Dallas -- That is the LeBron James that I know and have watched grow into a man for the last eight years. It is that LeBron that I thought would win the MVP Award this season. It is that LeBron that is virtually unstoppable, more unstoppable that Dirk Nowitzki's fallaway jumpers. This was much like the Lakers game, where he totally kicked into a gear few can match. Considering he's maintained that high level pretty much since that game in L.A., I believe he may actually be catching a stride that could duplicate last year's run.
As critical as I've been of the Cavs over the last month, I couldn't have been more impressed by their focus and their drive in this loss. The missed free throws were huge, in fact they might've directly cost the Cavs the game. But it has become pretty obvious that isn't going to improve. What can improve is the Cavs' focus and their willingness to play smart, efficient and aggressive offense. Playing at even 75 percent of this level on offense, I'd bet they'd play .700 basketball the rest of the way in. Of course I have no idea whether or not they'll keep it up. I wouldn't bet either way,. However, I was extremely impressed.
Here's some short bites:
--The Cavs had 46 points in the paint, 18 in the fourth quarter. Eighteen! I don't have the stats in front of me right now, but I'd bet that is a season high for the fourth. This is the sort of style they've needed to play all year, or at least the style I've been ripping them for not playing.
--As I look back, I think they maybe only took five bad shots all night. You can make a joke about whether it was because Larry Hughes was out sick, but the way the focus was tonight I think Hughes would've fallen right in line and there's no reason he can't for most of the rest of the way.
--As a side note, I saw Larry after the game and he looked terrible. He could barely walk. Don't bet on seeing him Saturday. He's probably in for a very unpleasant 48 hours or so.
--Having to play David Wesley and Eric Snow together hurt the Cavs in the fourth. That group was great on defense, working their tails off. But both Snow and Wesley, who had an uncontested layup blocked by the gray foam on the bottom of the backboard, fouled up fastbreaks. Shannon Brown was well in emergency minutes, but you really don't want him out there either.
--LeBron did a solid job on Dirk on defense in the last five minutes. He was getting help, but he used his strength to battle him out of his post comfort zone.
-Avery Johnson said the Mavs tried three or four different defensive looks at LeBron and he smashed all of them. Like I said, unguardable. Then again, so is Dirk, especially with talent around him he can pass to.
--Zydrunas Ilgauskas played skittish. Drew Gooden rebounded OK but overall wasn't good either. In the first half letting themselves be dominated on the defensive glass and by DeSagana Diop was a major blow to the chances. It is one thing for Z to have an off night, it is another when he looked afraid to even shoot.
--Daniel Gibson got called for three travels in the first half. That might tie an NBA record.
--Official Bob Delaney knew he was on television and wearing a mic. He was chatting up everybody. Once he came over to Joe Tait and told him about how he slicks down his hair: "Gel, hair spray, then more gel." He joked about how he has to keep his shoes tied tight because "I'm moving so fast out there." Then he told Damon Jones, and his pink jacket and purple shirt: "After you retire, we've got to hang out together." Appropriate, those are the color clothes retirees wear.