Wizards 88, Cavs 87 --Let's get a few things out of the way off the bat. First, tremendous shot by Caron Butler and a tremendous performance. LeBron James was on him pretty good and he didn't have a great angle, especially with Ben Wallace coming to help, and he got it in there. Although, am I crazy or did someone's hand who hit the bottom of the the net maybe help wiggle that ball in? No matter, it went it. Second, LeBron drew contract to be sure on his last shot but it was a fair no call. Darius Songalia didn't jump or even hit him on the upper body, he got off a fair try. Though the scene was a little wild. All the Cavs were standing on the court like they'd heard a whistle and so were some of the Wizards. Then the refs all go to the center of the floor, look at each other for a minute and then walk over to the scorer's table. Everyone in the arena thinks they are going to review it like the Philly game but, nope, they were just asking for their jackets. It was funny sort of, the whole arena didn't get it was over until they took the jackets. --OK, now the Cavs may really, really look back at this one and regret it. Like, depending on how things go, maybe regret it all summer. Up by five points, at home, in a closeout game with the ball and 1:47 left. The offense totally did nothing for three straight possessions. They come out of a timeout and LeBron dribbles the ball for 20 seconds and puts up a terrible 3-pointer. Then LeBron dribbles for awhile and Daniel Gibson puts up an open 3, but not a good 3 in my opinion. And Joe Smith misses a short jumper, but he really didn't have time because the shot clock was up because...LeBron had spent most of it dribbling. All this despite: 1. The officials were calling lots of fouls (LeBron got to the line 18 times and both teams got there a combined 27 times in the fourth quarte)r. 2. Darius Songalia was covering Zydrunas Ilgauskas with five fouls. Poor coaching and poor decision-making by LeBron. Yes, you are going to live and die with him making plays, but at this point in his career, he must know better. And Mike Brown needs to call something else after it doesn't work twice. --The Cavs shot 36 percent tonight and do you want to know how many layups they missed? Now think about it for a moment...form a guess in your head...it's pretty high...I was actually a little surprised when I counted them up...ready?...how about 15. That's right 15 missed layups. That's shots from two feet and less according to the stats folks, which means it doesn't even count LeBron's last shot. And, no, I am not counting tip in misses. Some of them were heavily contested but so many weren't (think Wally Szczerbiak) and it is just hard to overcome that in a game like this. --Indeed, the Wizards made some shots, but I felt the Cavs played pretty good defense. In the second half, in fact, the Wizards shot just 32 percent. Oh, then again, so did the Cavs. If you hold the Wizards to 87 points, it should be a victory. The Cavs held them to 86 in both Games 1 and 2 and got wins. The Wizards only won nine games this season when they didn't score 100 points and only three when they didn't score 90. So while you see a one-point loss, especially when LeBron missed the last shot, it is tempting to say those are the breaks and move on. But this was a Cavs-style game and a game they should've won. You must assume the Wizards have another good shooting night in them and it could be Friday. --I think based on this series it is safe to say that Washington plays better without Gilbert Arenas, at least right now. They move better on offense because he's not dribbling so much and they are slightly better on defense. Him sitting down might actually help them out. --So much happened after this, but you have to feel a pivotal moment in the game happened in the third quarter when the Wizards got five shots on one possession. The Cavs were on an 11-0 run at the time and up six points and who knows how big that run would've been had that not happened. It was a key turning point, the Wizards ended up going on a run to take the lead by the end of the quarter. By the way, Z only had one defensive rebound tonight. Some of the troubles are on him. --Don't think you have seen the last of the hack-a-Ben move. In general, I dislike it no matter who it is. However, in that moment it was quite smart and it forced him off the floor.
Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Joe DeRosa, Mike Callahan, James Capers
--Gilbert Arenas decided, apparently on his own, that he's not playing tonight and not playing again this season. He made the announcement to the media about 70 minutes before game time. Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said it was the first he'd heard of it. So all that can't exactly thrill him. Apparently Gilbert took a shot before Game 4, which enabled him to go from five minutes to 32 minutes. But he was nervous about taking the shot and my guess is he didn't feel like doing it again, especially with his free agency coming up. Still, if Jordan honestly didn't know that had to destabilize the Wizards locker room somewhat. Meanwhile, Gilbert is bouncing around the halls here at Quicken Loans Arena acting as if everything is A-OK. --That said, the Wizards are used to playing without him and their win in this series came in a game in which he barely played. So it's not like he is the lifeblood of the team anymore. He hasn't been scoring much since Game 1 and maybe hurt them on defense at times. So don't expect Washington to just wave the white flag. --Sasha Pavlovic will be activated for this game. He took part in practice yesterday on his recovering sprained left ankle. Mike Brown said he likely won't play. --The Wizards are making rebounding a big key tonight. But one of the reasons Ben Wallace is getting rebounds -- and Anderson Varejao and Joe Smith -- is because the Wizards are double-teaming Zydrunas Ilgauskas and LeBron James at times and it is freeing up the weakside for rebounds. That and the Cavs are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, including the best offensive rebounding team. So they'll have to pick their poison a little on that tonight, they had done a good job of slowing down Z over the last few games.
Halftime -- Wizards 45, Cavs 43
--The Cavs are fortunate to only be down two points at this juncture. Had the Wizards not committed at least five unforced turnovers the disparity would be greater. Otherwise, the Wizards have played with a higher execution level. They are more active driving and kicking the ball on offensive, which has gotten them a bunch of open shots. Stevenson has taken the most advantage. --LeBron is not having a good offensive game, largely due to decision making. The Wizards are not doubling him as much on the outside but are doubling him on his drives and it has confused him a bit. It has kept him away from the basket and he's mostly settled for 3-pointers, which is the weakest part of his game. The Cavs are going to have to make some adjustments and he's going to have to find a better way to attack. --Wally Szczerbiak was terrible in his time in the game. Caron Butler scored 11 points on him and he committed three turnovers. However, Butler is really just making jumpers. In fact, in general, the Wizards have just shot jumpers well. --As for the latest little dustup from the first quarter, I am still not sure what happened. The Wizards said LeBron was pushing Darius Songalia, but even if he was, Songalia hit him in the head. So I am not sure why it was a technical and not another flagrant, maybe because it was after the play. Just another reason for the teams to dislike each other. --Zydrunas Ilgauskas has saved the Cavs in the first on offense. They have not shot the ball well, except on 3-pointers but Z has victimized Brendan Haywood when playing 1-on-1 and has two putbacks. Perhaps it is something the Wizards are doing, but I don't understand why there aren't more pick-and-pops to get Z mid-range jumpers with LeBron over the last few games.
Stars Butler, 32 points, nine rebounds, five assists Stevenson, 17 points, five rebounds James, 34 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists Z, 19 points, six rebounds
Quotes Eddie Jordan: " We got a miss for the first time since who knows when. It's been a (Sasha) Pavlovic make, it's a Delonte West make, it's a Daniel Gibson make, it's a Damon Jones make. Every game it seems like we lose. We finally get a miss." LeBron: "There was a lot of contact but I supposed to make that, I've made more difficult shots. We can't rely on me getting a foul at the end of the game. We didn't execute being up five and I had the ball in my hands for the most part. I'm supposed to put us in the position to do the right thing and I didn't do that. It's not like it's over, we're up 3-2. As long as I'm on the court, we have a great chance to win. Of course I am still confident." Butler: "We heard all the quotes of how the series was over. This team has been through a lot this season, a ton of adversity. We've proven all the doubters wrong and this is just another opportunity.
Brendan Haywood to the media today after hearing LeBron James' quote that the Wizards were trying to hurt him:
"C'mon man, this is the playoffs. He wears 23 and he wants to be Michael Jordan. I respect that because he's a great player. But look what Mike went through. Mike got fouled way worse than this. You know what I'm saying? Nobody is trying to hurt him. Everybody is trying to play basketball, trying to win, trying to play tough. Leave it alone."
The Cavs were off today so we'll have to wait for LeBron's response if there is one. He expressed he was tired of all the talk before the game yesterday. Say this for Haywood, he is not afraid to say anything. Of course in the Wizards' locker room they are going to mock LeBron and Mike Brown and Moondog. They can call all of them cry babies then and laugh and stuff. Of course in meetings Eddie Jordan is going to talk about how the team should foul LeBron and foul him hard. Sure when Drew Gooden and DeShawn Stevenson are on the phone or chillin' they can rip LeBron and call him names. Hey, we all do stuff like that at one time or another.
But these Wiz, they just put it all out there in the open and get called stupid, get booed and get beaten over and over. You gotta give them a nod, if only everyone in Washington operated with such transparency.
