This season's focus stopped being about this season a long time ago. That's why the breakout games by Manny Harris and J.J. Hickson are so important moving forward.
Both Hickson and Harris have been outstanding during the first two games of this West Coast swing. Hickson set career highs with nine offensive rebounds and 17 total rebounds Sunday and now has 26 boards in his last two games. He didn't have that many in his previous four games combined.
Harris nearly doubled his previous career high of 16 -- which he set Friday at Golden State. That's 43 points in two games for a guy who until then had scored 51 for the season. Harris' comfort level is really taking off, he's gaining confidence in his jump shot and he looks like he belongs. Harris has never lacked confidence. He's maintained since training camp he thought he belonged. Now his game is proving it.
Two games doesn't make a career, but if Hickson and Harris can continue playing at this high level, then suddenly this season doesn't feel so lost. I've maintained all along one of the biggest disappointments this year has been the lack of development in Hickson. I've also said I've been fooled before into thinking the light went on for Hickson when it hadn't. Now I'm close to being sucked in again. Hickson has been tremendous, his attitude seems different and his words are different.
I've thought all along he fell in love with his mid-range jump shot too much, too early this season. He has been drifting around on the perimeter when he belongs on the block. Byron Scott half-agreed with me tonight, but said Hickson has put in so much work with his jumper that he still needs to fire from 15 feet to keep defenses honest. I'm fine with a couple a game, but Hickson got to the point where 80 percent of his shots were coming from the outside.
There isn't as much to think about at center: See the ball, go get the ball. That's how he flourished last season and it might eventually be the role that fits him best. Yes, he's undersized at 6-foot-9. But how many legitimate 7-foot centers are there in the league these days?
Robin Lopez is one of them, and Hickson just outscored him 23-15 and outrebounded him 17-6.
J.J. Hickson 23 points, 17 assists
Manny Harris 27 points, eight rebounds
Antawn Jamison 23 points, seven rebounds
Mo Williams 12 assists, 2 of 11 FGs
Steve Nash 20 points, 17 assists
Channing Frye 16 points, 12 rebounds
Jared Dudley 21 points (off bench)
After pulling within a point, the Cavs went without a field goal for nearly the final six minutes of the game.
Nine of Hickson's career-high 17 rebounds were offensive rebounds. That's also a career high.
They said it
"I was making excuses. It's a matter of playing hard and (having) the will to go get the basketball. Andy is out, I feel I can fill that void in rebounding at the center position." -- J.J. Hickson, on his suddenly dramatic improvement in rebounding the last two games
The Cavs (8-29) are at Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday