Attacking The Boards: Where Cleveland Is In A Funk

After winning 13-games in-a-row, the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost their last three games. Is this just a bad stretch, in which Cleveland is still trying to find chemistry with their recent acquisition Antawn Jamison? Or, did Cleveland just play three teams that are just as good as or better than them?

Denver might be better. Charlotte isn’t better, but they have the perfect roster to match-up for the Cavs and could beat them in the playoffs. And Orlando, though losing two of their three games so far, might be just as good as Cleveland or perhaps better when Dwight Howard isn’t in foul trouble.

In their two losses earlier in the year, Howard accumulated 10 fouls (five in each). In this game, Howard stayed out of foul trouble and played a huge role in the Magic’s victory. After taking just 12 shots in those two games, Howard came out aggressive, taking 15 shots and making seven. He had a good mix of shots going. He did his step through hooks a couple of times with the left hand, hit the 12-foot banker he has been showcasing over the past month (He also missed a 15-footer that hit the top of the backboard. It was a classic Dwight moment, where the Orlando fans acknowledged that they want him to shoot but had to laugh at the result of this prayer.), and got a putback lay-up or two that led to fouls.

Howard knocked down eight of his 13 free throw attempts, pulled down 16 rebounds, blocked four shots and had a pair of assists. Whenever he caught the ball, he either got up a good shot, made a good pass back out, or drew a foul all but once, when Anderson Varejao blocked him and forced a bad shot afterwards. Other than that, Superman looked good.

Speaking of Superman, Shaq looked very good in this game. You could tell he was motivated to play against Dwight 43 seconds into the game when he caught the ball five feet from the rim and threw it down over Dwight. A few times Dwight stood his ground when Shaq tried to back him down, either stopping his shot or forcing a pass, but O’Neal had his way more times than not and finished with nine-of-10 from the field for 20 points. What made the difference between the two was Howard’s activity defensively on the boards. He outrebounded Shaq by 11 and doubled his block total of two.

While Howard and Shaq played big parts in this game, they were not the primary factors during the final period. LeBron James was surprisingly a detriment to the Cavs in the final period while three Magic players made big plays down the stretch to bring Orlando back from what at one point was a five-point deficit.

One stretch of basketball pretty much defines how the final period played out. After LeBron assisted Jawad Williams on a jumper with 6:56 left, Stan Van Gundy called a timeout with his team down 85-80. Out of the timeout, Jameer Nelson missed a three. LeBron grabbed the board. Then this happened.

6:07:  LeBron misses a 22-foot jumper. 85-80 Cleveland.

5:56: Vince Carter draws a shooting foul. Hits both free throws. 85-82 Cleveland.

5:41: LeBron travels. 85-82 Cleveland.

5:30: Vince Carter dunks (It was vicious, too). 85-84 Cleveland.

5:15: Dwight Howard blocks LeBron. 85-84 Cleveland.

5:05: LeBron misses a 25-foot three. 85-84 Cleveland.

4:47: Nelson hits a two point jumper. 86-85 Orlando.

3:56: Nelson hits a three. 89-85 Orlando.

3:38: LeBron hits one of two free throws. 89-86 Orlando.

That free throw was LeBron’s only meaningful point of the quarter (he had a free lay-up in the closing seconds. Meanwhile, Carter got four more points on the next two possessions and Nelson hit another three two minutes left to make it an eight point game.

While it could have just been an off night for James, I was very impressed with Matt Barnes‘ defense on LeBron down the stretch. He didn’t let LeBron get to the hoop (And, if he did, Howard was there waiting with four fouls, so he could have contested the shots), stopped him from getting a clean jump shot look and forced him to make simple passes that didn’t create a shot but simply reset the offense. It was the best job I have seen on him in awhile. Maybe it was Barnes’ D or maybe James didn’t feel like asserting 100% effort today. I have seen him burn defenders that play him tight before but it didn’t happen today. If the Magic meet with Cleveland in the playoffs, I’d like to see Barnes draw James instead of Mickael Pietrus who, though he was praised last season for making LeBron work, gave up averages of 39-8-8 to LeBron in their ’09 series.

