Well, as of October 2011 the ‘Cavs’ are still a professional basketball team in the NBA and will continue to be so despite the loss of one of the NBA’s greats, Lebron James, who became a free agent during the transfer window. So despite the transfer one of their star players, how are they going to fair?
Well just for fun… here are some fairly bold predictions for the upcoming season
My guess is that this will have to go to JJ Hickson. He showed some great promise in his rookie year and continued to build during his sophomore campaign. This year he is only going to get better and better. Under the tutelage of the great Antawn Jamison, Hickson is set for great things.
The ‘Cavs’ will win 45 games
Despite the gruelling NBA schedule, many people predict is that the Cavaliers will win 45 games. Sounds achievable or is it a step too far? Well even with the loss of James, who led them to the best season for the last 2 years, the Cavaliers have it in them to bounce back, and although they may take a slight drop in form, it won’t be anything along the style of the New Jersey Nets.
More team orientated
When you lose a player who can net you 30 points a game, those points have got to come from somewhere. Therefore the Cavaliers need to start moving the ball around the floor better. Once they do this then opportunities will come.
Cleveland Cavaliers to finish top six
Bold prediction I know, but they are still a force to be reckoned with and new head coach Byron Scott, is known for demanding perfection from his teams. If they can get to the 45 game plateau they should secure a play off spot and that should be good enough for a top six finish
Cavs To Beat the Heat
a lot of people were hurt when Lebron James packed his bags and signed for the Miami Heat and that includes the players. In fact Mo Williams felt is so bad that he almost quit basketball. Come December 2nd when the heat come to town, let there be fireworks.
Central division favorites
Clearly Milwaukee and Chicago are title favorites, but no one can write off Cleveland. With Carl Boozer going through another injury prone time and the Bucks being in the same boat, it appears that the division is definitely there for the taking.
Lebron James to keep a low profile
When James returns to the Quicken Loans Arena on Dec 2nd expect him to keep a low profile. Will he be booed? For sure! In fact probably every time he touches the ball. But as we all know Lebron doesn’t like to be hated.
Anderson Varejo to cut his hair
This ones just for fun, and anyway, it’s about time he changed his hair do!
Whether these predictions come true or not, one thing’s for sure, following the Cleveland Cavaliers certainly isn’t dull!Cleveland Air Conditioning
There is no bright side.
And there’s no use revisiting Tuesday night’s 120-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Gave Five. It’s basically more of the same . . . only worse than ever . . . and the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t seem to care. Honestly, I have no idea what’s up with LeBron and the rest of the team, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does either.
Naturally, this is a pretty irritable time to be a Cavs fan . . . to say the least. Suddenly, and without any warning, everything has been thrown in the balance: The title march, the Finals appearance march, the rematch against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And obviously, you can take it much further than that . . . but I can’t right now.
But it isn’t that the Cavs hit a roadblock, it’s that the roadblock has knocked the Cavs down . . . and apparently, they have a collective concussion. That’s the only way I can explain having your ass handed to you over and over again . . . and not seem to be aware of the fact that something is wrong. Or be willing to put forth a solid effort regardless.
It’s truly bizarre, and it’s making my head hurt.
So in the absence of any comfort thoughts, or glass-half-full angles, I’m going to go ahead and rip LeBron for having one of his worst games (if not the worst game) of his career . . . at arguably the absolute worst time possible . . . and not really having something interesting to say about it.
Now, I’m not going to really rip him. Like all players, great players have bad games . . . and like all not-great players, great players have low-energy, weak efforts. But great players don’t give weak efforts in their bad games. That’s what separates great players from not-great players in the first place.
First off, was Tuesday night’s game the worst game of LeBron’s NBA career?
Considering that it was the playoffs . . . and considering the high stakes . . . it was. Easily. If you compound that with his blasé attitude and intensity level, and it’s . . . well, still the worst game, but even more bad, disheartening and baffling.