Cavs 100, Wizards 97 --By my count, this game was the sixth time LeBron James has beaten the Wizards with a pass or a shot in the final minute of a playoff game. His short jumper in Game 3 in 2006, his baseline layup past Antawn Jamison in Game 5 the same year, his pass out of the double team to Larry Hughes, who passed to Damon Jones for the winner in Game 6 (hockey assist). Last year in Game 3 he hit Sasha Pavlovic out of a trap for a 3-point to clinch Game 3 here at the Verizon Center. Then this year his two shots in Game 1 and the pass to Delonte West today. Wizards are sick of this stuff. --In Game 3, Cavs were 2-of-16 from 3-point range, which made their handling of the double teams on LeBron seem weak. Today they were 13-of-28 (though that is a lot of 3s, man) with Delonte West and Daniel Gibson going 9-of-15. Major, major difference. --After the game, LeBron said DeShawn Stevenson hit him with a closed fist on the flagrant foul in the first half. I have since seen some photos that support that but it was not clear. Also, he seemed to go for the ball. I suspect the Cavs will push hard to have him to have the foul upgraded but it probably won't happen. Here is the thing, people who know DeShawn have told me they think he's crazy enough to attempt to go head hunting for LeBron in Game 5 if he thinks it is over just because of how personal this has all gotten. We'll see. --Seemed to be three emotions coming from folks at Verizon Center. One, they were frustrated they'd just lost another close game to the Cavs, who they are still sure they are better than. Two, they think LeBron is a cry baby for complaining about the fouls. Three, this series is over. --I am not sure Gilbert Arenas taking the final shot was the best move for the Wiz and Eddie Jordan said as much after the game. He thought he should've maybe used him as a decoy considering he has not made a 3-pointer since Game 1. Plus Caron Butler was hot at the moment. But I guess you've got to give the ball to the superstar in that spot and ask to make a play. That's what the Cavs did with LeBron and he passed. --A factor down the stretch was that LeBron had five fouls. That is why he pulled up for a 15-footer on the second to last possession because he was concerned about an offensive foul. The officials had already called him for two in the game. He was more prone to shoot jumpers, which is why he was not as effective in scoring in the fourth. Especially in the last three minutes after he got the fifth. --Earlier this season Daniel Gibson told me he'd never had a technical foul called on him in his life. Now, he's got two including one today after he shoved Brendan Haywood in the, ahem, man area. Boobie said that Haywood was hanging on the rim and sort of in his face if you know what I mean so he pushed them away. I've seen the replay and he's right. Haywood has had some good games in this series, but he's also been, um, staying over people in a disrespectful manner to quote LeBron. --A huge factor in this game was Joe Smith, who had more rebounds himself (8) than the entire Wizards bench. Plus he threw a great pick on Antawn Jamison to make sure Delonte West had shooting room on the final shot.
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Wizards: Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
Officials Joey Crawford, Bill Spooner, Michael Smith. Joey Crawford, enough said.
--Arenas will start because he said he felt better in practice yesterday. That left knee of his is messed up but he's rested it a lot over the last five or six days. So he may be able to play just 10 minutes or he may be able to shoot well like he did in Game 1. Nobody knows, not even him. The Cavs said they are preparing themselves like he's going to play his 25 minutes. --The Cavs have vowed to be more ready for the Wizards' pressure today. Some of it just comes down to decision-making and some of it is aggressiveness. Frankly, they Cavs were not ready mentally to come in and play here in Game 3. Most playoff games here have not featured such an intense crowd or the vigor from the Wizards. So they'll probably have their difficulties at times, but there they promise a better mindset. --A key in this game will be the benches, I think. In Game 2, the Cavs was excellent and in Game 3 the Wizards were great. Antonio Daniels and Andray Blatche played their best games of the series while Daniel Gibson was a turnover machine, Joe Smith was a foul machine and Anderson Varejao didn't do much. The contribution from those guys is something to watch. --Before the game, LeBron seemed to be pretty focused to me. I think he's tired of hearing about Game 3, and he is surely tired about DeShawn Stevenson. He said everything has become way too commercial. Pat McManamon wrote about it in his blog if you want it. Frankly, I am just tired of the junk. It was fun, we in the media had fun with it, but this series is entering is guts and it is time to focus on basketball and not trash talk and rappers. LeBron sounded as if he was and I am sure DeShawn and the Wizards feel the same way. --The Cavs have decided to put away their blue uniforms, which have been a playoff standard for three years, and go with the wine. For whatever that is worth. LeBron said they hadn't played well in the blues all year. I guess he keeps track of that stuff.
Halftime -- Cavs 54, Wizards 44
--This is the reason the Cavs got themselves Ben Wallace, he had a large hand in changing the game in the second quarter. He has proven he can't do it every night anymore, but he can do it at times. When the Wizards were up by eight, both Wallace and Delonte West got very aggressive defensively and it flopped the momentum. The Cavs had eight fastbreak points in their 23-4 run and Wallace had seven rebounds. Also, the Wizards starting missing some shots. They were just 4-of-21 in the second quarter after shooting 80 percent in the first quarter...and only leading by four. --LeBron James' got fired up after Stevenson hit him with a flagrant foul. His energy level increased and the Cavs came with him. It is at these times when he takes over games that he becomes the transcendent player. In the Washington Post today, Stevenson said LeBron isn't the kind of player who keeps you up at night like Kobe. If LeBron has another second half like the first, I predict DeShawn won't sleep well tonight. He spent a lot on the outside in the early going but started driving in transition after the foul. --The Wizards were playing zone and keeping the ball from Zydrunas Ilgauskas early in the second quarter. They were doing an excellent job and the offense was stalling out. Mike Brown then went with a small lineup with Wallace at center and James at power forward and it started the turnaround. Brendan Haywood was unable to take advantage of Wallace and the Cavs defense picked up. Joe Smith later came in to balance it out more. --I refresh my idea about fining Anderson Varejao for each dribble. But I suspect he'll have an impactful play or two at the defensive end in this game. --The Cavs have 12 second-chance points, a huge factor in the game. They scored 54 points and only shot 43 percent in the first half. --The Cavs had 11 turnovers in the first half, which is still a lot. But it only cost them eight points, they were lucky it was not worse. On of the reasons is because the Cavs have stolen the ball right back about three times, at least twice by West. --Expect the Wizards to get hot from the floor again, but we'll see if the Cavs' defense keeps up. That is where the Cavs are winning the game right now.
Stars LeBron, 34 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists West, 21 points, five assists Jamison, 23 points, 11 rebounds Butler, 19 points
Quotes Mike Brown: "Not only can he score, not only can he rebound, but he's got the ultimate trust in his teammates. That's why he's going to go down as the best player in this game." LeBron: If we were in the park where I grew up, something definitely would've happened (on the flagrant). I guess they want to hurt LeBron James this series. It isn't working.... Do I think they can (make a comeback)? No." Jamison: " "That's why he is LeBron James. It's just unfortunate for us."
Wizards 108, Cavs 72
--The Cavs that you watched for six months didn't just disappear, which you perhaps might have thought after Game 2. They are still very capable of losing their minds on offense and playing extremely passive on the road. Considering the two steps forward, one step back nature of the regular season it was perfect irony that the Cavs backed up their largest playoff win in franchise history with their most lopsided loss. Par for the course. --I don't think you can take too many trends out of this game. The Wizards double teamed LeBron James far from the basket and neither he nor his teammates nor Mike Brown reacted well at all to it. It's not like he hasn't seen that defense before, so why they kept giving him the ball on the outside to let the Wizards execute their plan was a little beyond me. Again, though, we've seen it before. Who needs hard fouls, when LeBron doesn't get anywhere near the basket? The Wizards fed off all the resulting turnovers and long jumpers for easy baskets and that combined with almost all of their players getting going shooting the ball for a blowout. I expected this series to go seven games and I expect there to be more momentum swings like this. Mike Brown did a great job with changes in Game 2, Eddie Jordan came back and one-upped him in Game 3 so now let's see who is better on Sunday. --It was a fun night for the Wizards fans and for DeShawn Stevenson, who finally hit a few shots. To make the story better, it happened with Soulja Boy sitting in the front row. By the way, what a demonstration of pop culture. LeBron made a joking comment about Stevenson last month and mentioned Soulja Boy, who apparently couldn't even name you all the NBA teams, and he can't pass up the marketing chances to show up and get involved. And it was, fun. But don't look at it as anything more than just a sidelight. Let me just say one thing, the Soulja kid was the only one I saw wearing a Stevenson jersey other than Stevenson himself tonight. But the Wizards fans should boo LeBron and chant "overrated," too, it makes the rivalry more intense. --The Wizards said Gilbert Arenas has a pinched nerve in his knee, but that he should play Sunday. I'm not sure how much longer Gil is going to keep pounding that knee, which obviously is not close to being right. We'll see what happens there. --It seems like Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels went back and watched film on how they have torched the Cavs in the past. They did it with aggressive drives, which the Cavs have struggled to defend. Expect to see more of that from both the rest of the way. --Remember how the trade guys were so great in Game 2. Well, Delonte West had five points and four turnovers, Ben Wallace played just 16 minutes, Joe Smith fouled out in 16 minutes, and Wally Szczerbiak was 3-of-9 and got eaten up by Butler. Check back next game for further progress. --The Wizards do this cool thing where they honor injured troops from Iraq who are recovering at nearby Walter Reed hospital. But while they were on the scoreboard tonight, one of the soldiers took off his prosthetic leg, poured beer into it and started drinking out of it. Um, it was quite disturbing to me.
Pregame Starting lineups
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Wiz: Gilbert Arenas, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
Officials Jim Clark, Eddie F. Rush, Sean Corbin. Of the three, Corbin has the quickest trigger finger, he is not liked in Detroit for all the techs he's called on Rasheed Wallace over the years.
--Eddie Jordan is playing some games, he said that Antonio Daniels would start at point guard but it appears he submitted a lineup with Arenas in there. The Cavs actually suspected this for the las t couple days, the Wiz are looking for momentum and this is a way to shake things up. It will be interesting to see if Jordan extends Gilbert's minutes now that he'll probably be starting both halves. I expect LeBron to be on him much of the time. --Caron Butler is vowing to have a better game on Szczerbiak and the Wizards are vowing to move the ball better on offense, which indeed would help against how the Cavs play. They are due to hit some shots, but the Cavs are preaching poise on the road. --We'll see if the Cavs can continue to take care of the ball. They have just 19 turnovers in the first two games and it has kept Washington out of fastbreaks. There will be extra pressure tonight and they will be out of their comfort level, so this will be a test. Especially for West and Daniel Gibson. --Supposedly this game is not sold out, but I still expected a good crowd. It was reasonably lame in the playoffs the last two years but when I was here a month ago the crowd was very much into the game. The Cavs have not played well on the road since the trade, but they played very well in Philly last week. --David Stern is at the game and he met with the media a few minutes ago. He said he watched a bunch of replays on the Haywood foul on LeBron, he thought it was the right call to eject him and he didn't have a problem with him not being suspended. This is no surprise, of course he is going to back up his office's decisions. --How many time will we hear the Soulja Boy song tonight? My guess is quite a few.
