Could ya tell they had four days off? The Cavs came out focused and energized and they looked prepared for this ball game. The double teams came hard and fast, the offense was fluid and their passes were crisp. From the coaching staff to guys like J.J. Hickson and Jamario Moon, the Cavaliers looked ready for this game.
I admit, I was terrified for this game coming in. Cleveland has been slow out of the gate and their struggles with Orlando have been well documented, if they didn’t look good versus the Magic (i.e. if Shaq couldn’t slow Dwight Howard) then the ceiling could’ve caved in. But the Cavs looked great; Shaq got Howard into early foul trouble and the Cavs took full advantage, going straight at the rim and getting easy buckets while Howard sat. You could tell the Cavs worked on their offense during their break; the spacing was great, the movement was good and it allowed James to get a bunch of easy baskets around the rim (both off of cuts and followup boards). If the offense can stay close to this (Mo Williams controlling the ball, James setting up near the hoop, and lots of off the ball movement) then the Cavs should be in a good spot.
Mo Williams had a superb game. Williams started off 9-9 and finished with 28 points (12-20 FG, 4-5 3pt) and 6 assists. The Cavs played at a faster tempo (especially once Howard went out and Varejao subbed in for Shaq) and Williams really responded. He hit a lot of pull-up jumpers and he also attacked the rim early in the possession. If the Cavs are going to do anything this season, Williams can’t simply be a spot up shooter (he’s not Boobie). Mo set up a lot of easy buckets for LeBron and the bigs with his penatration. Williams was freed up a couple times coming off screens set by James. This is a fantastic development, I love involving LeBron in the pick-and-roll. Let the defense decide if they want to let LeBron roll to the rim or allow Williams an open jumper.
LeBron was awesome (for the first 9/10ths of the game). LeBron finished with 36 points (13-23 FG, 2-3 3pt), 8 boards and 4 assists. While his jumpers continue to fall (his form looks really good) James would set up in the mid-to-low post. James took Mickael Pietrus to the block (finally!) and the Cavalier’s excellent spacing allowed LeBron to make quick decisions with the ball and the offense didn’t bog down. As for that last 1/10th of the game, it was during the middle of the fourth during the not-quite-garbage-time part of the game. LeBron’s shot was falling and he ended up taking some ugly, ugly, ugly 1-on-5 ‘heat checks’ and it allowed Orlando to make the score somewhat respectable (this is where the offense bogged down).
Nice game from the bigs. Shaq got Howard into foul trouble and his one-on-one defense allowed the rest of the squad to stay home on Orlando’s shooters (the Magic were just 4-18 from behind the line). J.J. Hickson had a nice game, scoring 9 points and grabbing 6 boards (he also had the highest +/- of any Cavalier at +13). Z went 0-6 but grabbed 6 boards and played pretty good defense (Z had the second highest +/- at +11). While Varejao didn’t score a lot, he ran the floor well and played good defense.
The refs stunk. Howard picked up two fouls in the first 3 minutes (the first was technically a foul, putting two hands on O’Neal and while ESPN didn’t like his second foul, I was OK with it because Howard took a giant swipe at Shaq before he went straight up). LeBron, Mo and Hickson all took major contact when they went to the rim and didn’t get any calls. They’d miss an offensive foul on LeBron only to slap Z with a loose ball foul as a makeup (this was during a stretch when the Cavs’ lead was cut from 15 to 8 at the end of the half and Cavs were whistled for Z’s BS foul and a 3 seconds and Shaq was called for both palming and a moving screen).
When I say the Cavs were prepared, this is what I mean: Jamario Moon played 15 minutes and grabbed 7 rebounds. J.J. Hickson got a steal by coming over and intercepting a lazy entry pass to Howard. The Cavs ended the half on an 9-2 run by out hustling the Magic for loose balls (Hickon got to the line twice off of hustle boards). LeBron let Williams set up the offense and got easy dunks and layups from simply cutting to the rim. Yes, the Magic were without their stretch 4s (Rashard Lewis due to suspension and Ryan Anderson due an ankle injury) but the Cavs came out prepared and with something to prove (I’m gonna guess that Mo has had this game circled for some time now).
How’s it feel? The Cavs shot a ridiculous 10-14 from behind the arc. Williams was 4-5, James was 2-3 (just 3 attempts, nice) and Anthony Parker hit all three of his attempts (all in the third quarter). Meanwhile, Mickael Pietrus looked like the average player he is and Vince Carter fired up 7 treys while making just 2 (Carter did finish with 29 points but the Cavs were without Delonte West due to an infraction).
No further questions! Before the game, LeBron stated that he’s not going to answer any more free agency questions until after the season (the same night he wore Yankee 27 title sneakers). While it’s a nice gesture, I’m pretty sure it won’t change things a whole bunch (except make Adrian Wojnarowski cry) and it’s not like ESPN and co. need fresh quote (or any quotes) to speculate and make shit up. The Cavs face the Heat on Thursday night (another former home of O’Neal) and I’m sure TNT will stuff us full of LeBron/Wade speculation regardless.