LeBron was 3-for-14 shooting the ball. That’s 21.4%. He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, which is 0% . . . and 9-for-12 from the stripe, which is actually a semi-normal 75%. He finished with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds. (By the way, because of the divergence between numbers and visual evidence in this series . . . you can’t argue that LeBron’s assist and rebound numbers demonstrated that he was a factor in other areas of the game. He wasn’t.)
That 21.4% was the ninth worst FG% in LeBron’s NBA career, including both playoff and regular season games. Or, you can look at it like this: LeBron shot a better percentage in 609 of his 618 NBA games.
And in one of those nine poor shooting games, LeBron only played 17 minutes and left due to an injury. (At that point, he’d missed all five of his shots. So, I think you could probably throw that one out.)
Ironically, the most recent game in which LeBron shot 21.4% or worse also came in the playoffs at the hands of the Celtics. It was Game One of the 2008 series, a series the Cavs ended up losing in seven. In that one, which was played in Boston, LeBron was 2-for-18 (11.1%) with 12 points. He missed all six of his three pointers, and made eight of his 12 points at the free throw line. Weirdly, he almost had a triple-double . . . notching nine assists and nine rebounds.
But LeBron did have a double-double in that one . . . if you include turnovers. He coughed the ball up 10 times in that game, which tied a career high. He’d done that two other times before. (In Tuesday’s game, LeBron had three turnovers.)
After that game, James said:
“I missed a lot of shots I know I can make,” James said, staring at the stat sheet incredulously after scoring just two points in the second half and missing his last six shots in all. “I missed layups. Those layups I’ve made my whole life.”
That was the only playoff game with a worse FG%. As for the seven (or six, if you don’t count that injury game) regular season games, all of them were in LeBron’s first two seasons in the league . . . except a 2-for-11 (18.2%) night against the Dallas Mavericks on opening night in 2007.
So, out of the blue, LeBron James just has his worst shooting night in two years . . . in Game Five of a 2-2 series, which has seen a lot of abysmal Cavs effort on both sides of the ball? Apparently.
I suppose the timing could be a little worse. It could have been in a close-out game. But then again, it isn’t a walk in the park trying to figure out where to set your expectations for the team going forward. And by going forward, right now, I can only mean Game Six . . . because as hard as it is to believe, that’s all Cleveland has left, unless they find some collective effort.
So what did LeBron talk about after Tuesday’s game? He said:
“Of course the [Boston] defense had a little to do with [my bad shooting night], because they’re on the court and they’re very aggressive. But I just missed a lot of shots. A lot of open shots that I’m capable of making. And . . . you don’t see that out of me a lot, so when it happens, it’s a big surprise.
“I’ll go over the film, but they played me the same way they’ve played me all series. And I just wasn’t able to knock down those shots that I got some good looks at.
“I wasn’t able to get anything going offensively for myself, but I was still able to do some other things . . . get some rebounds and some assists and get guys going early in the game. And it was a good game, at the start.”
When asked about the possibility that this could’ve been the Cavs’ final home game of the season, if things don’t go well Thursday night in Boston, he said:
“Nah, I didn’t even think about that. I feel like Game Six is a huge game for us. And Game Five was a huge game . . . we just didn’t come out and play particularly well all game. I think in the first quarter we did, but we didn’t play particularly well in the second quarter, third or fourth. Me sitting up here saying [that this could've been our final game in Cleveland this year], that wouldn’t be me. It wouldn’t be our team.”
When asked if the Cavs were still trying to find their identity, he said:
“No, I don’t think so. We know what it takes to win as a team, but at the same time, we haven’t played great basketball. It’s been all playoffs . . . we’ve had a few stretches, a few quarters, a few games where we played particularly well. But for a collective group, throughout the whole playoffs, we haven’t played great basketball. So, I don’t think it’s an identity thing, I think it’s a consistency thing . . . and we haven’t had that.
“[On Tuesday] we shot 41% from the field, and that’s never going to help us win a game . . . when we’re not executing offensively.”