James finished with 33 points, nine rebounds and six assists. A great game, but most of those numbers came in the opening quarters and he abnormally faded down the stretch.This was a game of runs. Denver held a 20-point lead at one point. Then Boston came back and made it a game You know the drill.

The runs ended when J.R. Smith pretty much closed out the game with four three balls in the fourth quarter. They were big shots, all good, solid looks and were mostly set up by his teammates. The Nuggets looked very good early, kind of fell apart in the middle portion of the game and then got energized by the crowd during the fourth.

Carmelo Anthony started off hot, but cooled down as the game went on. He still finished with 23 points and a career high eight assists. I tweeted during the game that the Nuggets are a scary team for two reasons: a) Their big men are athletic, tough, run the floor, contest shots and have range, and b) They have three players that can close out games. Melo out-dueled LeBron on Thursday, J.R. Smith hit big three’s in this game and Chauncey Billups always hits big shots. This team is going to be dangerous in the post-season.

Billups had a game high 26 points, seven assists and four boards in this one. Nene added 16 points and 10 boards and Kenyon Martin had 12 and 10.

The Celtics were led by Ray Allen, who had 25 points on just 14 shots. Paul Pierce, on the other hand, was highly ineffective, going two-for-10 from the field for five points.This was the battle of teams that don’t know how to properly rid themselves of aging franchise players. At least the Pistons tried to do it by dealing Chauncey Billups but they turned Allen Iverson‘s expiring contract into $80 million worth of two bench players. Not proper.

Without Tony Parker, the Spurs relied on Tim Duncan, who finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds. Manu Ginobli came off the bench and put in 21 one, but struggled from the field (five-of-15). Everyone else wasn’t good or just plain terrible. Richard Jefferson was particularly bad. Eight points, one field goal, 30 minutes. Poor spacing, some mental miscues, more bad shots.

The Pistons had a trio of 20+ point scorers. Richard Hamilton put in 27-5-3, hitting jump shots galore and looking really good at times. Shows he can contribute as the starting shooing guard if he were on a contender. Point guard Rodney Stuckey had 20-6-3, hitting all three of his triple attempts, which is a rarity for anyone on this team. Rounding out the trio was sixth man Ben Gordon, who had 21-5-3 and was highly effective. Not a bad night for Ben, who has been hot and cold this season.Only the Nets could give up a 11-point half-time lead by getting outscored 31-16 in the third quarter. And only the Nets could have Brook Lopez go off for 22 points in the first 20 minutes of the game, have their official website tweet his stats, and then have Lopez commit two offensive fouls, bringing him out of the game.

Lopez would finish with just four more points as Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo geared the comeback. Gay had 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting with eight rebounds. He was the number one option for most of the first half and kept them within striking range for the second half by carrying the offense. Mayo would come alive in the second half and put together quite a line with 24 points on eight-of-14 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds, and four steals. Though it is very early in the experiment, two games to be exact, I am starting to reconsider my original statement that the Rockets were the clear winners of the Kings-Rockets-Knicks deal.

The Rockets just don’t have that punch off the bench anymore. Of course, Kevin Martin is coming off the bench right now and he should take some time to get acclimated, and I am not rushing him to do so. However, in terms of big men, they don’t have a bruiser anymore off the pine and I think it will ultimately hurt them like it did today.

David West killed the Rockets for 27 points on eight-of-18 shooting from the floor and 11-of-13 from the free throw line. Luis Scola started off the game hot, hitting jumpers and putting pretty moves on display to score, but he faded as West got him into foul trouble. Emeka Okafor had his way too, though it wasn’t on the scoreboard. Okafor finished the game with 11 rebounds and six blocks. This kind of game is why I liked the Okafor deal. West scores a lot, hits his shot nad draws fouls while Okafor does the work downlow without having to score to energize him.

Rookie point guard Darren Collison continues to look like he could start on a normal basis for a team that didn’t have Chris Paul or Deron Williams. 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting, nine assists, four rebounds and four steals. He still needs to work on his turnovers (five in this one, averaging six a game in his last five), but every other part of his game is coming along nicely. He has a weird delivery, but he can hit a mid-range shot, stay after it defensively, read the passing lanes and get to the hoop. Love what he is doing.