Halftime -- Wizards 49, Cavs 33 --As would be expected to a degree, the tables have turned a little so far. The Wizards are playing with a lot of energy and the Cavs are playing tentative. When the Cavs have had the ball, the Wizards have tried to extend their defense a little and force pressure on the outside and the Cavs have not handled it well, especially Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. They already have 15 turnovers and actually I think the stats crew may have missed one or two. It has only cost them 18 points, which is actually remarkable because it could be worse. When the Cavs have gotten into their offense they've gotten good shots, but it hasn't happened that much. They had just four points in the paint in the second quarter and LeBron had just one basket, a fadeaway jumper. The Wizards, meanwhile had 30 points in the paint. Obviously, they will need to get some poise back to have any chance. --The Cavs played some pretty decent defense early on, they contested some shots and forced the Wizards outside. But as is their custom, without much offensive mojo they let down on the defensive end. That and the Wiz were due to make some shots. They are going to have a game or two or maybe more in this series when their offense is clicking and this is looking like it is going to be one of them. --Caron Butler is attacking more off the dribble, which is what he probably should've been doing all along against Wally Szczerbiak. The defenders are therefore giving him more space and he's going to his pull-up game. He's an excellent player and he's showing it tonight. I expect LeBron to be on him in the second half for stretches. The reason is because we may have seen the last of Arenas for tonight. He was limping badly on that bad knee and it is obvious that he isn't right and maybe shouldn't be playing at all. --The Wizards' second unit, especially Antonio Daniels, Roger Mason and Andray Blatche, outplayed the Cavs reserves. Again, it felt like an energy issue. Devin Brown and Anderson Varejao played out of control. Daniels has been effective with dribble penetration especially.
Stars Caron Butler, 14 points, four assists Roger Mason, 18 points DeShawn Stevenson, 19 points LeBron, 22 points, seven rebounds
Quotes Mike Brown: " "They were the aggressors, they came out with the right mindset. You have to take care of the ball on the road if you want to win in a hostile environment." LeBron: "They caught us off guard at times and made some adjustments that we weren't ready for. We have to better prepare ourselves mentally." Jordan: "We read them the riot act after Game 2 in Cleveland and the next two days we told them out great they were. It is risky this late in the season, but you have to lay it on the table."
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Thanks to reader blog reader Phil who sent me this photo, which is actually on Soulja Boy's web site. He lives in D.C. and plans to have it on a poster when he goes to Game 3 tomorrow at the Verizon Center. Anyway, you just have to love this whole LeBron/Jay-Z/DeShawn Stevenson/Soulja Boy stuff. It's all just wild junk but great fodder for us journalists and fans. First off, LeBron likes Soulja Boy and dances to his hit song. And, whether it is just fashion or fandom, Soulja Boy seems like he likes and respects LeBron a little. Even if he told Branson Wright from the Plain Dealer that LeBron disrespected him. Blah, blah, blah. Yes, but a large part of my business and your interest is, indeed, blah, blah, blah.
I just heard from the NBA office. After reviewing the film, NBA discipline czar Stu Jackson will not be taking any further action against Wizards center Brendan Haywood for his flagrant foul on LeBron James Monday night. The Cavs and LeBron were campaigning for Haywood to get suspended for Game 3 on Thursday, which is an option Jackson has after flagrant-2 fouls. It was indeed a "non-basketball" move because Haywood did not attempt to go for the ball when he fouled James as he went down the lane with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
"They have to keep this game clean with as much talk that has gone on back and forth and as much talk from them about how they were going to hit LeBron when he was going to the basket," Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "From watching the tape and watching the game, there is a difference in going for the block and not going for the block. I didn't think he tried to make a play on the ball."
I do not know this for a fact, but I wouldn't be surprised if Haywood has been warned to avoid any further flagrant fouls against the Cavs. Especially after he was involved in a confrontation with LeBron in Game 1. Maybe the Cavs, who committed a flagrant-1 when Anderson Varejao hammered Andray Blatche in the first half, have been warned, too.
So anyway, Haywood thinks it was Mike Brown who was a bit out of line. He didn't like how Brown came out on the court in Games 1 and 2 after the LeBron/Haywood tussles. Here is what he told reporters today in Washington:
"That's just how it is. You know, any time LeBron gets touched, Mike runs out there like LeBron got shot or something. Calm down Mike. It's not that serious. We're not trying to take him out. It's all within the confines of the game. I don't see how coaches should be running out on the court like that anyway. Isn't there a coach's box? Since we're talking about the confines of the league rules, he shouldn't be out of the box."
Cavs 116, Wizards 86 --This was the most complete game the Cavs have played since the trade, which was two months ago today by the way. It may have been the most complete game they have played all season. While the Wizards talk very confidently, I think they are actually playing very tentative while the Cavs have executed their game plan with sharp focus. Gilbert Arenas is limited by his knee, Caron Butler does not look 100 percent, DeShawn Stevenson is not dealing with the extra pressure, and Brendan Haywood has not been the same player since the confrontation with LeBron in Game 1. Eddie Jordan said he did a "horrible job trying to keep our guys in an organized fashion." Antawn Jamison said as a captain he has done a bad job of "controlling this team." --I am not around the Wizards everyday, though I have covered like 26 preseason, regular season and postseason games of theirs over the last three years. But I can't help to notice that they are not as focused as the Cavs are. At the end of there practices, before the game in the locker room, in pregame warmups, etc. Maybe that is just their style and staying loose is best for them. But the Cavs are a happy-go-lucky team, too but you can tell when it is the playoffs. Then you see how the Wizards play in the playoffs and it is hard not to equate one attitude to another. For example, Stevenson makes a 3-pointer down 19 points and does his face wave thing or whatever. Style above substance, you know? But I could be wrong. --LeBron was at level 9 tonight in his control of the game. Jordan called him a "monster" after the game not just for the way he played on offense but how he dealt with Arenas on defense and how he was talking out on the court. His 12 assists shows the offense was working well and that the Cavs made shots. That will not happen every game, but running the offense and not dribbling, is important. --Before the game, another reporter overheard Brendan Haywood saying he wasn't going to do anything in this series to get suspended because last time that happened (in 2006 when he fought Etan Thomas and was benched by the team) it cost him $60,000. Then he goes out and gets ejected for a flagrant-2 on LeBron. That said, I don't think he'll get suspended by the league for that hit because he didn't LeBron in the head. It was a non-basketball play and that is the definition of a flagrant-2 and the officials made the correct call. But I could be wrong. Anderson Varejao was hit with a flagrant-1 and he hit Andray Blatche in the head but he was going for the ball, not that the Wizards saw it that way. LeBron was surely campaigning for a suspension when he said it was "scary" and it reminded him of when he got undercut as a junior in high school and broke his wrist. Except he was not undercut on this one, though if you watch the replay he was in danger as he fell. My guess is Haywood will be writing a $5,000 check (in addition to the $1,000 for the technical in Game 1) and moving on to Game 3. Then again, the NBA may want to send a message. --LeBron did do a nice job of keeping himself under control after all the hard fouls. He has been able to not be fazed physically or emotionally. Considering how intense this series has been he deserves credit for that. --Daniel Gibson has now had two good games in a row. Him getting going would be a huge plus for the Cavs because you know how well he and LeBron feed off each other. Tonight he made a stepback 3 that was a highly athletic move, showing his ankle is feeling good. --Damon Jones' "you can't see me" ode to Stevenson late in the game was his private payback for that game last month. Before he called LeBron "overrated" that night, Stevenson was mocking Damon's antics after 3-pointers during that game. So that is what that was all about. --LeBron said he never got personal with comments about Stevenson to Drew Gooden. Who knows? But the fans at Quicken Loans Arena did, tonight there was one sign that read: "DeShawn's mom is overrated." --I know some of you would prefer faster updates, but please remember I write for the Beacon Journal first. My game story from tonight is here and my notes about the new Hack-a-Bron strategy is here.
Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Dan Crawford, Rodney Mott, Mark Wunderlich
--The Wizards have not made it a secret that they intend to pound the ball to Butler, especially whenever Szczerbiak is guarding him. The Cavs will be bringing double teams with Butler in the post, so expect Stevenson and Jamison to be free on the outside on the backside. They didn't make any last game, you know about the law of averages. --Stevenson's latest comment about LeBron, before this game: "He's going to cry about calls, that's what he do." From the Wizards' perspective, I can see why he feels this way. Nonetheless, more fodder. --Get ready for this stat longtime Cavs fans...LeBron has more missed free throws this season including Game 1 (228) than Mark Price had in his entire career (227). Now, my point is not to compare them, my point is LeBron misses a lot of free throws. If the Wizards can't defend him and they can't force him to give it up, fouling is the smart way to go. Also, because LeBron had 87 "and-1s" this season, which was second in the NBA, fouling him hard so he can't finish is also prudent. --The Cavs say they will be more ready for Gilbert Arenas tonight when he comes in the game. I don't know how you can ever be ready for that guy with his talent, but Game 1 showed that he is just not as strong or confident driving as he is shooting. Probably because his knee is not right and stopping and pulling up hurts. Look for the Cavs to make him put it on the floor.