When asked what he thought of the fans at The Q booing the team, he said:
“We played awful. They have every right to boo us. No disrespect to our fans. They’ve been great to us. They’ve seen us at the highest level, they’ve seen us at the lowest level. If they [felt like booing] . . . so be it.”
When asked about his elbow, he said:
“It felt good, I didn’t have any problems with it.
“I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have three bad games in a seven-year career, it is easy to point that out.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out be great and the best player on the court. When I’m not, I feel bad for myself because I’m not going out there and doing the things I know I can do. But I don’t hang my head low and make excuses, because that is not the type of player or the type of person I am.”
I totally respect that.
But in this one instance LeBron, can we just blame the elbow . . . or something? Can you just give us a few excuses . . . a few explanations?
If it’s an injury, admit that it’s affecting your gameplan, but you’re working through it. If it’s something personal, say you weren’t feeling well. If it was something with a coach or a teammate, come out and say that there was some miscommunication and/or confusion and you’re going to work it out with that coach/teammate before the next game so everyone’s on the same page.
With how brilliant LeBron James has been for seven seasons, there must be a perfectly logical explanation for his three strange performances in this series. I don’t want to freak out here. I want to believe the Cavs can take the next two from Boston. But something seems really off . . . and I’d just feel better knowing what it is.
So, just give us something. Anything.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are great when they play great . . . and are bad when they play bad.
Here’s the good news: With their huge win in Game Three on Friday night . . . and despite their excitement-tempering loss in Game Four on Sunday . . . the Cavs are knotted up 2-2 with the Boston Celtics, and still hold home-court advantage.
There are three games remaining (if necessary). It will look like this: Tonight in Cleveland, Thursday night in Boston, and the final game will be held Sunday in Cleveland.
The bad news is: The Cavs spent Game Four building on the wrong game. It was definitely an improvement over the disastrous, bizarre Game Two . . . but it was a depressing, disenchanting departure from Game Three.
If these last two games would have happened in the opposite order, everything would be different. Cleveland fans would’ve been pretty scared to be down 1-2 to the Celtics . . . but watching the build from Game Two to Game Three to Game Four would’ve made a lot more sense.
But as it stands, it’s hard to know what to think. Again.
It’s also hard to characterize. From what we’ve seen so far in the playoffs, the determining factor on how well the Cavs play is not how their opponents play . . . or even how they themselves play . . . it’s how much they want to play.
The problems, or at least the most glaring ones, don’t necessarily seem to be the mechanics of their offensive or defensive execution. They work fine when they’re backed by effort, focus and control. And they inevitably shine through, intermittently, in even the cloudiest games.
The problems aren’t talent or skill based. This season, LeBron James has more than enough talent around him. It’s arguable that, on paper, the Cavaliers are the deepest, most multi-faceted team in the conference, if not the league. They may not have the championship experience of the Los Angeles Lakers, but this team was built to neutralize the match-up problems created by the Orlando Magic . . . while creating massive ones of their own for every other team in the NBA.
And the problems don’t appear to be gameplan-related. Although, that’s hard to say, considering that the Cavaliers haven’t been doing anything with any conviction in failure. Unless that is the gameplan. If the gameplan is having no glameplan, then there are some significant gameplan-related problems.
Instead, Cleveland’s biggest problem is a lack of sustained substance.
Game Four was a good example. The Cavaliers showed occasional toughness and grit, more than we saw in Games One and Two . . . and kept the game within grasp for the duration, essentially. But the intensity slipped in and out like cell phone reception while traveling through Idaho.
Sure, Rajon Rondo exploded in Game Four . . . and it appears as if the defense hasn’t committed to how they want to handle him . . . but on Sunday, the hustle was spotty at best. The Cavs, whether true or not, looked lazy and frazzled.
- In Game Three, the Cavs had 25 assists on 59.5% shooting (44-for-74). They won the rebounding battle 45-30, with 11 offensive boards. They had 12 turnovers. And shot 91.2% (31-for-34) from the stripe.
- The Cavs also won the fast break points battle 7-5, and had the edge in points in the paint 50-32.
