middle it's over. Especially one with Paul's passing skills. Supreme test for the Cavs defense. --Drew Gooden got embarrassed by David West the last time these teams played. We'll see how Andy and Joe Smith do. He's got a good mid-range game and can score from the block, it makes him a challenge to guard. --Let's see how the Cavs come out after a couple of hard practices. They've been a different team at home, but this will be one of the toughest challenges they've had in awhile.
Halftime -- Hornets 56, Cavs 50
--For those of you who get tired of watching the Cavs offense, pay attention to the Hornets. Now, obviously Paul sets all of it up and without him it may not work. But when the Hornets run a play, they set a pick and then give Paul three options. There's a guy rolling to the hole, usually Tyson Chandler, there's a guy who sets up for a mid-range shot, and a guy that goes to the 3-point line. The spacing is perfect and so when Paul get space and draws in the defense, he gets to pick the correct man. And if you stay home, he'll just shoot. A great machine that has parts that work. Very impressive. --All that said, I'm not sure the Cavs can stop it and I know Delonte West cannot stop him. About the only chance the Cavs have is if the shooters miss more. With their style of shrink the floor defense, I don't think they are equipped to handle it. We'll see, but the Hornets I think just played average and are on pace for 112 points. --New Orleans is choosing to blitz the pick-and-rolls with LeBron, which means they are double teaming him. Neither he nor his teammates are handling this very well. The proper way is to isolate the pick and punish the defense for leaving the other man. But the Cavs spacing has been off when LeBron's had the ball. That is why he wasn't very effective. He just had one assist, usually when teams play him this way he piles them up. But overall, the Cavs have done well on offense thanks mostly to Z. --David West has 14 points in the first half, showing his value. But he has zero rebounds and Anderson Varejao has seven including five offensive, which has helped the Cavs to 12 second chance points. So is West playing well? Um, kinda.
Stars CP3, 15 points, 20 assist Peja, 25 points Z, 29 points, 15 rebounds LeBron, 21 points, eight assists
Quotes LeBron: "That's why (Paul) is the best point guard in the league. He's got eyes in the back of his head." Paul: "I call David West the "17-foot assassin." I knew he would be somewhere behind me, so when I saw him I was like thank goodness."
Bucks 108, Cavs 98
--If the Cavs played the Bucks, say, 15 times a season and not four, Larry Harris might be up for Executive of the Year instead of being out of a job. The Cavs can't cover Mo Williams or Michael Redd the way they play against them and I've seen four or five different guys try at this point. The Bucks averaged about 107 points against the Cavs this season and that is simply never going to work. Williams averaged 26 points and 10 assists, Redd averaged 25 points and made a 30-footer to beat them. --Despite the matchup issues, the Cavs played lethargically all night. LeBron took a bunch of jumpers and whined about non-calls when he went to the basket. He rebounded well, but this was not his best effort. It is a matter of not bringing it against every opponent. --It did not help the Cavs that the officials were not allowing any touching on penetration. Sasha Pavlovic was not permitted to breath on Redd. So that makes them tough to guard, but the game was called the same way at both ends. Bucks shot 52 percent, Cavs shot 37. It was amazing it was only a 10-point game. --Before Anderson Varejao wanted to prove he was a scorer he led the team in field goal percentage. Now, he routinely misses handfuls of shots in a row. He should have a rule. Any time he dribbles, he is not permitted to shoot. Catch-and-shoots or layups only. --That's five straight losses on the road, though four of them were on the second night of back-to-backs. Still, at some point, the Cavs are going to have to win on the road in the playoffs.
Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Bucks: Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Desmond Mason, Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut
Officials Matt Boland, Scott Foster, Courtney Kirkland
--Another case of the Cavs being disadvantaged on rest. They are playing their fourth game of the week and are on a road back-to-back while the Bucks have had four days off. It seemed to me in the locker room before the game that the team seemed tired. The Bucks like to score, so we'll see if it is a factor. --Last time the Cavs were here, Williams ate up West in his second game as a Cav. Turnovers and transition defense hurt the Cavs in that game, even though it was Redd that made a 3 at the buzzer to win the game. The Bucks will try the same tactic tonight, we'll see how the Cavs adjust. --Ben Wallace is out with a bad back. He had an MRI today that didn't show any damage. Varejao will start in his place. That may not be a terrible thing, he can guard Villanueva a little better maybe. Joe Smith should get extended minutes off the bench as well. --With Wisconsin and Marquette playing in the NCAA Tournament today, I don't think many here in Milwaukee are too interested in this game.
Halftime -- Cavs 46, Bucks 46
--Interesting first half to this game. In the first quarter the Cavs looked dead flat, couldn't begin to deal with the Bucks in transition and gave up 65 percent shooting while making 6-of-24 themselves. Consider this nightmare stat: the Bucks had 24 points in the paint in the first quarter. In the second, the Cavs didn't allow Milwaukee to get a single fastbreak point and slowing the game down benefitted them greatly as they were able to make a comeback. The Bucks were just 7-of-21 when they had to play halfcourt basketball. The Cavs also had 16 points in the paint in the second quarter, the Bucks had six. --The bench deserves the credit so far. Damon Jones did a great job settling the team down, Devin Brown led some fastbreaks, Joe Smith was very aggressive around the hoop and Wally Szczerbiak took advantage of his size by getting some post baskets. Wally also had three assists in the second quarter. --LeBron looked really tired at the outset and started 4-of-12 from the floor. Mike Brown gave him some extra rest before putting him back in, letting him sit for seven minutes in the second quarter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, though, is looking pretty loose even though he's not been great on back-to-backs with his back issue. --The warning in this one would be that Michael Redd has just four shots and four points so far and it surely seems like Mo Williams can turn it on against the Cavs whenever he wants.
Stars Mo Williams, 29 points, 13 assists Michael Redd, 21 points LeBron, 29 points, 11 rebounds
Quotes LeBron: "When these guys get it going it doesn't matter what you do. They've been in a zone against us." West: "(Williams) is a very gifted ball-handler and has great quickness. So you have to respect his drive, but he's got a great pull up game. When he's at his best, he is tough."
Sorry to disappoint loyal blog fans, but I will not be blogging the game live tonight. I will not be in town for the game, instead I skipped out to see my alma mater, Kent State, lay an egg in the NCAA Tournament. Still a great season for the Golden Flashes. I will be rejoining the Cavs tomorrow night in Milwaukee.
In other news, I reported today that Ira Newble will be signing soon with the Lakers after getting an offer from the Cavs to come back. I believe Ira is just signing a 10-day deal, but I think this probably closes the door on him playing in Cleveland again. It may not have been a major addition and Ira probably would've been on the inactive list most nights. However, he was a guy who could have maybe played a bit role because he would've been an insurance policy and someone who could play situational defense in a pinch.
EDIT: I just learned that Ira signed with the Lakers for the rest of the regular season. So it really is a non-issue.
Enjoy LeBron James breaking the Cavs' scoring record.
Cavs 89, Pistons 73
--Excellent overall performance by the Cavs. The defense was very solid and the matchups actually worked in the Cavs favor, which I was not sure about. By relying on Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao to play Rasheed Wallace 1-on-1, the rest of the Cavs were able to stick to their men outside and mostly give up contested jumpers. --There is no doubt in my mind, however, the back-to-back was hitting the Pistons. Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton didn't even shoot in the fourth quarter and you could see them all melt a little down the stretch. It has been rare this season for the Cavs to have the rest in their advantage and they took advantage. Nonetheless, the Pistons' magic number to win the Central Division would've been 1 had they won tonight and the Cavs didn't let it happen on their floor and that sends a message. --LeBron's confidence against the Pistons is quite high, which is a departure from last season at at times. He seems like he's easily able to get them back on their heels and it used to be the other way around. Not saying they can't shut him down like they used to, but I think the mental advantage has flopped. It started with that overtime win in the regular season at the Palace last year when LeBron had 41 points. He found out he could apply pressure and get results and he carried it right over into the playoffs. --There are two more meetings between these teams this season and I am just waiting for an Anderson Varejao-Rasheed Wallace throw down. They were on each other tonight and in each other's faces. It was the first meeting for them since the playoffs, Andy was holding out in the previous matchup. They are throwing elbows and talking trash. Totally fun to watch. But once again it seemed like it was Rasheed who got out of his game, he just tossed up 3-pointers in the fourth. Which is what you want him to do. --Let's see if the Cavs can keep up this defense, they have been so inconsistent I just cannot say they have turned a corner. Toronto will be a good test on Friday in that regard. On offense, when Wally Szczerbiak makes shots like he did tonight and Zydrunas Ilgauskas is involved things brighten. We'll see if any of it gels, thought. --So DeShawn Stevenson is at it again. After the Wizards beat the Magic in Orlando tonight, Stevenson was feeling his manhood again and said he was hoping to play the Cavs in the playoffs and he wants to get Soulja Boy into the act. Here is what he said:
"I hope we play Cleveland. I'm going to get Soulja Boy courtside seats and have him wear a DeShawn Stevenson jersey. Maybe (James) can have Jay-Z there since LeBron's all on his (shorts) anyway. And tell LeBron to cut that beard off and stop copying me."
Apparently this all goes deeper. LeBron said something to Drew Gooden, one of Stevenson's boys, about Stevenson once and Gooden passed it along (I don't think this makes Drew a favorite in the LeBron world, either).
"We're all in the same profession," Stevenson said. "We don't need to talk bad about one another. So, that's how it happened. I was ticked off and that's why I said something to him at tip-off. So, it goes back further than people think."
All of this and more from the Washington Post's Ivan Carter on his blog.
Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Greg Williard, Tony Brown, Bill Kennedy
--This will be interesting to see where the Cavs are. They are a good home team and a good defensive home team and the Pistons are on a back-to-back. The Pistons are a good road team. --There is a lot of focus on Wallace playing his old team, but that is really old hat. More important is how the Cavs defend the Pistons' perimeter. Also, the matchup of the reserve big men should be interesting. --Keep an eye on how the Pistons play LeBron and how the Cavs react. They have put a big point on moving the ball more when LeBron is kept on the outside and doubled by the Pistons.
Halftime -- Cavs 45, Pistons 38 --The difference in this game seems to be the little spurt at the end of the half when the Pistons went really cold from the floor and the Cavs got hot. But otherwise, it has been what you'd expect, a tight and physical game. The Cavs have done a good job of trying to get inside with drives and passes into the post. They have 20 points in the paint, which is good against the Pistons. --The Pistons are using their standard LeBron defense. They are leaving Prince on him 1-on-1 and then playing a mini-zone behind him with two players moving. He's had success driving and kicking, he's got four assists. He needs to keep moving and so do the other players, because when stagnant this defense is very effective. He has no problem getting past Prince and then the issue is whether he can beat the second man or find the hole in the defense. --Detroit is something like 30-1 when they score 100 points and about .500 when they don't so this pace favors the Cavs. Just keeping the game close and giving LeBron a chance to win it is a good idea. --The Pistons obviously think when Ben Wallace is guarding Rasheed it is an advantage, because they kept going to him on the block over and over. He made one shot and drew one foul, but Ben battled him OK and Sheed is just 1-of-7. I don't think that's a great matchup because Sheed can shoot over Ben, but it was an interesting battle to watch. --Two things from this half: 1. Rip Hamilton can get an open jumper against the Cavs any time he wants. 2. Anderson Varejao is yet to make a good decision. --LeBron has been guarding Billups a little bit, this is an interesting idea because in the past Billups has struggled against bigger/taller defenders like Larry Hughes. --The Cavs kept their turnovers down but that is always a concern as is their offense stagnating and having to take bad shots at the end of the shot clock. Keep and eye on these factors in the second half. Also, you have to assume Detroit will shoot a little better from the outside.
Stars LeBron, 30 points, seven rebounds, six assists Ilgauskas, 20 points, eight rebounds Hamilton, 14 points, seven assists
Quotes: LeBron: "It's not a statement game, it's just a regular season game and another game for us to get better.We took more than one step forward tonight, we took five steps, especially on the defense end." Mike Brown: "I thought our guys came into the game with the right mindset. We put together a complete game on the defensive side of the floor."
Magic 104, Cavs 90
--Classic victory for the Magic. This is how they beat people, they get hot from the outside and it makes them very, very hard to guard. They torched the Cavs defense in the second half and shot 50 percent to score 64 points. I didn't think the Cavs played poorly on defense either, it is hard to defend 6-foot-10 3-point shooters. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis went 7-of-7 from 3-point range in the third quarter and it changed the game. The Cavs had to adjust their coverage and then Dwight Howard bombed them for 10 points in the fourth. --When the Magic hit 3s, they are hard to beat. I don't think taking 30 of them every night or giving up 100 points a game works in the playoffs. But I could be proven wrong. The Cavs are a shrink the floor defensive team and so are the other good defensive teams in the NBA and it is very hard to play help defense on the inside when you have to close out to 6-10 guys shooting 3-pointers. Then they come off the bench with Brian Cook and Pat Garrity, two more very long shooters. Ben Wallace can't guard some of these stretch fours. --That said, I don't think Mike Brown did very well in the fourth quarter. The game was right there and he deploys Joe Smith on Howard? No, that doesn't work and he got burned by it. Then after LeBron got to the basket three times in a row and cut it to five, Stan Van Gundy called timeout and changed his pick-and-roll coverage to blitz James. Mike didn't put in his shooting lineup and the offense went dead. Not his best effort there. --Zydrunas Ilgauskas paid on the back-to-back tonight, he went 2-of-10. Wallace didn't have a rebound after the first quarter. The Cavs had at least eight unforced turnovers. These are issues you deal with on back-to-backs and the Cavs have had a lot of those lately. --I think you can concede the No. 3 seed to Orlando, the Cavs are down 6.5 games and aren't going to get the tiebreaker. --Just before the second half started, LeBron came over an introduced himself to Tiger Woods, who was sitting in the front row. Turns out it was the first time they've met, which is amazing considering they are both Nike guys and Tiger spends a week in Akron every summer for the Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger smiled, said hello and said he'd call LeBron. Afterwards we did not ask LeBron to put meeting him in hip hop terms.