Halftime -- Cavs 53, Wizards 40 --As of this exact moment, Mike Brown in my opinion is vastly outcoaching Eddie Jordan. Especially with the matchups. The move to put LeBron on Arenas has made it impossible for Gilbert to get anything off from the outside and he cannot move well enough to get past him. Also, at the other end, Mike has constantly found the favorable one-on-one match and sent the ball there be it with LeBron, Ilgauskas or Szczerbiak. He also seems to be figuring out that Joe Smith is the best guy to cover Jamison, although Jamison is playing great and tough for anyone on the Cavs to deal with. --LeBron's play in the first half has been exemplary. He has 12 points, five rebounds and six assists and is making almost nothing but smart decisions at both ends. It is very clear that he can get to the basket whenever he wants to but he is mixing it up. He has been looking for Z, who is again executing well, and Wally, who is so far having a good night. --Caron Butler does not look right to me, he does not have the same athleticism as usual. The Cavs have realized this and are gambling a little bit more. He's been more active on rebounds but he's 1-of-8 and his shot from the outside looks flat. --The Wizards are shooting just 37 percent, which is a reflection of how well the Cavs are playing defense. They are not just missing shots like in Game 1, most are contested. That said, this is a team that can get hot and very hot from the outside. It appears as if Jordan is looking deeper into the bench for offense as he put rookie Nick Young out there at the end of the half. The Cavs, as everybody knows, are not great in the third quarter and the first five minutes of this second half could be huge in the outcome of this game.
Stars LeBron, 30 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists Ilgauskas, 16 points, nine rebounds Szczerbiak, 15 points
Quotes LeBron: "Just the magnitude of the game and the way we approached the game tonight was amazing. Coach Brown put us in a comfortable position and gave us a game plan. We went out and executed." Eddie Jordan: "We are playing the (Eastern Conference) champions. I know they changed their team but they still have the same coaching staff and a monster player and he's taking over the series." Jamison: "We didn't underestimate anybody. I don't want what was said a month ago to have the effect of how we feel about this team. We know this is a very special team. They didn't play well in the last month of the regular season but just like any veteran team when the playoffs get started you're gong to elevate your game and you're gong to find a way to start playing inspired ball. Let's be honest. Some guys talked. It's over with. I'm the captain of this team and we're going to go out there and play ball. We have alot of respect for this team. We know this team is capable of not only going past the first round but going past that. Once the playoffs started, we didn't say this is going to be an easy win or an easy series whatsoever. Let's get that down pat because this is a team that in my eyes can create a lot of problems for a lot of teams."
Just got back from the Cavs and Wizards shootarounds. Gilbert Arenas had his right wrist wrapped but he didn't seem to be showing any ill effects from spraining it on Saturday. In fact he was taking bets from teammates while shooting one-handed shots from halfcourt and his routine 30-footers. However, based on what I saw I do not expect him to start.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said tonight is the most important game of the series...for the Cavs. Part of the Wizards' confidence? Well, yes. But he's not wrong, if the Wiz head home with the series tied 1-1 then they have done their job. They are certainly were still a very loose and confident bunch this morning, it seemed like they were getting ready for a regular season game in January or something.
As for the Cavs, the starting lineup will remain the same with Wally Szczerbiak starting at shooting guard. From what I understand, the Wizards are looking to exploit this matchup and will likely be trying to get Caron Butler going early against Wally.
By the way, tonight's officials are Dan Crawford, Mark Wunderlich and Rodney Mott. Again, like game one, these are three rock guys. Especially Crawford, he is unwavering as a crew chief. Wunderlich also acts as a crew chief during the regular season and Mott is an unemotional and stonefaced official who is generally no nonsense. I expect both Jordan and Mike Brown to be working then tonight regarding LeBron James.
Cavs 93, Wizards 86 --This was the type of game the Cavs like to play and often win. It was close most of the way and in the fourth quarter it was largely a halfcourt game with lots of bumping and bruising. This is not how every game will go, but some will. Ultimately, the Cavs won because they were at home and they had the best player on the floor. You know, like thousands of playoff games over the years. --The two baskets LeBron made in the stretch run that basically decided the game were very impressive for a couple of reasons. One, they were started by Daniel Gibson with LeBron coming off a weakside curl screen set by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. By putting LeBron way away from the ball, it makes double teaming and tilting harder. I was all set to give Mike Brown credit for this when after the game he said it was Eric Snow's idea. Snow, who is already starting his coaching career, brought it up in a coaches meeting earlier this week. At least, that is what we are told. Anyway, it worked. LeBron was just tremendous in that spot, it is a reminder of what all this hype is about. He has proved he can deliver in these times and that value is beyond limits as was proven today. --Delonte West did an excellent job on Gilbert Arenas late in the game. He really bodied him up, making sure he wanted to drive instead of shoot. Normally this is bad for the Cavs, but because Gilbert's knee isn't right it seemed to be an advantage today. Gilbert also said after the game that he was tired late and it did show. The Wizards tried to post him up a few times on West and the Cavs brought double teams, so they were effective defensively. --Antawn Jamison was tremendous today on the glass with 19 rebounds and really gave it to Ben Wallace, who didn't play much in the second half. He also had 23 points. But he took and missed lots of open shots, especially in the fourth quarter. The Cavs are going to have to evaluate that matchup, as I said I might try LeBron, because he is getting free on the outside too easy and he will not miss forever. I also thought Caron Butler didn't look right to me today, he is banged up. Figure both to play better in this series, especially now that the Wizards know the Cavs will be using Wally Szczerbiak on him. --I said all I needed to say at halftime about LeBron's antics. The Wizards admitted after the game they were trying to rough him up and it is understood that he'll want to go back at them. As for the talking -- and he did that DeShawn Stevenson hand/face thing or whatever -- that is not needed. But he did play tough and there is something to be said for that. --Zydrunas Ilgauskas was tremendous, especially early in the fourth quarter when LeBron was resting and he led an 8-1 run to get the lead. As for Anderson Varejao, though, someone must speak to him. He rebounded great today and had some good defensive plays, what he is supposed to do. But stop trying to make moves on offense. If he has an open jumper, then fine. If Mike Brown would've gone through with my idea from a month ago to fine him for each dribble he takes then you may have driven this out of him by now. --After the game, both Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson kept their mouths shut. Do not expect that to continue but do expect this to be a very long series with lots of ups and downs for both sides.
Starting lineups Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Bob Delaney, Scott Foster, David Jones -- This is a very, very strong crew. All three of them act at chiefs during regular season games. Foster and Delaney are no nonsense and are not afraid to set a tone and hit guys with technicals
--LeBron James reaction before the game on his back: "I am ready to play." --It is so appropriate that the Cavs are going to use a brand new starting lineup for this game, really sums up the season. It is No. 22 in 83 games and the fifth different lineup they have shown the Wizards. My guess is Wally will get plenty of chances early but if he doesn't play well he won't t see time in the second half. --Mike Brown said several players will rotate on Gilbert Arenas, I think it will be more interesting on who defends Jamison. I believe the Cavs would do very well in this series playing LeBron for stretches at power forward, which would force some match advantages for the Cavs. --Z is a key play on offense for the Cavs. Haywood has improved, especially on defense. But the Cavs play much better when Z is an option. --Wallace has brought out the 'fro for the first time as a Cav. LeBron said the plan all along was to save it for the playoffs. --Eddie Jordan said the plan is for Arenas to get 25 minutes or so, but if it is close I don't see him sitting much. Also, Butler has been bothered by a knee injury so we'll see how effective he is. Knowing them both, I expect them to play hard and play well. --All the trash talk is a great story line for the media and I have enjoyed writing about it. But we have known these two teams don't like each other for years, the talk is nothing new. I expect this series to be a long series and the talk will be long forgotten 10 days from now when Games 5 and 6 roll around.
Halftime -- Cavs 46, Wizards 46 --Playoff basketball has started. The Cavs and Wizards have been at each other's throats the entire half. In my opinion, LeBron has been way too involved. He needs to cool down, he is the guy who says he doesn't need trash talk but he's been more active than anyone. After getting whacked twice in a row by Andray Blatche, LeBron hit him with an elbow after a foul in a play that I think may be turned into a flagrant foul by the NBA after this game. Then at the end of the half he got a technical foul for jumping up and into Brendan Haywood after he stood over him after an offensive foul. At the end of the half, LeBron also said something to DeShawn Stevenson as he walking off the floor. I believe Antawn Jamison and Z got into it as well. My point is, I just mentioned LeBron way too many times. He is the leader, but he's got to preach control, that is the way the Cavs play. --I was watching closely during the scrap at the end of the half, both coaching staffs built walls so that no one came off the bench, which is an automatic suspension. Also, you'll notice that Ben Wallace was the first guy to come to LeBron's side during the tussle, other than Mike Brown. I believe you will see more of this in this series. --As for the half, Gilbert Arenas made a giant impact on the game. He hit four 3-pointers and the Wiz went on an 18-4 run when he came in the game. But overall, the Wiz ran hot and cold on offense. They were at their best when they were running plays to get shots inside for Jamison and Haywood. Otherwise, they took lots of jumpers and they are going to run hot and cold on that front, sometimes they look great and other times they'll let a team come back from 11 down, as they did. --For the most part, I thought the Cavs offense was terrible early on. Way too much LeBron on the outside and they shot just 20 percent and had just four points in the paint in the first quarter. They were much better in the second, running some plays for Z (14 points) and for LeBron to get to the hoop. Also, they only have three turnovers, which has been huge to keep the Wizards out of fastbreaks. Still, they have shot just 36 percent and the game is tied. --Wallace is playing hard and he's made some good plays, but Jamison is swallowing him up on the glass. He beat him numerous times, also Wallace has not ventured out much to cover him on 3-pointers. This has got to be tightened up. --Wally Szczerbiak had a strong half, he missed a few open shots but he battled Caron Butler at the defensive end and he made a few baskets and drove strong to the hoop. --The rebounding was even in the half, that could be huge in the second, especially at the defensive end. --Haywood, Jamison, and LeBron all have technicals, one more and they'll be one. May be some baiting going on from both sides. Especially watch Haywood and Z. --Oh, and buckle up for this finish...and this series.