- In Game Four, the Cavs had 19 assists on 40.3% shooting (27-for-67). They lost the rebounding battle 33-47, with three offensive boards. They had 17 turnovers. And shot 74.4% (29-for-39) from the stripe.
- The Cavs also lost the fast break points battle 7-23, and got beat in points in the paint 40-50.
Obviously, there’s a difference there . . . but can it all be chalked up to the Cavs having a good Game Three and a lousy Game Four and vice versa for the Celtics? Well, yes.
But for those who are worried about the Cavs’ effort, consider this: Even in Game Three – where the Cavs seemed to be destroying the Celtics on both ends of the court – the Celtics were still able to grab more offensive rebounds (14 to 11 for the Cavs) and fewer turnovers (7 to 12 for the Cavs).
But statistics alone can only communicate a fraction of the underwhelming efforts the Cavs displayed. If you saw Games Two and Four, you know what I mean.
It’s the too-frequent defensive lapses that allow Rondo to slice right to the basket and get a lay-up . . . usually after a 20-second Cavaliers possession, in which it seemed like they had to scrape and claw to score.
It’s the too-frequent “deer in the headlights” offensive possessions where it seems almost as if the Cavs had been in the middle of playing the Minnesota Timberwolves . . . and all the sudden the Boston Celtics dropped into the arena from out of nowhere, and the Cavs had no clue what to do.
It’s the too-frequent off-games by key players . . . when it seems like every opponent, even dating back to previous post-seasons, has some guy step-up with anon-game, and become a temporary star.
Am I being short-sighted, or does that really not happen in Cleveland, aside from LeBron? If we’re talking about a true impact step-up, the last one I can remember off the top of my head is Daniel Gibson in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Now, Boobie is collecting dust on the bench.
In general, it’s that the Cavs . . . even in wins . . . seem to be doing more to adjust and react to their opponents . . . as opposed to taking the first position, and forcing opponents to adjust and react to us.
During the regular season, the Cavs got into too many “cutting corners” bad habits, in which they could expend whatever energy and effort that was necessary to vanquish the team they were playing . . . and that would be enough. Total, 48-minute, full-roster moxie wasn’t always needed.
But this is the playoffs.
Burning anything less than a full tank is half-assed, and against these teams – with these stakes – it’s going to be exposed every time. The Cavs can’t take possessions off. The Cavs can’t aimlessly gamble away opportunities, they can’t turn in passive (or all out bad) quarters or halves on either side of the ball, and they can’t just expect to be able to turn it on with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter and win the game.
It’s the playoffs . . . and everything matters. In wins and losses.
Every mistake has to teach . . . every success has to be understood . . . every opportunity has to be used wisely . . . and everyone needs to box out Rondo. Jesus.
If a seventh grade boys basketball team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, parents will blame the coach. (And the tall, lanky kid with no coordination who can’t play basketball . . . but is, as previously mentioned, tall.)
But if an elite NBA team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, should fans blame the coach?
Every now and then, the tenuousness of Mike Brown’s job security comes up in Cleveland . . . generally after losses. Bad losses. And sadly, but not surprisingly, it’s being talked about again now.
The Cavaliers second round series against the Boston Celtics is tied-up at 2-2. That isn’t necessarily unexpected (although, I did have Cleveland in five, which, obviously, is no longer mathematically possible) . . . but the Cavs’ lackluster effort has been surprising. And alarming. And confusing.
It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So last night, my friend Sam Greenspan and I had a conversation about Mike Brown and the Cavaliers’ energy, and I thought I’d share it.
Here it is in hopefully-easy-to-read interview format:
W&GR: How much do you pin the Cavaliers’ apparent effort / intensity lapses on Coach Mike Brown? Some say it’s his job to make sure the team is in peak form mentally, physically, and strategically for the games, yet others say that there is only so much a coach can do when his team is failing to bring it for a playoff game.
J.D.: Rather than wasting time trying to make sense of this, I’d rather just pin it on Coach Brown and hope that he can rally the team in time to ensure that the Cavs don’t accidentally boot this series. But in order to do that, I have to consider what Brown could have done . . . that he didn’t.