Pregame Starting lineups Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Magic: Jameer Nelson, Maurice Evans, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard
Officials Monty McCutchen, Joe Crawford, Olandis Poole
--The Cavs are behind the 8-ball on rest again, the Magic were off yesterday and the Cavs played and flew two hours down here after the game. Also, it is yet to be seen how the ailing backs of Wallace and Ilgauskas will react on a back-to-back. Advantage Magic. --A challenge in this one will be how Wallace deals with Lewis, who stays out by the 3-point line. In fact, the Magic like to penetrate and kick out to 3-point shooters when they are not pounding the ball into Howard and the Cavs will have to be crisp in rotations. --Wally Szczerbiak's minutes have been dwindling over the last three games. Mike Brown said before the game he hasn't been pleased with Wally's "technical defense." That may be true, but hitting a few jumpers would be nice, too. --Tiger Woods is supposed to be in the building tonight if you like to know that kind of stuff. No word on Soulja Boy.
Halftime -- Cavs 45, Magic 40 --All things considered, Cavs played pretty well in the first half. They really fought Dwight Howard, sometimes triple-teaming him and he still has 12 points. They are scrambling when they can on defense but sometimes just living with the Magic's 3-pointers and so far they are just 5-of-17. In my opinion, this is the Magic's weakness. They often just hoist up those 3s but when they got hot they'll kill you. I just don't think that's a great strategy in the playoffs. --The Cavs had 14 fastbreak points in the first half, a clear difference in the game. They have trouble getting into the paint when Howard is in the game so getting easy baskets is important. --Rashard Lewis had three fouls and no points in the first half, Hedo Turkoglu went just 1-of-7. You have to figure one or both of those guys will heat up. --LeBron didn't seem to be to into this game at the start, but his energy really picked up in the second quarter. He's on pace to get near another triple double and has 14 points on just six official shots.
Stars Howard, 23 points, 13 rebounds Lewis, 21 points Turkoglu, 18 points LeBron, 30 points, nine rebounds, six assists
Quotes LeBron: "That's a team that shoots the ball extremely well. They are making threes and we're trying to make twos, we didn't recover from it. It is tough to try to contain Dwight on the inside and contain their shooters on the outside." Brown: "Giving up 64 points in a half on the road...it's going to be tough for us to get a win."
Cavs 98, Bobcats 91
--This was a case study in how the Cavs hope to play in the playoffs. The idea is for Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace to help each other out at both ends. It worked well for tonight, just the fourth time they have played together and the healthiest they have both been in awhile. With Z playing well on offense, he was able to punish the Bobcats for shading toward LeBron James. LeBron had 10 assists and five of them went to Z. Also, with Z attracting more attention as he goes for offensive boards, Wallace had more space to work and he got six of them. On defense, the help defense in the interior was good, especially with Wallace. He came from the weak side a lot, which helped him get 15 rebounds overall. --The Cavs nearly got bit with Jason Richardson getting hot from the outside. If you remember, he had a 19-point quarter against the Cavs earlier this season. He had 14 in the fourth and several came over the hands of Devin Brown, whom I thought was playing good defense. In fact, other than a spurt or two, the Cavs played reasonable defense all night. But I also thought the Cavs offense got stagnant in the fourth, an old problem. LeBron got into a stretch where he was just tossing up shots, he went 2-of-8 in the fourth. --After the game, we got to ask LeBron about DeShawn Stevenson's comment from Thursday for the first time. If you are behind on this one, Stevenson told the Washington Post that James was "overrated" after he shut him down in the last minute of Thursday's loss to the Wizards. Now, James had time to come up with something because we first asked before the game and he said he'd answer after it afterward. Here is what LeBron said:
"With DeShawn Stevenson it is kind of funny. It's almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy. There's no comparison. Enough said."
Ahem, this was supposed to be a slap and it is mildly funny. But even if you understand the Hip Hop references here, it's not a fitting retort. I suppose that will have to come on the court at some point. LeBron is Jay-Z in this scenario and he is saying, as Jay-Z, he wouldn't say something about a guy like Soulja Boy, who I guess LeBron is implying is second-rate. It would've been so much funnier if LeBron had said Vanilla Ice or Milli Vanilli. Am I dating myself? But it doesn't much hold water since Soulja Boy's song is played at every arena and LeBron himself has danced to the song on the bench during games. Two things I think come out of this: Stevenson laughs and Soulja Boy himself may be a little upset.
Pregame Starting lineups
Bobcats: Raymond Felton, Matt Carroll, Jason Richardson, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, LeBron James EDIT: I mean, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Officials Steve Javie, Tony Brothers, Pat Fraher
--Z is back after missing six games dealing with a bulging disc in his back. Supposedly, he will play his regular minutes. But Z is a rhythm player and has been throughout his career, so he may show some rust in this one. --This is a good matchup to see how the Wallace/Z combination fare. Okafor will stay near the basket and be a prime part of the offense. It will be interesting to see how they help each other out. --Watch out for Earl Boykins trying to prove a point to the Cavs today. He'll be a tough cover for West or Damon Jones and I expect him to get up plenty of shots. --The Bobcats have been playing pretty well of late, although they are simply a terrible road team. Richardson has been playing very well and Felton always seems to give the Cavs problems with his driving ability.
Halftime -- Cavs 47, Bobcats 40
--You can already tell the major difference Zydrunas Ilgauskas makes for this team. Although it wasn't a great offensive half, Z's 10 points are a factor as are his three offensive rebounds. LeBron has six assists already and several are just playing the two-man game with Ilgauskas. It opens up the offensive options. --The Cavs also did a nice job of playing defense in the second quarter after a rough start. They are allowing a little too much penetration, but they toughened up after Mike Brown called two timeouts to try and snap them into shape. Those defense lulls continue to be a major issue with his new version of the team. --I am keeping a little ledger in my head of Wally Szczerbiak and Sasha. There is a competition between these two to win minutes when Daniel Gibson gets back. So far in this one, neither have done much at all. --Notice the Cavs went to Joe Smith a lot more in the post in the first half. They liked the matchup I am sure, but I just think more plays need to be run for him in general and not just kick outs for 18 footers. The guy is the best scoring option in the post after Z.
Stars LeBron, 33 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds Z, 16 points, nine rebounds Wallace, 15 rebounds Richardson, 33 points
Quotes: LeBron on Z: "It's a treat for me to get him back and for all the rest of our bigs. They know they can open it up with Z being out there." Wallace: " "I don't know if a lot of people know but once your back starts acting up and it is not loose and right, it causes your whole body to pretty much shut down. It's a little bit looser and I'm trying to feel my way through it."