Now, onto Kevin Martin. It wasn’t a good game. It wasn’t a bad game. It was just average, which is not what Houston needs him to be considering the fact that he is taking the place of the best sixth man in the NBA this season in Carl Landry. Again, he was taking shots that I have seen him make before, but they weren’t going down. In 28 points, Martin shot five-of-12 from the field, scored 12 points, and collected three rebounds and three assists.

Houston got better bench production from rookie Chase Buddinger, who hit seven of his 11 shots for 18 points and racked up five rebounds and a pair of blocks, and and the also newly acquired Jared Jeffries, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists and used his length to disrupt some passes.

Unfortunately, the Houston starters had a bad night. Trevor Ariza missed six of his seven three attempts and scored just five points on 10 shots despite grabbing six boards and dishing out eight assists. Point guard Aaron Brooks scored 15 points, but did so on 15 shots, and got burned several times on the defensive end by Collison.The Thunder could have lost this game. They could have used the second game of a back-to-back excuse. They could have said that they were tired from the extra session they did in New York last night. They could have said they underestimated Minnesota. They could have done all of that.

But, instead, the Thunder worked hard and, even though the Thunder crept close near the end, took care a team they needed to beat to make themselves the hottest team in the NBA as they are now on an eight game winning streak.

This was Russell Westbrook‘s game. For the second night in-a-row, Westbrook was the best Thunder player for three quarters. 22 points (nine-of-19 FG’s), most of which came in the paint, 14 assists, 10 rebounds (three offensive) and two steals. That’s his second career triple-double and he has flirted with them often this season.

I asked myself a couple of days ago who I thought would lead the NBA in triple-doubles by a point guard for the next decade. Because Paul is smaller (making it harder for him to get rebounds and, though he gets a lot of steals, it’s nearly impossible to get 10 in one game) and because, as of now, the Thunder don’t have a rebound hogging big man, I think it could easily be Westbrook. He’s starting to find that mid-range leaner (a summer of work on it like Derrick Rose had this summer will help him tremendously), he looks perfect with his teammates, making it easy for him to create shots for them, and he has the size and athleticism to grab rebounds from bigs.

Kevin Durant wasn’t flashy. He never is. He quietly threw up 32 points on 16 shots. That’s an average of two points per shot for those of you still mastering division in Mrs. Johnson’s third grade class. Durant wasn’t perfect. He did look tired at times but he came threw when he needed to.

Eight of his 16 field goal attempts were good and, as it becomes more regular to see, 14 of his 15 free throw attempts were good. The bad part about that is that Durant’s one miss was the only missed free throw of the entire game for the Thunder. They were 22-of-23 for the game. I’m sure that’s some kind of record. His four point play in the final three minutes was his third clutch basket in 24 hours. That’s 28 games of 25 or more. 13 more to go to beat out Jordan. He can do. That’s the scary part.

The third wheel of the emerging big three for OKC Uncle Jeff (Green) put in 17 points and 14 boards. Solid work. He was hitting shots and being physical on the glass. When he does that, the Thunder look very good. Green again hit a clutch shot in this one when the Thunder found themselves trailing the T’Wolves in the final quarter. He’s come up huge this season even though you never think “Oh, that’s going in!” every time he takes a big shot.

Keeping the T’Wolves in the game was Kevin Love. Coming off the bench for now, Love had 19 points and 14 rebounds. Rookie Jonny Flynn looked good, too. 19 points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals and some impressive shots from the floor. I like his game.I didn’t watch the majority of this game. That I’ll admit. I was pretty into Team USA hockey. But, when that game was over, I switched over. I love the NBA, that’s why I didn’t change the channel when I saw that the Warriors were down 13 or so with nine minutes left in the fourth.

And my NBA fandom served me well tonight. From that point, Stephen Curry took over the basketball game. A left handed pass to C.J. Watson in transition, another lob down court that leads to an easy bucket, a step back three with the defense laying off of him. It was a fantastic display of pure basketball ability. His knowledge of the game is so superior to others at hit age that it is surreal to watch him take over an offense that has seemingly no road map and make it seem like he’s a 30-year veteran working in at the top of Air Traffic Control. He’s too smart for his age and his physical skills go along with that.