And I don’t know. I don’t know what you do or say to motivate a team for a playoff game against a supposed rival during a supposed title march. Do you say “Let’s go, guys! Let’s crush the Celtics!” Or do you say “Let’s do it, guys! Let’s destroy the Celtics!” It’s Coach Brown’s responsibility to get the Cavs up for an away-away back-to-back game against a team like the Indiana Pacers in November. It seems reasonable for him to leave the players to get fired up on their own in the playoffs, so that he can deal with more pressing matters . . . like what the hell to do with Rajon Rondo, so that he doesn’t look significantly better than the Cavs ordinarily make their opposing point guards look.
Feel free to roast Mike Brown for gameplan-oriented issues – and if we fall short of our goal, plenty of people will – but from what I’ve seen, the inconsistent effort is the #1 thing keeping us from beating the Celtics right now, and I’m not sure I can put that on Brown.
No matter what glasses / tie combination Brown utilizes, his work isn’t sexy. If the team wins, LeBron and X and X role players get the credit. If they lose, Brown takes the heat.
Sam: I really don’t know how much to pin on Mike Brown, but I do think it’s do-or-die for his career right now. My issue with Mike Brown centers far more on his ability to make in-game adjustments. It’s seeming more and more like the Cavs come up with a pregame plan. If they execute it properly and the opposition doesn’t throw anything in the mix to screw with it, they win. As soon as something starts going wrong it takes Brown a half or a full game before he adjusts. It’s painful to watch . . . you know that if the game starts going poorly, the only chance at a win is LeBron having a superhuman game. That’s not going to win championships.
As for the lack of intensity, I just don’t know what to make of it. No one in Cleveland can possibly understand it. Did they become complacent because, since February, they’ve been able to play games where they slacked off for three quarters, turning the ball over, missing free throws, watching passes
bounce off J.J.’s hands, and then been able to win by turning it on in the fourth quarter? Did the habits they developed become more overwhelming than we thought? I just don’t know. We’re nine playoff games in. They’ve had their proverbial “punch in the mouth” — an epic blowout loss at home. They responded great for one game, then went right back to dogging it the next game. Can anything light a sustained fire under them? I have no idea.
What I do know is that I’ve found myself in “tempering expectations” mode. Orlando is playing some of the best basketball in history. The Cavs are letting Rajon Rondo put up numbers that Jordan wasn’t putting up in his prime. Other than Game Three of this Boston series, has there been a single sign that the Cavs should truly be considered contenders at this point? If they do win this series — which is REALLY no guarantee — will anyone in the world pick them to get past Orlando?
W&GR: One of the problems with the Cavs’ offense appears to be a lack of premeditation. Typically, the Cavs have (mostly) lived and (rarely) died under LeBron James’ freelancing hand at the reins of the offense . . . but in times like these, should Mike Brown assert himself and attempt to overrule LeBron on the running of the offense? He may not be an offensive-minded coach, but with input from his staff, they could draw up an actual play for each possession. Or, do you think this would upset the apple cart even more?
J.D.: It’s unclear just how much freedom Mo Williams and Delonte West have to call their own plays, but it seems like they have too much. Mo looks great when he cuts with the ball – baseline or through the paint – because it’s a more defense-disrupting way of getting the ball to Shaq, another big, or even an on-the-move LeBron James. But it doesn’t happen enough.
Mo runs a lot of simple plays . . . soft lobs inside, or two-man pick-and-rolls . . . without much movement on the weakside or through the paint. That, and/or he gives the ball up to LeBron too quickly. He needs to push the ball more, and look for opportunities to get the defense on their heels.
Delonte, however, used to be great at mixing things up by denying LeBron the ball when LBJ was 26-feet from the basket, and pushed the offense ahead, until LeBron and/or the other gears were in better position. But Delonte wasn’t good in Game Four. He did a lot of dribbling, didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with the ball, and ended up taking some bad shots. He had one assist in 20 minutes.