Wizards 101, Cavs 99
--Cavs lost this game in the third quarter when they allowed 70 percent shooting and 34 points. Let's get that out of the way first. The Cavs do not play evenly on defense and recently they have had huge periods where they get lazy. I am not sure exactly where the blame goes here, but they will continue to have losses until they learn that lesson. They are not good enough on offense to give up 30-point quarters, especially on the road. --As for LeBron James deciding to go for a 3-pointer on the last shot. No, it wasn't the best idea, especially waiting until the buzzer so there could be not chance at an offensive rebound. But there's no doubt he was tired after playing 46 minutes last night and almost 44 tonight. The Cavs had expended so much energy trying to catch up. He said after the game he didn't want to play overtime, I don't blame him. He tried to be a hero and he missed. In other circumstances it may be an issue. But he didn't even go to the basket in the fourth quarter much, which I think had to do with fatigue, too. He had seven turnovers, also something you don't see from him much. That didn't decide the game. --DeShawn Stevenson did do a good job in the fourth quarter guarding LeBron. In fact, the Wizards did a nice job pressuring him on pick-and-rolls and not letting him get a head of steam to the basket in the second half. But Stevenson took personally. He missed the final shot in Cleveland when the Cavs beat Washington last month and he was trying to atone. He was carrying on with LeBron and Damon Jones all night. In the first half, Damon made a 3-pointer and waved his hand in front of his face to mock what Stevenson does when he makes 3s. Stevenson didn't like that and in the second half when he made a couple 3s he looked over at Damon and mocked his "three on a platter" and how Damon sometimes slaps his butt when he hits shots. Damon just stood up and glared at him. --But the stuff with LeBron was more personal. He told Michael Lee of the Washington Post after the game that LeBron was talking trash to him and that he wanted to get under LeBron's skin. Then he said: "LeBron is overrated" and made sure the quote was attributed to him. When LeBron is tired after playing 90 minutes in 24 hours, he isn't the same player, I agree. Stevenson did a good job in the fourth, so props to him. Yet poking one of the best players in the league just isn't a good idea. LeBron has proven to be tough on people who challenge him. Especially considering Stevenson shot 19 percent in the playoff series with the Cavs last season. Too bad the Cavs don't play the Wizards again this year, it would be interesting to see LeBron's response. --Ben Wallace played much better tonight. The time off did wonders and he was a real factor defensively down the stretch defending the basket. He was much more active overall. That is a major positive the Cavs can take out of this game. If he plays like that more often, he'll be valuable in the playoffs. --Wally Szczerbiak played just 12 minutes tonight and went 2-of-9. Last night he played lots of minutes but didn't get many shots and it looked like he was getting frozen out a bit. I think the fact that he takes so many shots gets on some of his teammates nerves, especially since he's making less than 30 percent of them right now. If Sasha Pavlovic gets some traction, and tonight he played pretty well, Wally might force some hard choices with playing time if he doesn't heat up. --Anderson Varejao had 10 rebounds in the first half, two in the second. He got tired, too. When one team is on a back-to-back and the other isn't, it makes a difference. Still, third quarter cost the game. --32 3-pointers attempted tonight, way too many. Again, I think a product of a tired LeBron and not having Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
Officials Scott Foster, James Capers, Eric Lewis
--Ben Wallace is in uniform and it looks like he's going to give it a try. Keep an eye on how he jumps, his lift has been affected by the back spasms. If he struggles early, the Mike Brown may sit him down. --Brown is sticking with Sasha in the starting lineup, we'll see if he gets any more rhythm tonight. It is expected for it to take him several games, but I still wonder if he came back too soon. I guess we'll see. --Caron Butler is back after missing 16 games with a hip injury and tonight is his birthday. He could be a difference maker. Though, I expect him to be rusty as well. There are few tougher players in the league than this guy. --The Cavs signed Lance Allred to a 10-day contract. He is a big man who played at Weber State. He's a good rebounder and has some range, but he's an insurance policy with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wallace hurting more than anything. He is active tonight, though. --The Wizards love to score and run, we'll see if the Cavs feel like play defense tonight. It's anyone's guess.
Halftime -- Cavs 54, Wizards 46
--The Cavs got hot from the field at the end of the half, which helped them get separation. But the real difference was their defense. After allowing the Wizards to shoot 55 percent in the first quarter the Cavs held them to 8-of-24 in the second. Mostly because they were pretty physical around the basket. The referees seem to be letting lots go and the Cavs have been taking advantage. --Caron Butler isn't showing much rust, but he is taking a lot of shots. He is such a tough cover, the Cavs had Wally Szczerbiak on him for a few minutes in the second quarter and that just didn't work. We'll see how LeBron does on him down the stretch. --Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao are all much improved from their last games. Ben looks to be moving much better, although Jamison is a tough cover. Varejao has 10 rebounds already and his really throwing his weight around the basket. Sasha just had his best half of the season, but remember he is a streaky outside shooter. --The Cavs one issue is they have been heavy on 3-point shooting, going 8-of-14. That is a great number and and four guys have made 3s, but if they do it too much they will get in trouble. They have just nine assists on 20 baskets, which shows a bit of 1-on-1 play. --I am not sure why LeBron and DeShawn Stevenson have been talking trash. Stevenson really has no grounds to say anything on any level to LeBron. But they have had several exchanges and LeBron has been animated about it, especially during one timeout at the end of the first quarter. In the past, jawing with LeBron has not worked out for the other party. I wasn't aware of any issue between these two. --The crowd here is really, really into this game. There have been playoff crowds here not as active as this crowd, it has been a surprise to me.
Nets 104, Cavs 99
--I'm not going to spend a lot of time tonight because the wireless at the Izod Center is a huge joke. Like most things with the Nets and the Meadowlands complex, it is sub-standard. --The Cavs lost this game in the first quarter. They had a chance to survive it, but they lost that at the start of the third quarter when they gave up a 10-2 run. All the stuff that happened in the fourth -- the comeback that fell short -- is window dressing. The Cavs went to their small lineup and played junk ball and it worked in the short term. At the end, everybody got tired and there were silly mistakes that finished them. But that's what happens when you get down 19, you have to be perfect to come back. Sometimes it's not too late, tonight it was. When they finish with 46 or 47 wins this will be one of the games where they lost a chance at 50. --This is the 15th different starting lineup the Cavs have used this season, there are going to be consequences when that happens. Joe Smith and Delonte West have never played with Sasha Pavlovic. It showed, they covered the pick-and-roll and and rotated like they were running in sand. Anderson Varejao was simply terrible on defense in the first half and LeBron got caught on rotations. After the first quarter, the Cavs held the Nets to 41 percent shooting. But the first quarter counts, too. --I personally question whether Sasha is really ready. He's only had a couple practices, it's a very serious injury and he missed more than a quarter of the season. That is a lot to overcome, I think you may need more than two days of contact. --Let me say, the Nets played great, especially with their ball movement early. But down the stretch, they reverted to form. They are not a good team, though you saw Devin Harris' value late. He was 1-of-22 on 3-pointers on their five-game road trip so you knew he was probably due to make a couple. --Devin Brown and Damon Jones played excellent tonight. Devin shut down Vince Carter and Damon really held his own at the defensive end. He got beat a couple of times by Devin Brown, but you have to expect that. These two guys work hard, really are committed to running the offense, and are veterans. No way they should lose playing time, though they shouldn't play this much. Also, Wally Szczerbiak played well tonight. He missed some open jumpers, but he's been doing that. He had five assists and was good on defense when he was in there. Based on the way Sasha, Delonte and Joe Smith played, Wally was good tonight. --LeBron's attack to this game was top notch, he was relentless in going to the basket and it got him 21 free throws. He made just one 3-pointer and had 42 points, usually he's got to be hot from the outside to go for 40. --The Cavs and especially LeBron, who played a whopping 46 minutes tonight, expended a lot of energy in this loss. It'll probably show up tomorrow. --After the game in the locker room, Austin Carr when up and congratulated LeBron on passing him for second place on the Cavs scoring list. By next week, LeBron will probably pass Brad Daugherty to become the all-time leader. LeBron was very gracious and pleased that A.C. would come and personally give him the best wishes. LeBron's sense of history is remarkable, he really is a student of the game and, unlike some young players, he goes out of his way to pay respect to the elders. That's not a stroke job either, I've seen him do it many times and it is sincere on his behalf.
Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Joe Smith, Anderson Varejao Nets: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Nenad Kristic, Josh Boone
Officials Dick Bavetta, Violet Palmer, Gary Zielinski.....I think this is just the first or second time the Cavs have had Bavetta this season. He likes to call charges.
--Yes, that is Sasha Pavlovic in the starting lineup. While this may seem crazy, taking a guy who hasn't played in 23 games and sticking him right in the fire, this actually sticks to Mike Brown form. With the exception of when LeBron came off the bench to protect Varejao from getting booed in December, Mike wants to know right away whether a guy is on his game or not. Which is why we've seen guys go from the inactive list to the starting lineup in the past. Of course, don't tell that to Devin Brown, who had been playing great and is now coming off the bench. --Second thing with the starters is that Ben Wallace is out with back pain. The injury report says he has back spasms, I think Mike slipped before the game and said he had a back strain. Maybe this is the same thing, but I think there is a difference. Anyway, the team sounded optimistic Ben would play yesterday and now they sound pessimistic about tomorrow in D.C. For what it is worth. Joe Smith is in there, which is the dynamic I think the Cavs need. A scorer and a defender in the post. Be it a Wallace/Zydrunas Ilgauskas pairing or Smith/Varejao or whatever. Either way, Dwayne Jones is going to have to play some minutes tonight and LeBron will have to play some at power forward I suspect. --The Nets are just back from a West Coast trip in which they went 0-5. They have been really struggling to score since trading Jason Kidd and Harris can't seem to buy a shot. But the Cavs have not played well here in the regular season over the last couple years. They are 0-2 against the Nets this season.
Halftime -- Nets 58, Cavs 47 --The Cavs were very lethargic at the outset of this game, a rather cocky attitude that they thought they were going to just show up an win. The Nets did make 14 of their 16 shots and they made a lot of jumpers, too. But most of those baskets came around the basket as Anderson Varejao especially was terrible. The Nets have 30 points in the paint at half, which is the real reason why they are ahead. --There was a bit of a comeback in the second quarter when the Cavs were more active and not some defensive stops. But they again got a little loose late with the defense. The Nets are not a good offensive team and they will miss lots of jumpers if you give them the chance. But they have 19 assists in the half because they are just throwing it in the paint and getting hoops. --That said, the Cavs offensive has been pretty strong. They had assists on their first 13 baskets and there's lots of driving to get fouls, especially from LeBron, who is being very aggressive on that end of the floor. If that continues they will have a chance to win this game, but it will be predicated on whether they can get stops. --Sasha played six very average minutes before being pulled, missing two wide open jumpers. Maybe as a result both Devin Brown and Wally Szczerbiak played well of the bench. Sasha's leash will probably shorter in the second half.
Cavs 88, Blazers 80 --This was a playoff-type game, at least an Eastern Conference playoff game. The Blazers were swarming on LeBron James and he was setting teammates up. At the defensive end, the Blazers were pretty much running the same play over and over by setting up LaMarcus Aldridge in the mid-post and working everything off him. The Cavs started trapping him down the stretch and then had some really good defensive rotations to challenge shots. --The Cavs only had one turnover in the second half and held Portland to just 37 points. They gave up 15 offensive rebounds but just nine second-chance points, so they were able to survive that. Overall, that is an efficient effort at both ends, even if the game was quite ugly. --LeBron said after the game that he didn't think he played well, even though he had a triple-double. He didn't shoot well, that is true, but I thought his overall game was pretty good. He was really able to make the right pass most of the time, especially in crunch time. If his teammates were able to hit some shots, he would've easily had 15 assists. It was the fewest points he's scored in 22 games, but the most assists he's had in five games. That is how he will have to play many times in the playoffs. --I spoke with Ben Wallace after the game. He missed the second half with back spasms, which explains why he looked so flat-footed in the first half to me. He said it has been bothering him for a couple days, he sat out practice yesterday. He's hoping it will loosen up over the next couple days, he is trying to treat it but it isn't getting better right now. It is remarkable the Cavs were able to do what they did with their top two bigs out, Andy Varejao and Joe Smith combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds. That is quality depth. --I thought Devin Brown did a pretty good job fighting Brandon Roy. He got inside a few times, but for the most part he kept him outside and made him take jumpers. Roy didn't seem that active, even in the fourth when the Blazers wanted to go to him more. --Damon Jones wore a camouflage hoodie to the game tonight and on the back the word "Handsome" was spelled out in sequins. Last year he wore around a winter coat that had "Damon Jones" on the back. Just in case "Jones" wasn't enough. The license plate on one of his Mercedes is 4Point6, the amount of time that was left on the clock when he hit that series-winning shot against the Wizards two years ago. By the way, the get ready to say goodbye to the MoHawk, he says he's shaving it off after the road games at Washington and New Jersey.
Blazers: Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
Officials Tom Washington, Sean Corbin, Mark Lindsay
--The Blazers have fallen on hard times, or some would say, gotten back to reality, since the Cavs last saw them. They have won two straight but have really struggled on offense. They play much more like an Eastern Conference team, they grind out games and play pretty good defense. They are not a great rebounding team but they do block a lot of shots. --A key matchup with be Aldridge on Wallace. Ben should be able to clear him off the boards with his size, but LaMarcus likes to go out and shoot in the mid-range and Ben doesn't like to go out there much. Both Przybilla and Aldridge are good offensive rebounds, though. Portland can get hot shooting from the outside and the Cavs have been a little lazy in their rotations of late. --The Cavs may have some matchup issues with Brandon Roy. LeBron may guard him late but during the game Devin Brown and Wally Szczerbiak will probably get the assignment. Could be a tough one for both, Roy is a great young player. --LeBron has been hot and he's way too physical for anyone the Blazers have to defend him. If his shot is falling, it could be another 40-point night.
Halftime -- Blazers 43, Cavs 39 --It is a significant miracle the Cavs are down just four points in this game. They have been completely outplayed and out hustled. Their effort around the glass reminds me of last week in Chicago, they are being very lethargic and just getting beat. The Blazers haven't take much advantage, they are not playing all that well either. --This is, by far, the worst Ben Wallace has looked in a Cavs uniform. Aldridge has 17 points, mostly on him, because he's just been quicker and more athletic. Ben has five rebounds but three of them came flat-footed, which he mostly is in this game. He is a step slower, which we've seen for several weeks now, but his effort level also seems off and that he can control. Mike Brown had to pull him in the first quarter he was getting beat so bad to rebounds and in defensive spots. He's also 0-of-4 from the field and hasn't taken a shot from more than two feet away. That, though, is just him. He never shots more than a few feet from the basket and he's still shooting less than 40 percent. Joe Smith made an instant impact when he came in the game because he presents an offensive threat. If Mike Brown wanted to put his best team on the floor, he'd put Smith in to start the second half and then bring Wallace or Varejao off the bench. --Devin Brown is really playing at a high level right now. There is no way this guy should lose playing time when Sasha Pavlovic comes back, which could be next week. When the Cavs are at their worst, he is working on defense and attempting to drive the ball and create on offense. --LeBron is playing a solid game, though he has just nine points. He's got four rebounds and five assists. He hasn't had much space to operate because the Blazers are swarming him and who can blame them when Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace and Dwayne Jones are on the floor. He's taken just nine shots and at least three or four have been total forces. --Brandon Roy hasn't done much at all in the half, which should worry the Cavs.
Stars LeBron, 24 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists Varejao, 16 points, nine rebounds Smith, 16 points, five rebounds Aldridge, 25 points, 10 rebounds
Quotes: Mike Brown: "This has to be up there as one of the top performances defensively since we made the trade." LeBron: "I didn't feel like I played particularly well, but we got the win. If you didn't play well and you have a triple-double, then something is wrong. I found other ways to control the game in the fourth quarter."
Cavs 103, Pacers 95
--LeBron James played a much better game overall today than in Chicago and either rest, pride or a combination of both made a difference for Anderson Varejao. LeBron was focused much more than on scoring, although he did have 38, and Andy may have played his best game of the season. His legs looked much fresher and he was more focused. --LeBron made a couple of huge 3-pointers in the fourth to hold off the Pacers, who made almost everything in the second half after missing everything in the first. I am a little skeptical that he's going to the 3 too often late in games. But I suppose the whole point of him improving his shooting was to punish teams for going under on pick-and-rolls to deny drives. As long as he mixes it up, it could be effective. He's still having the worst 3-point shooting season since he was a rookie. Though he's putting up 30-point games like they are nothing. --Part of the reason LeBron's scoring so much lately is because with Zydrunas Ilgauskas out there is no quality second option. Andy is putting up huge numbers of shots, which is no good, Wally Szczerbiak is shooting 32 percent since he came to the Cavs and he's taken the second-most shots in the last eight games, and Ben Wallace is an offensive black hole. Plus Daniel Gibson being out removes a quality option as well. Him scoring this much is fun to watch, but it makes the Cavs easier to deal with against good teams. So that will have to change at some point. Today the Cavs went through horrible scoring droughts --The defense is still somewhat of a concern, the rotations are slow to the jump shooters. Mike Brown believes he needs to spend more time on defense in practice, he has been working on teaching the plays. --Wally Szczerbiak is still pressing, you can just see it. He's shooting just 32 percent since he got here. He did some good things down the stretch, but he's in a slump. --Some people have asked for injury updates. I talked to Zydrunas Ilgauskas today, he said he got a shot in his lower back, where he has an enflamed disc. He couldn't get out of his car a week ago. He is doing better, but will probably out a week more at least. Daniel Gibson said he could probably do some stand-still shooting but is nowhere close to being back. Sasha Pavlovic is starting to do some running but is weeks, not days, away.
Pacers: Travis Deiner, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
Officials Jack Nies, Bennie Adams, David Jones
--The snow and roads getting in where awful. They are only playing this game because both teams were able to make it to the arena. There will maybe only be 7,000-8,000 people here, maybe less. --The Cavs will be tested by the Pacers' style of play. They want to play fast and loose, which is what the Cavs got suckered into by New York and Chicago. That is not they way they play, even when LeBron is going off. --Murphy is going to be a challenge for Wallace to guard. He stands on the perimeter, Ben hasn't shown that he wants to go out there.
Halftime -- Cavs 51, Pacers 37
--A rugged game so far, not a lot of quality play. If you are blacked out, don't worry about it. The Pacers can't buy a shot and the Cavs are playing disorganized offense. In the first quarter they really did a good job sharing the ball and moving and they scored 34 points. In the second, especially with LeBron sitting for six minutes, they couldn't get into their plays. The Cavs went 5-of-24 shooting in the second quarter and are still up 14 points, which means they are pretty lucky. --Without Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the offense really looks different. When the hub in the post becomes Anderson Varejao, who is playing much better today, it just changes everything. The opponents don't have to bring double teams and it prevents anything outside from opening up. At least more plays are being run for Joe Smith, who is not the best post scorer. --The Pacers foul more than just about anybody in the NBA, I think they are second in free throws allowed. One good thing the Cavs have done is drive the ball, especially LeBron, to invite fouls. Devin Brown has also done a nice job. The more they drive, the more they will find success against the Pacers. --Ben Wallace played without his headband for a long time in the second quarter and actually played very well without it. Now he has put it back on. For what it is worth.
Stars LeBron, 38 points, 11 rebounds Andy Varejao, 15 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, four steals Joe Smith, 12 points, eight rebounds Troy Murphy, 17 points, seven rebounds Danny Granger, 19 points
Quotes Jim O'Brien: " "LeBron is a tough guard for anybody, he's the best offensive player in the world. When he's making 3-point shots like that, he's virtually unstoppable." LeBron: "I'm going to take them, if teams are going to keep going under my pick and rolls. I know that I can shoot the ball well from the outside and at one point teams will realize that also."
Bulls 107, Cavs 96
--This game went south in a hurry for the Cavs and it was plain as day to see why. They played like a bad team plays in the second half, settling for chucking up jumpers on the offensive end and only playing half-hearted defense the other way. It was much like the way they won in New York last night, which is not their style of play. And the Pacers, who they play next, will want to run with them, too. This is a bit of a challenge to overcome. --LeBron had 39 points and he made a lot of crazy shots and that's fine, that's what he does. But he started playing street ball in the second half and that is not his way and it was surprising. All you have to do is look at one thing, his assists. Make that assist. He had one, by far his lowest of the season. He is more than entitled to take jumpers, but when he's forcing shots and just taking jumpers you know he's off. A couple of times he went 1-on-3 in the second half. That is not playing to his standard. Maybe he was tired, maybe he was still thinking like it was outscore those Knicks at the Garden, but he was not himself. No doubt. He knows it, too. He said the collision with Kirk Hinrich in the first half hurt his elbow, which had been bothering him. But that hasn't nothing to do with it in my opinion. --Now, the Bulls deserve credit because they made some shots, which was bound to happen. Also, Joakim Noah wanted it more than anyone. He may respect Ben Wallace, but he also wants to prove he's better and he's probably sick of being compared to Anderson Varejao. So kicked both their butts for good measure. To me, Anderson is really still feeling that ankle. He can't jump. That is a major injury and it will take him awhile to get back and it is showing. Noah is one thing, but Aaron Gray outplayed him tonight. Wallace did OK, but Noah got him over and over too. --Zydrunas Ilgauskas' absence really showed up tonight. Not just with the rebounding issues, but also on offense. When he gets a putback or scores from the post he steadies things. Even when he misses from the post, it rarely leads to a run out at the other end. Since Ilgauskas has been out the Cavs have had streaks of 1-of-15 shooting and, tonight, 1-of-13. He is the Cavs second-best player and missing him is going to sting and tonight it did. Also, after watching Wallace play for six games now, I think he is probably going to be at his best when he is alongside Z. For many reasons, but mostly because it gives him some more freedom. Overall, though, I have not been impressed so far. --Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West's absence from the team has shown up the last two nights, both haven't been very good. West was been nonexistent. Maybe they are also coming down from a bit of an energy high after the trade.
Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, Luol Deng, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah
--Tyrus Thomas is suspended so Gooden will play a bunch. He has been playing pretty well. The Bulls interior will be a challenge for the Cavs, although not like the Knicks. Varejao doesn't look right to me and Noah, Gooden and Thomas gave him and Wallace all they could handle last weekend. I think Wallace has trouble at this point with active players based on what I have seen and right now Andy can't jump on that bad ankle. He's also wearing a wrap on his left knee. The Bulls activity will get them second shots. --The Cavs defense last night was poor, especially with dribble penetration. The Bulls are a drive-and-kick team, though they are very much a jump shot heavy team. West did a good job on Hinrich and Deng wasn't able to get his mid-range shots on Sunday, but West was not good on defense last night and now the Bulls are at home. --The Cavs schedule in regards to back-to-backs has been brutal, and having the early start (6 p.m.) local after flying in from New York overnight did them no favors. We'll see if there are carryovers.
Halftime -- Cavs 51, Bulls 47 --LeBron has 26 points and has made shots at the buzzer of the first quarter and second quarter. He's 10-of-15. The guy is the two-time defending player of the month and he's just now getting warmed up. Stay tuned. --The Cavs are getting handled on the boards. They tightened it up in the second quarter but the Bulls have 14 second chance points, which is why they are in the game despite shooting just 33 percent. Noah has 11 rebounds and he's eating up Varejao and Wallace. Now that is hard to say because Ben had seven rebounds and Andy has nine, but they are getting beat by Noah. --It has been fun to watch the little stuff. Krik Hinrich and Wally Szczerbiak have been battling away from the ball, at one point Kirk threw Wally down. Then there's the Larry Hughes/LeBron matchup. When Larry gives up a hoop, you can just see how he wants to go down and get a shot. With LeBron, Larry picked his pocket and then LeBron caught him from behind and blocked his shot. A rivalry is being developed here. --As I said Sunday at the half, you must figure that the Bulls will get hot from the outside at some point. They will make a run. Will the Cavs take care of allowing the easy putbacks and transition points to deal with it? We'll see. Then again, maybe LeBron will score 50 again and it won't matter.
Stars Joakim Noah, 13 points, 20 rebounds Ben Gordon, 23 points, six rebounds Luol Deng, 23 points, eight rebounds LeBron James, 39 points
Quotes Mike Brown: "We didn't box out, we just sort of went to the glass. And (Noah) is so long and active and athletic that he just jumped over us." Noah: "I was just on tonight. I just try to do what I can do to help our team win." LeBron: "We need to get back to focusing on defense, we've played pretty good basketball and we don't want this one loss to deter it."
Cavs 119, Knicks 105
--We're not going to talk about the Cavs tonight, this one is about LeBron. This is one of those historic nights that will always be remembered by New York basketball fans, which means something because it is the capital of the sport. LeBron gets 50 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and four steals at Madison Square Garden. He hits four 3-pointers in the last four minutes, an adoring, and I mean adoring fan charges the Cavs' huddle just to shake James' hand in the final seconds, he gets a standing ovation from the crowd. Here is what he said afterward when I asked him where this ranks in his career:
"This ranks real high right now. I've dreamed about playing well in this building. To get a standing ovation in the greatest basketball arena in the world, it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me."
--It has happened in other places, but the way the crowd just totally turned itself over to James was remarkable. A few years ago in Salt Lake City, the crowd got ripped by the local media when they cheered when James reached 50 points. Last year in Minneapolis, he had a huge game and the crowd cheered for him in the fourth quarter, which was my indication that they needed to blow that team up. Because this is the Garden, though, it is special. I am no big fan of New York, but there is no denying the significance. Down the stretch the crowd tensed whenever he got the ball and watched the scoreboard, which was wrong the entire fourth quarter because he had two too many points. Quite a moment. --I was just a few feet away when the fan came out of the stands. He was wearing a LeBron jersey and his eyes were just so wide. He was obviously in awe. Now, it is not good that a kid was able to get all the way across the court and into the Cavs huddle before being caught, but he never appeared to be a danger. The way LeBron embraced him, I thought for a moment that they knew each other. Here's what he said about it:
"That was a great feeling, he told me he loved the way I played. I respect him and his pride." Not endorsed by the NBA, I imagine.
--On a personal note, I feel like I will be telling this story for years. I was inches from giving up at Hopkins airport today and going home after I tried to get to all four New York area airports all day and didn't look like I was going to make it. I landed at 6 p.m. at Newark and took a harrowing cab ride to make it here in time. The lesson is this: you never know when you are going to see LeBron do something special. It may happen in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, it may happen in the Garden, it may happen Saturday night against the Pacers.
Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao Knicks: Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, Eddy Curry
--I just got to the Garden less than 30 minutes before tip, it has been a terrible travel day for me. It was not Continental Airlines finest hour and it had nothing to do with the weather. So I'm a little behind and a little stressed. --West made it back from a family funeral and Wally Szczerbiak has rejoined the team. Mike Brown missed shootaround today with the flu, but he's going to coach tonight. Also, Zach Randolph is back for the Knicks after missing a few games with a bad foot. --Warning for the fainthearted, LeBron is wearing his Yankee shoes tonight. No comments please. --There's a huge buzz here because Stephon Marbury showed up when there's been a big drama about how Isiah Thomas had told him to stay away, etc., etc. Just more Knicks nonsense going on, but that is what all the NYC media is all over. --The Cavs never seem to play well at the Garden. Right now the Knicks have basically quit on the season but that may not mean anything. They are very strong in the post and David Lee has run circles around the Cavs in the past. That could be a key point tonight with Zydrunas Ilgauskas out with a back strain.
