Newark -- I never been so happy to be in New Jersey, safely in New Jersey that is. It was quite a journey here this morning, especially the 40-minute van ride from LaGuardia Airport over here. Nothing like a half dozen near death experiences weaving through Chinatown to change your perspective on life.
Last night's Cavs victory over the Bulls was enjoyable to watch, just for the Nocioni factor. I've liked Andres Nocioni since first time I saw him play in the Olympics for Argentina, which is about the time he started getting under American players' skin.
He's a rough-houser and he doesn't care who he offends, which is why it is pure entertainment and wildly comic to watch him play against LeBron James. It is too bad the Bulls don't assign him to cover LeBron full-time, Luol Deng usually plays half the time on him. It would be great, watching Nocioni elbow him in the ribs and bump him at every chance. LeBron continually trying to bait him into fouls like he did a couple times last night. But the best is what you can't hear or see on TV. Nocioni wears a mouthpiece -- smartly, if you ask me -- talks with an accent and loves to whine about every call. A lot like his countryman Manu Ginobilli.
Last night Andres complained about a call but it was muffled and LeBron thought he said something about him. So LeBron spent the next few minutes staring him down and daring him to repeat what he said. Nocioni regarded him balefully, refusing to look at him. When LeBron got him off his feet with a head fake and forced him to commit his fifth foul, LeBron had a few words for him when the lined up for free throws. As Andres was leaving the game he waved LeBron off with his hand in the same carefree manner Kobe Bryant dismisses wide open teammates.
The thing is, LeBron hasn't been a trash-talker at any time in his career. Perhaps in pickup games, but almost never in serious competition. He's always let his game do the talking, which speaks loud enough. But the fact that Nocioni gets him going just shows what kind of dynamic the two have.
Some fans complain that foreign players too often don't play hard and aren't tough because they don't concentrate on playing in the paint. In many cases that may be true, but Nocioni is a fine exception. LeBron got the best of him last night, but he's gotten the best of LeBron in the past.
Heading into tonight's game with Jersey, the Cavs are 5-6 against teams with winning records. Their next three -- tonight, Saturday vs. Detroit and next week in Milwaukee -- are against winning teams. They have a nice record and win streak, these next three games are quality litmus test.