So yes, I think more calls from the bench – if they aren’t already coming regularly – would instill some creativity in the offense, and remind the Cavs of plays that have been successful in the past.
As for LeBron, I don’t know, man. There are so many possessions where he creates a sweet shot for a teammate. Sometimes they finish, sometimes they don’t. There are also a lot of frustrating, aimless possessions where LeBron just does some stationary dribbling, and then takes a contested, unnecessary 20-footer. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t. Those kinds of things need to be cut, but you do want LeBron looking out for opportunities. Maybe there should just be more communication . . . so the rest of the guys on the floor can move off-the-ball to try to free themselves.
Sam: I think Brown has to do something at this point. It comes down to his inability to do in-game adjustments. Sunday, it was clear LeBron wasn’t going to get any easy paths to the basket. The Celtics were collapsing on him and causing either turnovers on bad interior passing, kick outs to the ice-cold jump shooters or, most frequently, LeBron complaining about not getting a call and failing to get back on defense. In that case, something different needs to happen. Send LeBron to the post. Get Mo Williams the hell out of the game and put in Gibson — his defense can’t be any worse than Mo’s — and maybe he’ll make a shot. Do anything. Anything.
W&GR: Considering the staleness of the Cavs’ offensive and (at times) defensive effort, should Mike Brown have a quicker trigger on bringing in some of his deeper bench depth? Would utilizing Zydrunas
Ilguaskas, Leon Powe, Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson more give the Cavs a spark and/or the potential for a successful new look, or again, would that just exacerbate the problems?
J.D.: Jamario Moon feels like a no-brainer at this point.
I think I’d also like to see Z a little more. Yes, he may be a liability on defense, but who hasn’t been? It’s not like we’d ask him to guard Rondo or Garnett. I think we could bring him in, and see if he can get his pick-and-pop shot going. Maybe he could get some open looks against Boston’s defense. If not, we can move on to the next thing. Plus, it wouldn’t be horrible to have Z in the game to get a few offensive rebounds / tip-ins. Also, he’d be another big obstacle Rondo would have to work around if he makes it to the rim or tries a floater. I can’t believe I’m thinking like that, but oh well. I’m not feeling Powe. Like Z, Boobie’s shot would be so huge if we could get him going . . . without him being any more of a liability on defense than what we currently have.
Sam: I don’t know that Powe has a place in this series but Moon’s lack of playing time is mind boggling. He’s a long, athletic, motivated defender who’s actually been hitting his shots in the playoffs. Why not give him some of Mo’s minutes and put him on Rondo for a different look. (As much as people are praising Anthony Parker, he’s getting murdered out there. Make Rondo have to guess what’s going to happen.) Mo Williams is giving the Cavs nothing at this point. Nothing. I’m not saying to bench him completely, I recognize how ridiculous that notion is and how he has potential to get hot and change a game like Game One, but at least throw Gibson out there to see what happens. I don’t know about Ilguaskas. I have a bad feeling about him being out there. But why not? Somebody has to do something. Again, just do anything. Somebody please. Anything.
In Game Four the Celtics had Tony Allen step up. Tony Allen! It was a gift that he was on the floor and he ended up being one of the heroes. Unbelievable. A few games ago, it was Rasheed Wallace. It’s one of those things that happens against Cleveland teams but never FOR Cleveland teams. But Varejao hasn’t looked like himself all playoffs, joining the super erratic play of Mo, Delonte, and even Jamison. I want to type “at some point, someone’s going to have to step up” — but we’re nine games in. It’s just hard to look at this situation and see that happening.
This is all extraordinarily pessimistic, and I hate being that way. But, at some point, you have to stop wondering when the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions and switch that to IF the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions. It’s not a 2-2 series that has driven me and so many others to this extreme. The Celtics are playing great and we didn’t expect the Cavs to sweep their way through a much more difficult bracket this year. But, after watching nine games and seeing exactly ONE where the Cavs had a start-to-finish championship-caliber effort — versus, say, Orlando’s eight start-to-finish championship-caliber efforts — this 2-2 series sure doesn’t feel good.