Halftime -- Cavs 58, Knicks 54 --LeBron has been very good in the first half, not just because of his power dunk and the 40-footer he made at the half (the longest make of his career, I think EDIT: Yes, thanks from the comments, he did make an 80-footer last season), but because he's killed the Knicks double teams with great passes. But this is not unusual. --The Cavs are been killed on the interior by the Knicks as I mentioned in the pregame. Eddy Curry's power and David Lee, a late addition to the starting lineup, are overmatching them. Anderson Varejao's ankle still isn't right and it show in his reactions to loose balls. Ben Wallace is not quick enough to deal with Lee right now either. Acutally, Joe Smith was great in his time, he had seven rebounds in 10 minutes. The Knicks have 30 points in the paint and are shooing 54 percent, if that keeps up the Cavs will lose. I'd suggest to Mike Brown to use Dwayne Jones, because at least he'd bang with Curry. Play him with Smith to avoid offensive lapses. --As I wrote about in the paper today, Devin Brown has been playing well since the trade. He played very well in the first half with 12 points. However, he is not a jump shooter and he seems to be taking more than he should. He is much better driving and finishing, the guy makes lots of junk shots around the rim.
Star LeBron, 50 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds
Quotes LeBron on whether he has ever thought about playing for the Knicks: "No, that might be worse than that fan running out on the court." LeBron on whether he's ever thought of leaving the Cavs: "You don't think about it, I am in a great situation. I am home, my family gets to see me play, the organization has been nothing up great to me I have no reason to think about going anywhere else at this point."
Cavs 95, Bulls 86
--Here is what Larry Hughes said to me and Lisa Salters from ABC before the game. Lisa couldn't believe it and made sure he knew what he was saying. Here it is:
“I play to enjoy myself, some people take this the wrong way, but winning a championship is not what I base everything on. I was given an opportunity to play basketball, travel around and have fun doing it and that’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t take being unhappy and not being myself and winning. I would rather enjoy myself with 18,000-20,000 people watching the game and the people sending fan mail and those things and be happy...I didn’t come here to play the point guard, that’s just it. I came here to run the wing, just like he was running the other wing. I was asked to sacrifice for the team to win and for everybody, I guess, get paid. That is what was told to me and I wasn’t happy with that.”
I do understand that Larry did make sacrifices when he played for the Cavs. I do understand that he was not playing in a system that thrilled him. But I cannot believe he is saying he would rather have fun -- read: getting to run around the way he wants and take lots and lots of shots -- than win. I thought winning is fun, sitting at home at watching the playoffs is no fun according to most NBA players I've known. I can see not playing at all, just sitting on the bench. But if you are a big part of a winning team, I thought that was desirable. Very few players in this league get everything they want, most of the time you have to settle. As long as Larry was being paid what he was being paid, I'd think some settling would've been acceptable. That's the other thing, the comment about just winning and getting paid. Larry earned $4 million in bonuses over the last two years because the Cavs hit win targets in his contract. The more the team won, the more he did get paid. That said, in the playoff run last season, even before he got hurt, I didn't get the sense that he was happy. I never saw that joy from him, so I think this is probably more than just lip service, I think he really means it.
So I suppose today was interesting for Larry. He got 20 shots, he got 23 points, he got shut down in the stretch run by LeBron and then had to watch as LeBron carried the Cavs to a win. Under his terms, I suppose it was a happy afternoon. Plus he said he got to see his pet bulldogs, which he said was the only thing he missed in Cleveland.
--The Cavs offense continues to be a sloppy mess. Not just because nobody knows where they are supposed to be at times, but because the player groupings aren't always right. Mike Brown just wanted to talk about defense after the game and that is his way, he thinks that the Bulls went on an 18-3 run to take the lead in because the transition defense was poor. He's not wrong, but I look at the Cavs going 1-of-15 from the field and taking a bunch of bad shots. Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace playing together, it has to be done now that it appears Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going to be out for a week or more with a bad back, but it drains the options. I think Joe Smith has to play a bit more and he's got to have plays run for him to keep the defense honest. The Cavs didn't remember they had him until the fourth quarter. Also, I think the small lineup with Varejao, James, Devin Brown, Damon Jones and now Wally Szczberiak should be used more, Mike seems to forget that change up. --That said, the Cavs did spread it out in the fourth and that got Smith and Wally involved and they delivered. But LeBron's play down the stretch was impressive as always. Especially the way he drove and dunked to put the Cavs up four points. The ball hit the deck so hard after he slammed it through, it bounced more than 20 feet from the basket. --After the game, LeBron got drug tested for the fourth time this season. Several other Cavs said they have only been tested twice so far and not in months. They don't let you take a shower before you get tested and LeBron was gulping down water so he could get it over with. In the NBA they have random testing after games, you never know when it is coming.
Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, Luol Deng, Drew Gooden, Joakim Noah Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
Officials Joe DeRosa, Eric Lewis, Bill Spooner
--Zydrunas Ilguaskas is at home with a back strain. The Cavs are not saying how long he may be out. --Bulls coach Jim Boylan has made adjustments to his norma starting lineup to put Hughes and Gooden in there so obvious reasons. When they were announced Larry was booed but got some cheers, Gooden got all cheers. That figures. --Wally Szczerbiak made it back from New York to play in the game. His son was born yesterday. --Larry said before the game that being happy was more important to him than being on a winning team. More on that later. --The Bulls are a jump shot team, where Larry fits in, and they are very streaky. Keeping them from getting easy baskets on their drive-and-kicks will be important if the Cavs want to win. They are also not a team that does well in close games, which would be the Cavs advantage later. --With Varejao and Wallace playing together so much, it will be interesting to see how the Cavs operate on offense. It seems easy to press and trap James, which teams are figuring out.
Halftime -- Cavs 42, Bulls 39
--This is a putrid display of offensive basketball. All the Bulls do is chuck it and the Cavs are a total mess on offense. They have no idea where they are supposed to be, everyone is looking at each other like they don't know who is moving where. If not for LeBron, who had 23 points, not just junking it and shooting the Cavs would be in terrible shape. --Not having Ilgauskas takes away a focal point on offense, it is easy to dump it into him and then set things up from there. But when LeBron is out of the game with no Ilgauskas, it looks terrible. Why there are no plays run for Joe Smith in that position, I have no idea. If there were strides made on offense against Minnesota, there's been a step back today. --So far this has been Delonte West's worst game with the team, he's not in rhythm and he's not pushing the ball effectively. He's running the court but seems to be out of position or at least his teammates have been. --Larry Hughes got six shots up in his first six minutes on the floor. That fits in nicely with the Bulls mentality. Krik Hinrich looks to create for others and, actually, Drew Gooden has made some nice interior passes, but it seems the Bulls mostly seem to just want to shoot jumpers. The next pass Ben Gordon makes to set up a teammate will be the first today and all Andres Nocioni, who was one of my favorite Bulls, is just hoisting 3-pointers. He took one in transition that was contested with no other Bulls down the floor. Now, that's not how the Argentineans play, I know that. --Can you tell I'm sickened by the offense I've seen in this half?
Stars LeBron, 37 points, six rebounds, six assists Szczerbiak, 17 points Hughes, 23 points, five rebounds
Quotes: LeBron: "I just live for the fourth quarter. When the games are close, that’s when I like to do work. I know how to turn it on and turn it off. It’s just a comfort level I’m in right now that’s at an all-time high.” Gooden: "Trying to stop LeBron, I kind of got the other end of the stick. You know how it goes.”