Stars LeBron, 32 points Z, 22 points, 11 rebounds Arenas, 24 points Jamison, 23 points, 19 rebounds
Quotes LeBron: "I didn't get rattled, emotions ran over just a little bit. My play speaks louder than me going out there and pushing somebody and talking trash...We're not the type of team that talks, but we're not going to back down either...I was built for this, I am not 6-9, 260 pounds to shoot jumpers all night. I go to the hole, I create contact. Don't ever think I'm the only one what feels that contact." Mike Brown: "He can't go in there and get hit across the face and not protect himself. He's got to go in there with attitude...I thought our guys did a nice job of keeping their composure and poise.It was a tough, physical game." Arenas: "With a play like LeBron made, he's hard to stop. There's really no answer for him. It's still Game 1 and you have to feel out your opponent." Stevenson: "I said what I said. There's no reason for us to keep talking. The series has already started. They won the first game, we still feel confident and we have to go out there and prove it."
The best preview material I can give you about the Cavs and Wizards series is up on Ohio.com. There is a detailed breakdown of the teams and each starter from a high-level NBA scout and my five keys to win the series for both teams.
Today LeBron responded, once and for all I got the impression, to DeShawn Stevenson. First, he said he doesn't need the trash to motivate him. Second, his disputed Stevenson's remarks about a personal attack. With Drew Gooden being the mole. And by the way, I don't think LeBron is thrilled with Drew right now, he came to the locker room last week in Chicago and I did not see them make eye contact.
Here are the quotes:
"My response is I'll be ready to play tomorrow. I motivate myself, I don't need opponents to motivate me. I am going to go out there and play the way I do every night. I don't need help."
"I never said anything personal about him, nothing about his family or anything that would tick somebody off like that. I don't know what was said to him, I've never said anything personal about anybody. Now, did I say something about his basketball game? Maybe. About him personally, I don't go that far."
"We don't have guys that talk, you're not going to see Z talking trash out there. It being Washington, them disrespecting our team we'll see what happens. Game is tomorrow, we'll see what happens."
As has become a tradition on the blog, I am posting the ballot I sent to the NBA office for the league's annual awards. I spent quite a bit of time looking at stats, speaking with other beat writers, and consulting my own experiences. My 2007 ballot is here,. Here is 2008:
Most Valuable Player
1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers 2. Chris Paul, Hornets 3. LeBron James, Cavs 4. Kevin Garnett, Celtics 5. Dwight Howard, Magic
Comment: There was a time this season I was sure my vote was going to LeBron, especially after I watched him outplay Kobe twice head-to-head. Yet there is no doubt that the Cavs' average finish hurt LeBron's chances with me and everybody else. I feel strongly that this was LeBron's best ever season, even better than two years ago when I gave him my MVP vote. But a component of the award now, in previous years and in the future is team success. Which is why LeBron himself told me on Wednesday that he didn't deserve the award. It is a season-long honor and while he may have been my choice at several times during the season, he was not at the end.
When it came to choosing between Bryant and Paul, it was very hard. I was so impressed with how Paul contributed to everything the Hornets do. However, my fiercest criticism of Bryant over the years was he was not a team player. I felt his 81-point game, for example, was a reason I would not vote for him. I was even more turned off when he asked for a trade last summer. His actions this season, however, have followed what I have always wanted to see out of him. People I greatly respect felt the same way. Ultimately, that made up my mind. I want to make it clear I am not giving to him as a "career award" as some have suggested the media will do. The Hall of Fame is a career award.
Coach of the Year
1. Byron Scott, Hornets 2. Mo Cheeks, Philadelphia 3. Jeff Van Gundy, Magic EDIT: Make that Stan Van Gundy. And, yes, I did send it into the league wrong.
Comment: All three of these men did something that impressed me, they designed systems to take advantage of the personnel they had. Scott's use of Paul's talents and the rest of the his players was especially meaningful to be. The Cavs have struggled for years to get the most out of their players with different systems. Scott found a way.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics 2. Marcus Camby, Nuggets 3. Josh Smith, Hawks
Comment: Camby had better stats but he was on a poor defensive team. Garnett, however, set a great tone for the Celtics, who played some of the best defense seen in the NBA in years.
Most Improved Player
1. Jose Calderon, Raptors 2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers 3. Rajon Rondo, Celtics
Comment: I may be the only one who votes for Calderon, last year I was one of two who gave it to Al Jefferson. He has blossomed into one of the 10 best point guards in the NBA and I believe he has a great career ahead of him. I know Hedo Turkoglu from the Magic will probably win but I don't find him to be, as the NBA puts it, "an up-and-coming player" in the award guidelines.
Rookie of the Year
1. Kevin Durant, Sonics 2. Al Horford, Hawks 3. Al Thornton, Clippers
Comment: Horford had a great year, but Durant is a special talent and he played on a team with very little protection or veteran leadership.
First Team G – Chris Paul, Hornets G – Kobe Bryant, Lakers C – Dwight Howard, Magic F – LeBron James, Cavs F – Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Second Team G – Steve Nash, Suns G – Manu Ginobili, Spurs C – Amare Stoudemire, Suns F – Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs F – Tim Duncan, Spurs
Third Team G – Deron Williams, Jazz G – Tracy McGrady, Rockets C – Marcus Camby, Nuggets F – Paul Pierce, Celtics F – Antawn Jamison, Wizards
Comment: The first team was easy, it was my MVP ballot. In my mind, Howard is the best center in the NBA hands down and he had a great season but he may not be on all ballots. On the second team I had Stoudemire at center, where he played more than half the season before and a little after Shaquille O'Neal. Also, it took a lot from Paul to knock Nash off my first team after three years up there. On the third team, I righted a wrong from last year and put Williams on there. I think very, very highly of the guy. Jamison probably won't make many ballots, but he replaced Carmelo Anthony after his actions this week. Not excusable as a team leader after everything he's been through. Jamison helped carry the Wizards with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler out.
Cavs vs. Pistons
Abbreviated blog tonight, I will update after the game.
Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace Cavs: Delonte West, Damon Jones, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
--LeBron and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are sitting, I imagine Ben Wallace will not play much. I'd be surprised to see Detroit's starters log much more than 20 minutes or so. --The Cavs signed Billy Thomas to a contract for the rest of the season before the game. He will add a little practice depth with Sasha Pavlovic out for the first round.
Pistons 84, Cavs 74
--There is not much to discuss about the actual game. It was close with the backups playing and when it came down to third strings late, the Pistons won out. Nobody got hurt, which was the main goal for everybody. --I think it is interesting that Mike Brown played Wally Szczerbiak 42 minutes tonight and started him instead of Devin Brown. It appears this is the direction he's going to go in the playoffs. Devin has been reasonably consistent all season and Mike wants consistency off the bench. He obviously decided he wants Devin as part of the second unit with Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao. Wally has been all over the place, but his jumper has seemed to come around a tad over the last two weeks. Anyway, we'll see. The interesting thing is the Cavs used 21 different starting lineups this season and they'll be using a 22nd different one when they play the Wizards in Game 1. --Damon Jones finally got some playing time tonight...and went 1-of-12. His frustration level, I imagine, is pretty high. --I don't think any more can be said about this game.
Cavs 91, 76ers 90 --A couple of truths here. One, Samuel Dalembert did foul Devin Brown and it did happen before the red light went on. Two, Devin might have made that shot outright if he was not bumped into, with everyone swarming to the basket Dalembert's swat was like a pass right to him. Three, Zydrunas Ilgauskas probably committed a loose ball foul on Dalembert before the fateful foul. However, that actually happened six or seven feet from the actually play so it was hard for the officials to see it. Four, over 82 games, karma ebbs and flows. Devin had to make the free throws and he did. --Official Greg Williard, who made the call, gave an interview to the media afterward. Basically he said that is why there is replay, to look and see if the foul called happened before the horn. I think he felt fine with what happened. --This was like a playoff game, a little low scoring and lots of late drama. Overall, the Cavs played very well. They were victimized by a couple of odd bounces on offensive rebounds and when Andre Iguodala was all set to turn the ball over and Louis Williams ended up hitting a contested 22-foot shot. On offense, the Cavs did an excellent job of moving a driving the ball under pressure which got them excellent shot attempts by players other than LeBron. It was excellent execution, that should be referred back to. --It figures that when the Cavs win a game like this that it has a cost. Sasha Pavlovic is probably done for the season. At the very least he has a severe ankle sprain. Because he was landing from a jump shot and the foot went sideways, there is a good chance that there are torn ligaments although that will be determined in an MRI tomorrow. Then you consider that it is the same foot he had a sprain in earlier and it's just a bad end to a bad season for him. He had to leave the game in a wheelchair. Obviously he had not contributed much lately, but he was an offensive option and now the Cavs have less depth. Interesting that even with him out, Wally Szczerbiak still did not play in this one and neither did Damon Jones (again). Maybe Mike Brown will just tighten the rotation. --The Cavs have not been shooting free throws well lately and were 11-of-19 in this one until Devin made his two. Not a positive trend heading into the playoffs. LeBron was 6-of-12 tonight. --LeBron showed extreme quickness and excellent jumping tonight, you daresay that he may be just about over the back injury based on his activity. But he said he is still not 100 percent. --You want to talk about a bad moment, this was fan appreciation night in Philly. Off probably the worst loss of the season, the PR folks had to pull the players out of the locker room and get them to give away their uniforms and shoes. Lots of faked enthusiasm by the public address announcer.