I hope I’m wrong. And deep down, I still have hope — the same hope that was there when the Cavs were getting murdered by the Spurs in the Finals, the same hope that was there when the Indians let the 3-1 lead slip away against the Red Sox but seemed to have a chance in Game 7. But if the Cavs players can’t muster the energy to really care, I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t either. We’re getting closer and closer to the most disappointing postseason in Cleveland history and not a single player — not even LeBron — really seems to have any sense of urgency when it comes to changing that.
[This is a guest column written by our friend Amar Panchmatia. You know him as the superstar behind the former (and greatly missed) MVN.com blog Cavalier Attitude.]
Monday night was the first time many NBA fans have seen the usually mild-mannered Mike Brown come out agitated and frustrated, so much so that he raised his voice while talking to reporters and, yes, was even bleeped out during his postgame press conference.
He had every reason to be. At this time a year ago, his Cleveland Cavaliers were well on their way to a ruthless, merciless four-game sweep of the overmatched Atlanta Hawks in this very round of the playoffs.
It may have been experiences like that very series that now have Brown’s Cavs feeling a little bit of a sense of entitlement after coming out with two lackluster performances to open their second-round bout against the Boston Celtics. And instead of being in firm control of the series, the Cavaliers—picked by many to capture their first-ever NBA title this spring—now head to Boston for Game Three tied at 1-1 in this best-of-seven.
Questioning his team’s energy and focus is fine, but if Brown wants to dig a little bit deeper to find answers as to why his team has struggled so much so far in these first two games against Boston, then he needs to take a look in the mirror.
In particular, Brown needs to ask himself why he is not finding more minutes for sophomore big man J.J. Hickson, who has been a heck of a spark for the Cavaliers this season whenever they have been matched up with Boston. In Game One of this series, Hickson only played 12 minutes, but he scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting while the Cavs were plus-five with him on the court.
In Game Two, Hickson played 19 minutes, but he still left an imprint on the game by attacking the rim hard and getting to the rack whenever he had the chance. He finished with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting while going 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. The Cavaliers, who were drubbed by 18, were only minus-seven as a unit when Hickson was on the floor.
Brown, however, has chosen to go more with Shaquille O’Neal over Hickson. Sure, if this was either a legends contest or a Shaq from 10 years ago, this would never be an argument. But Shaq is 38, the oldest player in the league, and simply has not meshed well with the Cavs in matchups with the Celtics this year.
In Game One, Brown played O’Neal for 20 minutes, and although he didn’t put up gaudy numbers, Shaq did end up getting some key plays down the stretch to help the Cavs take the 101-93 victory. However, in Game Two, O’Neal played the same number of minutes as Hickson, but only put up nine points on 4-of-10 shooting. Cleveland was minus-18 with him on the floor.
What seems like simple logic would seem even simpler when you see that this is not some sort of breaking news for the Cavs. In a regular season game earlier this year in Boston, the Cavs struggled to a slow start against the Celtics in falling to a double-digit deficit. Then Celtics forward Glen Davis inadvertently hit Shaq’s right hand, leading to a sprained right thumb for the Cavs center.
In came Hickson following the injury, and the Cavaliers, who were trailing by double figures at the time of O’Neal’s injury, roared back to administer a back-alley whipping on the C’s, 108-88. The Cavs were minus-10 with Shaq on the floor but wound up plus-27 with the 6’9″, 242-pound Hickson.
Shaq’s size may come in handy later on in these playoffs against Orlando and the Los Angeles, but the Cavs have to dump the Celtics first to get that far. And O’Neal is every bit as detrimental against Boston as he would be advantageous against the Magic or Lakers.
Brown may or may not get a more focused and motivated team in Game Three. He does not control that as much as he would like. But one thing is for sure: he would definitely have a better team if he played the 21-year-old Hickson far, far, more than the 38-year-old O’Neal.
And that much he does control.