He can make every pass, hit every shot, take you off the dribble, pull-up from mid-range, and play smart defense. His shortcoming comes strength wise. He’s not able to post up or take bigger guards when they back him down, but he has other skills that compensate for that very well.

Curry led the Warriors on a 16-0 run to put them in position to win the game. All of this came with the league’s sixth leading scorer, Monta Ellis, on the bench. When Ellis entered back into the game, he took the defensive assignment of checking Joe Johnson down the stretch. He did a great job. Johnson tried to back down Ellis twice, but on both occasions Ellis stopped him and he even came up with a steal and transition lay-up thanks to his D on Johnson.

It was a perfect combination of play for the two guards. Watching Curry run an offense makes me giddy and Ellis is still very fun to watch despite his shortcomings.

Curry finished with 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists (five turnovers) and a steal. It would be one thing if Curry surprised me with those numbers but I am starting to think he can do this multiple times in a season. If the season ended now, I’d take him for rookie of the year. Ellis had 26 points on 21 shots, five boards and four assists.

Though he fumbled a few times in the final minutes, Joe Johnson did hit a big three late and finished with 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. I think he gets the ball too often in weird spots on the floor. I’d rather have Jamal Crawford create and have Johnson trail him and look for a good shot in case he kicks in back.

The Hawks had a chance to win this game in the closing seconds, but after a play was drawn up for Johnson, the Warriors shut down that option and forced Josh Smith into taking a rare (this season) three. He missed.

Smith, however, did finish with a dominant line of 14 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. Al Horford also filled the stat sheet, scoring 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting, though he was not a factor in the fourth quarter as the Hawks went away from the post.

Andris Biedrins had a stellar game. Four points will do just fine if you only take three shots to get there and add 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks to your contributions. I love what he can bring to a team when healthy. I can’t imagine what a contender would pay for him if he was available.This was the game I watched the least of on today’s docket, but every time I tuned in I saw Steve Nash get another assist, Amare Stoudemire get another rebound or Jason Richardson hit another three. Phoenix loves to put on a show against inferior teams and this game is a perfect example of that.

Nash had 11 points and 17 assists. Nash has 10 games this season with 16 assists or more. The rest of the NBA has 11 combined. Stoudemire had 19 points and 14 boards (six offensive) and Richardson had 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting and seven rebounds. When Richardson is on, the Suns look excellent. When he isn’t, the Suns lack a go-to scorer that doesn’t need their shot created for them.

Not a great game for Tyreke Evans. 16 points on seven-of-13 shooting, six assists (five turnovers) and three rebounds. Starting power forward Carl Landry is still finding his way. 18 points on 15 shots with seven boards, two blocks and two steals in his second game as a King.What a game. Seemingly down and out, the Utah Jazz fought back into the game against a Portland team that was clearly out of energy in the fourth quarter to tie it at the end of regulation and dominate the overtime period.

Carlos Boozer had one of the best all-around games of the year for anybody in the NBA, scoring 22 points, grabbing a career high 23 rebounds (eight offensive), dishing out five assists and banking in the game-tieing shot as the buzzer sounded at the end of regulation. As Deron Williams missed a jumper, Boozer found himself in good position to get the rebound and had the state of mind to turnaround and toss up a quick hook off the glass at the buzzer.

Williams also had a big stamp on the game. Despite missing 11 of his 15 field goal attempts, Deron had 12 assists, seven rebounds and went nine-of-nine from the line. Big game from him. He and Boozer had a complete connection in the final two periods of the game. It was beautiful basketball.

Though they did end up losing, Portland looked good tonight until they all of a sudden couldn’t hit a shot and looked tired defensively. Marcus Camby had two points, four blocks and 18 rebounds, eight of which were offensive. If you counted the number of times he tipped it to a teammate, I’m sure he would have had 25 boards, or so.

Brandon Roy wasn’t completely healthy. He wasn’t as sharp going to the basket and took an extra second or two to contemplate his move before making it, taking away the surprise and fluidity of his game. Nonetheless, I was glad to see him out there as he tries to get back to 100%. He finished with 23 points.

Let’s not short change Deron Williams on the defensive end, though. Near the end of the ballgame, Williams took Roy on defense and forced two bad shots and didn’t allow him to make one offensive move that resulted in a positive for his team. It was excellent shut down defense from a tough customer. Williams is definitely shorter than Roy, but he did not give him an inch of space because of it thanks to his toughness.

