San Francisco -- I'm not sure what it is going on back home, but based on my e-mail it seems that Cavs fans are very frustrated but understanding about what's happening on this dreadful road trip. It has been challenging to report on these losses. In general, LeBron has played some terrific team and individual ball, yet I'm compelled to focus on the late-game failures because of their impact and because the national pundits have done the same. Additionally, I've really been impressed with the way the Cavs have played overall. They've really battled defensively, they've often made good adjustments, and they played one of their best offensive games of the year in Phoenix. But, of course, all there has been are losses. The best example is what happened in the loss in Denver, which I think really sums up the games since Larry Hughes went down with that season-altering finger injury.
The Nuggets came out with the strategy of double-teaming James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and it worked well. The Cavs didn't make correct decisions and ended up getting Eric Snow and Ira "1-of-23 on jump shots this season" Newble getting jumpers on the weakside. They shot 4-of-18 in the first quarter and got down 16 points. Then Mike Brown made adjustments and the Cavs followed, they isolated James and Ilgauskas on one-side of the floor and suckered the Nuggets into shifting defenders into a zone-like position and ran back cuts behind them. That's why Alan Henderson had his best game of the season. On defense, I think they played some of the best help-and-recover of the season, really working to contest the Nuggets shots after the first quarter and the Cavs ended up building a six-point lead and looked like they were going to win.
But just as Brown was making good adjustments, he was making mistakes. He was way too emotional down the stretch. Stomping around after every call and getting himself a technical for standing on the court which led to an Eric Snow technical as well in the fourth quarter. Think the Cavs could've used those two points later? Also, Brown got out-smarted by George Karl on that Carmelo Anthony dunk. Newble gave up the baseline on purpose, that was the defensive call, to deny the middle. Ilgauskas was supposed to trap him on the block like he'd been doing all game, which Melo had reacted to by almost never passing out of the double team (one assist). But Karl swung Kenyon Martin and Eduardo Najera way out away from the basket on the play, drawing both Z and Henderson away from the paint. The result was a dunk and two huge points.
So, what I'm saying here is that Cavs are playing good basketball and fighting but losing by inches because they're making mistakes by inches. That isn't worth much in the NBA, losses are losses despite the circumstances. What I know is last spring when they were getting blown out every night as they tumbled from their perch I knew they had no chance at the playoffs. This time around, I see significant improvement. Whether or not that's enough remains to be seen.
If you have more time, read this about James' late game issues.
By the way, if there's anything to soothe the rawness of this road trip, where the Cavs and I have gone to and from the coast three different times, it is a bright, cloudless San Francisco day. I could see how it sorted of brightened the team yesterday and I couldn't have agreed more. We'll see if it means anything.