Cavs: Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Sixers: Andre Miller, Willie Green, Andre Iguodala, Reggie Evans, Samuel Dalembert
Officials Greg Williard, Mark Wunderlich, Ed Malloy
--Sasha Pavlovic has moved into the starting lineup, replacing Devin Brown. I understand that ideally you don't want Brown as a starter and Pavlovic is a better offensive player. But I have no idea what Devin did to lose the job and I have even less of an idea of what Pavlovic did to earn. Supposedly he played better defense last night, but in my mind Sasha has only played maybe four good games all season. We'll see how the rotations go. --Mike Brown said before the game that he was concerned about the team's chemisty. There was lots of chatter in the huddle and on the court last night. Also, with everyone's minutes changing regularly I can see why there is unrest. Then again, almost getting beat by the Heat will do that to you. --The Sixers need this win, they are tied with the Raptors for the No. 6 seed. They are also an uptempo team with an excellent push it guard in Miller. However, in the halfcourt I believe the Cavs can have success guarding them because Philly doesn't have jump shooters and Miller doesn't break down the defense on the dribble. The key is to keep it a halfcourt game, and you don't do that by chucking jumpers at the other end.
Halftime -- Cavs 47, Sixers 41
--Cavs have done an excellent job on the boards, putting up 14 second chance points to zero for Philly. Basically, they are saying there is going to be a penalty for all your players trying to take off an run the other way. --LeBron's dunk in transition late in the first half was his best dunk of the year. I am not sure seeing it on TV does it justice because you can't appreciate the speed at which he was moving and the way he changed speed. Maybe in the top 10 in his career, maybe. --Andre Iguodala has not played well so far tonight because they Sixers have had a lot of fastbreak chances. We'll see if that holds. --The bench did an excellent job again with LeBron on the bench in the second quarter, getting the Cavs the lead. There is some depth being shown there.
Stars LeBron, 27 points, five assists Ilgauskas, 22 points, seven rebounds Miller, 26 points, six assists Lou Williams, 21 points
Devin Brown: "I heard a whistle, it was just a matter of them going back and looking at it. I didn't think they were going to change it because I wear 33, not 23." LeBron: We were due for a break, we had some calls go the wrong way and some plays go the wrong way, it was good to see it go our way for a change." Dalembert: "After I jumped and I blocked the shot and I got pushed. Ilgauskas pushed me and I was off-balance. He pushed me. You can see on the play. His forearm. He pushed me in the air."
Cavs 84, Heat 76
Glass half full: The Cavs got a win over the Miami Heat, reducing their magic number to clinch homecourt for the first round of the playoffs to 1. Glass half empty: The Cavs were down to the worst team the NBA has seen in years, complete with five rookies and five guys who were in the D-League this year heading into the fourth quarter. If they continue to play like this, what does it matter where the first two games of the playoffs are played? Half full: LeBron James only needed to play 35 minutes and when he was out the Cavs went on a run to take the lead for good. Half empty: For the eighth time in 11 games, the Cavs had a better plus/minus with LeBron off the floor than on it. It's +46 in 113 minutes without him and -46 in 410 minutes with him. Yes, there were some blowouts in there, but look closer and most were close games. It is a weird trend that hints at how the new group has failed to gel with the superstar. Half full: LeBron said his back is feeling fine and the Cavs seem to be mostly healthy with a week to go until the playoffs. Half empty: As of this moment, with the 76ers and the Raptors both being at 40-40, the Cavs have one win over a team with a winning record since getting their players from trade. It was the home game against the Pistons.
There's little need to break this game down further. The trends all hold.
Heat (anyone want to guess?): Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook, Ricky Davis, Stephane Lasme, Mark Blount Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Joey Crawford, Violet Palmer, Zach Zarba
--The Cavs magic number to clinch the No. 4 seed is two and this is obviously the easiest game left. The Heat don't have much talent left, in fact they have a five-man inactive list, but they have a bunch of young guys and D-League callups who do play hard. The Cavs have been known lately to have focus issues and go stretches without giving maximum effort. If that happens today, they very well could get beat. --Keep an eye on the Cavs in the halfcourt on offense. This facet has been decaying for a couple weeks. There have been moments when they have executed well but this team doesn't have rhythm from possession to possession much less game to game. --The Cavs have not played well throughout a game since they beat Philly at home two weeks ago. Might want to start considering the playoffs are now less than a week away. --For your reading pleasure, you may be interested in what I wrote about LeBron winning the scoring title being a failure for the Cavs and Mike Brown today.
Halftime -- Cavs 40, Heat 38
--Great basketball, folks. I'd be watching the Masters, but that isn't any good today, either. The Cavs are shooting very poorly, just 34 percent. They are being aggressive on defense for the most part, Ben Wallace has three blocks and LeBron has two. Then again there was still guys dunking. They played hard for about five minutes, got a seven-point lead, and then cooled down again. That's about par for this team right now. This would win the award for worst loss of the season if it happens, by the way. --The one thing they are doing is looking to pass the ball into the post much more. Especially LeBron. The idea here is to catch teams in rotation as they bring help to James. Then again, that was the idea all season. Regardless, the Cavs have 11 assists on 14 baskets, which is a dream percentage for them. Also, eight of their 14 baskets have been the paint. It's a small bright side. --LeBron took another bad shot at the end of the half because he wanted to set up a 2-for-1, in other words shooting with about 35 seconds left to assure you get an extra possession at the end of a quarter. He has been doing this a lot lately and most of the time it is a bad shot out of flow and that makes it a bad possession so why bother? --When Daequan Cook comes back out on the floor, it might be a good idea to not go under pick-and-rolls and let him shoot. --They didn't put enough time on the halftime clock and Quick Change, the best halftime act in the NBA, was out on the floor doing their thing when the players came out of the locker room to shoot. By the time they did their finale -- where the woman changes dresses four times in like 90 seconds including once as a bunch of confetti falls on her -- the entire Heat team was on their bench and several Cavs were sitting on the scorer's table. Many of them gave Quick Change an ovation.
Stars Delonte West, 18 points, four rebounds Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 14 points, 14 rebounds LeBron, 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists Ricky Davis, 17 points, seven assists
Quotes LeBron on the win: "You can’t be disappointed. I can’t sit here and lie and say it’s easy to get up for a team like this, the crowd expects you to blow them out." LeBron on being assured of playing the Wizards in the first round: "Yay, that is so fun, I am excited. I wanted to play somebody else, but if we have to play somebody I’m glad it is Washington. This is the third straight year of trash talk. I’ll read the clippings and it’ll help me get some more gas under my belt."
Three reactions from me: 1. The first line he said with heavy sarcasm. 2. LeBron said he wanted to play someone else like he meant he was tired of playing Washington, but I sensed truth in his voice. 3. I have no idea what he means about getting gas under his belt. I assume you want gas out from under your belt. Isn't that was Beano is for?
LeBron on his back: "I feel good. We’re going to see how it reacts, I haven’t had back-to-back since the back (got hurt)."
Bulls 100, Cavs 95
--The Cavs felt the media more than the Bulls felt the Cavs tonight. In the locker after the game two different players got stepped on my media members (none of them me, luckily) including one that caused Daniel Gibson to utter the first curse word I've ever heard out of his mouth. That was more pain than they inflicted on the Bulls, who had themselves a dunkfest while the Cavs stood and watched. It got so bad at one point that Dwayne Jones was giving instructions to teammates during a timeout to "Go (blank) those guys up." Lance Allred heard him but the rest of the Cavs didn't, just like Mike Brown's pleas. Maybe Dwayne should've gone in there himself. --This season, 17 percent of Joakim Noah's baskets have come on layups or dunks. Tonight all four of them came on layups and dunks and he also got to the foul line 13 times. 14 percent of Tyrus Thomas' baskets come on layups and dunks, tonight four of his nine baskets were on them. The Bulls have scored over 100 points twice in the last six games...guess who they were against? --Mike Brown was in rare form after the game, here are his quotes. He only took like three questions, he said all he needed to say:
"Something's gotta change for us to go into the playoffs the right way. Because right we will get our behinds kicked if we are not focused and not trying to play the right way...Our help defense is awful. Right now we are really a passive team, nobody feels us, it evident by the Bulls getting dunk after dunk. After somebody gets a dunk or two, you'd hope the next time somebody comes down the lane he's not getting a dunk even if I have to give up my body. That did not happen tonight and that is disappointing...LeBron got hot, he had whatever he had in the first quarter, and then everybody stood and watched. We have to get some movement to generate something offensively."
--This has been the case on several occasions this season, a great offensive spurt by LeBron ended up hurting the Cavs in the long run. Why? Because for whatever reason, the Cavs shut down when LeBron gets hot. In the first quarter, when he went 10-of-10, seven of those baskets were assisted. Which actually meant the Cavs were running plays for him to get hot. He only had one more assisted basket the rest of the game. He was part of the problem, he didn't get his first assist until there were five minutes left in the game. The Elias Sports Bureau is currently looking up if he set some sort of dribbling record. OK, that's a joke, but if you watched the game you get my point. The blame is shared, Mike Brown has to get them to run something, the players have to move and LeBron has to play ball. This, however, is a recurring problem because the Cavs don't have an offensive system that LeBron trusts and often he'll just stop everything. --The Cavs can complain about a lot of things going wrong for them this season, but there is no explaining this: They have nine losses against the Nets, Bulls and Bucks. --I re-state my case for Joe Smith getting more plays called for him, especially in halfcourt sets. He had 20 points tonight on 9-of-16 shooting 53 percent as a Cav. --Anderson Varejao complained earlier in the season that he doesn't like being compared to Joakim Noah because people just assume they are alike because of their hair. Well, I know why he wants to avoid it now. Look at these stats in their three meetings with each other, when they both spent a lot of time guarding each other: Varejao 2.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 22 percent shooting (4-of-18); Noah 13.3 points, 12.3 rebounds 46 percent shooting (13-of-28).
--Over the weekend, I will be filling out my ballot for NBA Annual Awards. This season I was given the full range of votes from Coach and Rookie of the Year to the All-NBA Team, Most Improved, Defensive Player of the Year and, of course, Most Valuable Player. As in the past, I will post my full ballot here because I think you shouldn't be afraid to say who you voted for. For the most part, I have made all the major decisions. But it should still be a good conversation piece come early next week.
Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Bulls: Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah
Officials Jim Clark, James Capers, Eli Roe
--It will be interesting to see if the Cavs keep up the momentum from the way they played the other night. As I have written on here many times before, the Bulls are a jump shot team and if you contest the jumpers you will do will. --Chicago is also a good offensive rebounding team, keeping them off the glass is important. Ben Wallace played very well against them in Cleveland last week, it was one of the reasons the Cavs got such a big lead in that game. --The Pistons are playing the Wizards at home tonight. While they are resting their players, it will still be a tough game for them. If the Cavs are able to get a win here tonight, and the Bulls haven't won since they were in Cleveland, then they may be able to virtually lock up the No. 4 seed. Then again, it could easily go the other way. --Since going 11-of-17 in Cleveland, Larry Hughes has gone 11-of-30 from the field.
Halftime -- Bulls 53, Cavs 47
--LeBron put on quite a show in the first quarter, making 10 straight shots and scoring 24 points. But as we have seen in the past, these scoring binges are not always the best thing for the team. Often it seems to knock them out of rhythm, because the priorities change. In the second quarter the Cavs went 3-of-18 from the floor, primarily because they were forced to play halfcourt offense. Against a shrink the floor defensive team like the Bulls, they will not be successful in the half court very often. Especially when they are limited to jumpers. The Cavs scored just six points in the paint in the second. --The Bulls are having too much success on the inside for the Cavs to win the game. Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas can't be able to get to the rim. Playing Devin Brown on Deng is no good in my opinion, because he can just post him up. LeBron has to defend him. If Ben Gordon makes 3-pointers with hands in his face, then you live with those. But the Cavs allowed the Bulls 22 points in the paint in the first half, which is too many if you want to beat them. Considering this team has one win in the last 10 games, and it's against the Cavs, it was a pretty weak effort. With the Cavs, though, who knows how they will play on defense in the second half. --If the Cavs are concerned with LeBron's back, you wouldn't know it. Mike Brown broke with tradition and let him start the second quarter because he had the hot hand. That is fine, it is the smart move when you have a hot player. But still, it is not what they had been doing. --Sometimes I think all the attention hecklers have gotten for getting on LeBron encourages them. After LeBron missed a jumper in the second quarter to go 10-of-12 in the game, a guy in the first row got on him about taking a bad shot. LeBron said: "Have you been watching what is going on?"
Stars Tyrus Thomas, 20 points, 14 rebounds Joakim Noah, 17 points, 11 rebounds Luol Deng, 21 points LeBron James, 34 points Joe Smith, 20 points
Quotes See above
Cavs 104, Nets 83 --A 51-16 run over the last 19 minutes, the Nets make 3 of their last 31 shots and go 1-of-20 in the fourth, the Cavs hold them to 14 points in the paint for the game. Digest that for awhile. --Sometimes these Cavs are a total mystery to me. I do not understand why their focus level is haywire. I understand why the energy level it like that at times, but the way they are able to turn on or stay off is mind boggling. There were a few offensive possessions during the third quarter when I was laughing at their offense. Anderson Varejao was dribbling driving, guys were going 1-on-4 and at one point I got dizzy watching LeBron James dribble in a circle. Meanwhile, Gana Diop was dominating them on defense. Next thing I know they are defending the basket like it's some sort of mythic idol and Daniel Gibson, a guy who has done nothing but take 3-pointers since he came back from injury, is doing a Jason Kidd impression. --I asked a few players and no one had a good answer as to why the Cavs just turned it on the third quarter. My guess was they looked at the scoreboard and saw they were down 14 points to the Nets at home. But James did make four baskets and have two assists to start the run and he did it with aggression. His back looked fine in that period. --I am not sure what to think of the defense, other than to say when the Cavs give effort they are not bad. The Nets just went cold in this one, especially from the outside where they were living. When they had their 14-point lead, they were 8-of-15 from 3-point range. But also they were the victims of some horrible calls. This was one of the worst officiated games I seen this season. Tony Brown was blowing his whistle on everything. What was bad about this one is that the officials made wrong calls rather than no calls at all. Still, it didn't decide the game it just helped push the Nets toward the edge. --It isn't that the Cavs are a great fastbreak team, it's that they are such a terrible halfcourt offensive team. So they must get some easy chances in transition. This is why at times Delonte West can be so effective because he pushes the ball. For the first time in a long time, Gibson looked comfortable running the floor and he was able to create the same sort of chances in the second half. The Cavs didn't even shoot the ball that well tonight, but they did get themselves a lot of good shots and a lot of fouls by attacking. Who knows if that message will take with Gibson or anybody else. Your guess is as good as mine. --Mike Brown said playing Sasha Pavlovic was one of his "gut feels." Yes, he has a lot more talent than Devin Brown, but you just never know what you're going to get. Still, he had a few good minutes in the second half and Devin is playing too many minutes and taking too many shots so I expect Sasha to be back in a slightly expanded rotation on Friday.
Pregame Starting lineups
Nets: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Nenad Kristic, Gana Diop Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Eddie Rush, Derek Richardson, Tony Brown
--LeBron was cleared to play this morning, though I never had any doubt despite him sitting out the last few practices. He hasn't practiced much since the All-Star Break. I mean, everybody says they are worried, but LeBron played 42 minutes Saturday and he spent eight hours shooting a commercial on Monday. --I do not believe the Nets have much interest in being here, I don't see why they would. Meanwhile, the Cavs are sort of playing for something here so we'll see what the focus and energy level is. The big issue for the Cavs will be keeping Devin Harris in front of them and making Carter and Jefferson shoot jumpers instead of getting easy drives. --The Nets are a so-called "shrink the floor" team, which means on defense they protect the middle and allow outside shots. Remember Donyell Marshall burning them in the playoffs with that. But the Cavs haven't been making jumpers lately. The Bulls are a shrink the floor team and the Cavs banged away on them in that loss last week.
Halftime -- Nets 53, Cavs 49
--If the Cavs have urgency to win this game I am not seeing it. Jefferson and Carter are both being active but there is no reason the Nets should be shooting 52 percent. The Cavs have been switching their defense back and forth between zone and man, but they still can't seem to cover the weakside where Marcus Williams and Boki Nachbar are getting free jumpers. --Sasha Pavlovic played five unexpected minutes in the first half and did absolutely nothing with them. Seriously, he did not even commit a foul. Also, I don't think he's wearing socks which makes me wonder whether he knew he was going to play or not. Mike Brown didn't put him out there vs. Vince Carter, who he did pretty well against in the playoffs last year, either. I have no idea why. --LeBron is doing a very nice job moving the ball. He has five assists and could have several more. The issue is no one else on the Cavs is moving the ball very well. They are doing OK on offense but they way the Nets play they are being too stagnant and that may show up in the end. --Devin Harris hit a 3-pointer from the corner that banked off the upper corner of the backboard. That's quite a trick shot, I've never seen anything like it. Derrick Rose would be proud.
Stars LeBron, 33 points, seven rebounds, eight assists Gibson, 12 points, five assists Wally Szczerbiak, 14 points Vince Carter, 19 points, six assists
Quotes Mike Brown: "I thought our sense of urgency picked up in the second half. When our defense picked up, everything else kind of picked up after that." LeBron: "A few days off of practice really helped me. The training staff has done a great job at helping me regain the strength that I need." Wally Szczerbiak: "With the team we have, we are so much better when we can push the ball and get easy shots. That is the way we need to play."