Line Break

Author: (2411 Articles)

Mark is an 18-year old sports fanatic that founded this website back in October of 2008. He is the lead contributor for this site and a credentialed member of the media for several sports leagues and organizations. Mark's main focus is the NBA, though he also covers MLB, NFL, and International events like the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Follow Mark on Twitter: @Mark_Travis

9 comments to Attacking The Boards: Where Cleveland Is In A Funk

  • generic

    I’m actually taking a lot of positives out of this game with the Magic. They’re integrating a new player who still hasn’t practiced with the team in Jamison, and he looked really good starting the 2nd half. Mo Williams clearly isn’t 100% yet. Leon Powe is playing his first game as a Cavalier on Tuesday. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, if bought out (which is still highly likely) will return to the Cavs March 21st.

    This team has a lot of opportunity to grow and build. The stretch of games after the trade deadline for the Cavaliers are/was just brutal. The Nuggets are tough, there’s no denying it. The Bobcats have given the Cavs fits all year. The Magic should be the second best team in the East. The Hornets are playing pretty good basketball without Chris Paul. The Celtics in their own arena are not an easy beat for anyone. Finally, the Raptors on a back-to-back at their place are never easy either.

    Luckily for the Cavs, the game slows down in March and they have a fairly easy schedule throughout. That’s when they’ll be able to work on things. That’s when they’ll be able to practice together. That’s when they’ll figure out their rotations and tighten everything up. The Cavs have a team, based on talent, that is certainly at a championship level. March is a nice long month to shore everything up going into that stretch run.

    If things go the way they should, it should still be a Cavs vs. Lakers finals. Home-Court Advantage is completely up in the air, though.

  • @generic: I know Jamison will start to look better and better in this offense as the practices go by but I’m not sold on what Leon Powe does for this team. It’s not as if Shaq, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and Jamison are all getting into constant foul trouble or getting warn out during games. I’m not sure what the point of five-post rotation would do considering the fact that Powe is the worst of the five.

  • generic

    He’s actually a big body that plays big. Jamison is that stretch-4 spot the Cavs have been looking for. If you put Powe out their in a smaller lineup, he’s essential to throw some weight around by the basket. I don’t think he’ll get any more than 10-15 minutes, and he might not even be seen or heard from in the playoffs, but his six hard fouls could definitely be some use to the Cavs. He’s proven he can be a very effective big when given the minutes.

    Powe was certainly more of a move for next year, when prior to the season both Shaq and Z’s contracts were set to come off the books. He may be the odd man out now, but I really think he can be a nice energy guy who could find a niche in this system. LeBron knows how to get JJ Hickson open looks, I’m sure he can do the same for Powe.

  • @generic: No denying the fact that as long as you have some athletic forwards, LeBron can turn them into serviceable role players or even solid starters with his creating ability, which means Powe will have value to the Cavs as long as he gets minutes.

    Like you said, he’ll definitely be more of a factor next season.

  • That Ilgauskas trade is going to be the death of Cleveland. We woulda lost if he played yesterday but their chemistry messed up when he was traded away. Shaq’s not 20 anymore. These things are all true.

    Zydrunas was their biggest rebounder (mainly offensive boards) and was a tip in machine. Cleveland was outrebounded 47-37 by charlotte the other day. The difference in today’s game was the 3 or 4 offensive rebounds they got every game from ilgauskas, most of those tip ins.

    Here’s pretty hard evidence that Ilgauskas WON’T be back in Cleveland:

  • @Matt Shea: Any team with LeBron can easily regain chemistry. I disagree that Big Z was their best rebounder. Anderson Varejao has the same rebound rate in more minutes and averages a bit more per36 minutes.

  • @Mark Travis: Yet like I said, when Cleveland is trailing by 4-6 points at the end of games and they lose by that margin, his tip ins will be missed.

  • @Matt Shea: Yeah, but it’s not like Jamison can’t make up for that by getting to the rim, creating his own shot, and beating his defender back door like Z couldn’t.

    Plus, it seems like Big Z is going back to the Cavs anyways.

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