Magic 101, Cavs 86
--Remember when the Cavs were one of the best fourth-quarter teams in the NBA? Today they were 4-of-23 shooting and got run over, Thursday they were 6-of-23 when the Bulls sped past them. The offense was reduced to taking nothing but jumpers on both occasions. Some of this is because LeBron James' back is preventing him from being aggressive in going to the basket. While he seemed to jump just fine today, I think it affects him when he runs and when he drives. Also, I don't think he is the same player after halftime because it tightens up. It has not helped the two games had long halftimes because they were national broadcasts. --Based on the reaction at the arena today, I sense that many in the fan base will want to pin this loss on Mike Brown's decision-making and his offense. As someone who called for Mike to hire an offensive coordinator two years ago and then detailed his two new offenses since then, I would like to agree with you. I have pointed out many times I disagree with who he plays when, especially in regard to Damon Jones, Joe Smith and Zydrunas Ilgauskas of late. However, I cannot say what has happened the last two games is his fault. The Cavs scored 118 points in Charlotte on Wednesday. Thursday they had 85 points and were shooting 54 percent through three quarters. Today they had 55 points in the first half and 16 assists on 23 baskets and 30 points in the paint. They had four points in the paint in the second half. The same players are running the same plays in the second half as the first half, to me they look like they are just tensing up and dumping it all on LeBron. They are not as crisp, they are not as aggressive, they all settle way too much. Today I watched Brown go through a timeout in the fourth quarter where he's drew on his dry erase board the whole time and another when he just looked everyone in the eye and yelled in the huddle. It is one thing to say that his rotations are off and he's slow to make adjustments, that all may be true. But I just don't believe he told them to go out there and fire up nine 3-pointers in the fourth (after taking a total of eight in the first three quarters). It wasn't the Magic, they played a little more zone, but it wasn't like they turned into the Celtics out there. --LeBron said after the game he would not take any extra rest and miss games. The Cavs have the next three days off, I assume he'll not have any contact at practice and get treatment. He also vowed to play better after his last two performances. --Daniel Gibson went 1-of-7 today and is 5-of-24 since coming back. Mike told me he doesn't plan on cutting his minutes and he'll let him play through this. Seems like he has made the decision that Sasha Pavlovic and Damon are sitting and that is final. --Ben Wallace played another pretty solid game today (other than another missed dunk). He had nine rebounds, four blocks and a steal. He also did a nice job on help defense on Dwight Howard. He seems to be coming around.
Pregame Starting lineups
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Maurice Evans, Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Duke Callahan, Sean Corbin, David Guthrie
--Before the game Mike Brown told us LeBron has been battling back issues for a couple weeks. LeBron said he is not 100 percent. He may start out OK, but pay attention to how he plays in the later stages of the game. --The key whenever playing the Magic is to try to stay attached to their shooters. For the Cavs to do this they have to control Nelson's penetration and try to handle Howard 1-on-1 or if you bring double teams bring them from the weak side. --To win this game the Cavs are going to have to score a little and it will probably have to come from someone besides LeBron. Wally Szczerbiak seems like he could be on the verge of a breakout because he's been showing signs. We'll see. --If the Cavs lose, the Magic clinch the No. 3 seed.
Halftime -- Cavs 55, Magic 47 --Cavs have played with great teamwork so far. Especially on the boards and while operating the offense. They have a shocking 32-11 rebounding edge and 16 assists on 23 baskets. Delonte West is playing excellent at both ends, especially with his penetration and controlling Nelson at the other end. LeBron has 11 points and is shows signs that the back is bothering him while he's standing still but you could never tell they way he's jumping. --Dwight Howard has just two points and one rebound. This is shocking. Ilgauskas and Wallace have been trapping him and boxing him out. Still, Howard isn't showing much fight and seems to be willing to let his teammates shoot. My guess is Stan Van Gundy may be in his ear a little in the locker room. The Cavs energy is swallowing in the Magic, we'll see if they push back. --Daniel Gibson has struggled to keep Nelson in front of him and it caused trouble when Hedo Turkoglu and Pat Garrity got free on the outside. The way the Cavs play, as I have written when playing the Magic, it is hard to cover their outside shooters and deal with penetrators and Howard. They Magic are capable of making runs with that offense.
Stars Turkoglu, 23 points, five rebounds Rashard Lewis, 21 points West, 19 points
Quotes: LeBron: "It has been frustrating, but we have to figure it out and I'm going to figure it out. I've always been able to bounce back in situations where I haven't played particularly well. I have a few days to reflect." West: "At the end of the day, you can play great defense and have great spirits but the ball has to go in the hole," said Delonte West, who led the Cavs with 19 points. "We went through a stretch where we got the plays we wanted and did a good job of executing and the ball didn't go in."
Bulls 101, Cavs 98
--I hearby nominate Ben Wallace's dunk attempt with 2:30 left in the loss to the Bulls as the symbolic moment of the Cavs season. Ahead by two points, it might've given the Cavs key separation. It was right in front of the Bulls bench and the crowd was ready to explode, which probably would've forced a timeout. Instead, somehow, Wallace ran into the rim on the way up. It was shocking. It looked like such a lock, the sound crew at Quicken Loans Arena had already started playing their Big Ben chime but it had to be cut off in mid-dong. This season so many times everything looked it was set up only for the execution to fail. --This was the first game the Cavs had everybody available since mid-Janauary (except Eric Snow, but he is not a rotation player anymore). But it turned out not to last. LeBron James hurt his lower back in the third quarter and couldn't sit down during the fourth. After the game he said it limited him during the fourth quarter when he scored only one point as the Bulls zoomed past. He wasn't sure how he'd feel by Saturday afternoon. Although, I must say I thought Thabo Sefolosha did a quality job on LeBron down the stretch, staying close to him yet working through pick-and-rolls so as not to let him get a corner. --Delonte West made three defensive plays in the last two minutes and two of them were good. He got a steal when he got his hand in the passing lane while helping on Joakim Noah. Then he drew a charge as Ben Gordon tried to drive past him. However, running over Gordon as he took a 3-pointer with 1:42 left was a bad mistake. That is the sort of stuff that costs games. Gordon is a 90 percent free throw shooter. --In the second half two things happened to the Cavs. First, they allowed the Bulls to get too comfortable in their drive-and-kick game. Primarily Daniel Gibson was abused because he couldn't keep anyone in front of him. Larry Hughes, Luol Deng and Gordon were all hot and when that happens the Bulls usually win. Second, they stopped pushing the ball in transition. They had zero fastbreak points in the second half and just nine free throws. That combination spelled doom. --Hughes was strong tonight and he deserves credit. Most impressive to me was how committed he was to running the offense, he had nine assists and made a lot of good decisions with the basketball. If he did that more with the Cavs instead of taking spot up jumpers he would've been much more valuable. As for him going 11-of-17 shooting, he had one of his nights. He'd been shooting 37 percent with the Bulls, worse than he was with the Cavs. --It is a mystery when Gibson truly will be able to get back on his feet. He is just 4-of-17 since coming back and it is obvious he is not 100 percent. I know that Mike Brown wants to create a rotation and stick to it and I respect him for that decision. But again, I believe Damon Jones should be getting chances. He has made shots all season long and he runs the offense better than Gibson does. I understand Gibson is hurting, that must be accounted for. At midseason on the last shot, I'd have said Gibson was about 75 percent. Now, you can just see his balance is off because of that foot. --When the Cavs were struggling to score late, I question having Wallace and Anderson Varejao on the floor together. If not Zydrunas Ilgauskas then Joe Smith needs to be out there. It just makes the Cavs too easy to guard. Especially tonight because after Andy threw a bunch of stuff in last night he started thinking he could make post moves and one-handed bounce passes in the lane and whatnot tonight. That said, Wallace had three blocks, three steals, and eight rebounds and took charge. It was a quality effort.
Bulls: Krik Hinrich, Larry Hughes, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah Cavs: Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Dan Crawford, Matt Boland, Courtney Kirkland
--Ben Wallace is going try to play again tonight. He told the Bulls media he'd actually been dealing with a pitched nerve in his bad, which we had not been told about. We were told it was a strain and spasms. Maybe it is all the same, I don't know. Considering it is the Bulls, you know he wanted to. --Last time the Cavs played the Bulls Joakim Noah shamed Andy Varejao. Ilgauskas did not play in that game. Let's see if the tables turn tonight. --Drew Gooden won't play with a abdominal strain. He doesn't like to miss games, so you know he is hurting. --The Bulls are a jump shot team. The Cavs need to keep them off the offensive glass and rotate to contest shots. If they do, they will have an excellent chance to win. Chicago can get hot from the outside but it usually doesn't last. Which is why Larry Hughes fits in so well.
Halftime -- Cavs 55, Bulls 45
--The Cavs went on a nice 12-1 run late in the first half to build themselves a lead. Though the Bulls have done some nice passing to get guys open around the rim at times, overall the Cavs have been pretty aggressive on defense. The Bulls were a little hot early and then they cooled off a bit. Ben Gordon, Larry Hughes and Luol Deng are a combined 14-for-21 and the Cavs still have a 10-point lead. They have also forced 12 turnovers. --The offense has been pushing the ball well tonight, wanting to keep the Bulls from setting up. It has resulted in some ugly fastbreaks -- West made a couple decisions I am still scratching my head on -- but that has allowed them to get some easy shots and forced a lot of fouls. The Cavs have 17 free throws to the Bulls' 10. The turnovers have made it easier. --Ben Wallace has been pretty solid in the first half. He blocked two shots, took a charge and has three baskets. When he is playing next to Z it seems like he can be effective. --Other than a couple impressive layups in traffic it didn't seem like LeBron had a special half, yet he ended up with 18 points. A large reason is he got to the foul line seven times by attacking, especially in transition. --West has seemed to improve his floaters in the lane since coming to the Cavs, I didn't know that was part of his game before he came here. I do know he's been working on them a little bit with Cavs development coach Chris Jent.
Stars Hughes, 25 points, nine assists, eight rebounds Gordon, 24 points James, 33 points, five rebounds Ilgauskas, 23 points
Quotes Hughes: "That definitely felt good. We want to win for bragging rights if nothing else." LeBron: ""If you ask anybody how bad (a back injury) is for me, being the explosive type of player I am, it's tough to do some of the things I wanted to do."