Denver 99, Cleveland 97

Frustrating game to watch. The Cavs didn’t play particularly well and while they were in the game til the end, they never put together that four or five minute stretch of good basketball to finish the game. If the Cavs were scoring, they weren’t defending and when they defended, the offense broke down. They couldn’t keep the Denver guards out of the paint (Chauncey Billups especially), gave up too many easy buckets and they failed to execute down the stretch. Meanwhile, as the Cavs went full Le-Iso, the Nuggets got some huge buckets in the last two minutes from Arron Afflalo (the game tying trey, 91-91), Kenyon Martin (the go-ahead jumper, 93-91) and J.R. Smith (the 27 foot back breaker, 96-91). LeBron made some late threes to make the score respectable but the Cavs ran out of time.

Can a guy with 35 points have a bad game? Sure, James will finish up with a 35-6-7 but he needed 28 shots to get that 35, he turned the ball over 8(!) times and he made just 9 0f his 13 free throws (61%). LeBron seemed to be forcing the issue; I dunno if it was because they were on ESPN but LeBron tried to do everything himself (I was having Orlando flashbacks. Mo and Shaq combined for 2 points in the second half and LeBron took 18 of the Cavs 38 shots after halftime. He was forcing passes, taking bad jumpers and driving head on into traffic (when they obviously weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt from the refs). One bright spot was the fact that LeBron utilized the high post to varying degrees of success. It was still James doing everything himself but at least he was starting from 18 feet out as opposed to 30.

Not Mike Brown’s best night. In the third, he kept Shaq in the game even though he had four fouls and Shaq picked up his fifth with about seven minutes to go (Shaq’s third, fourth and fifth foul came in a one-minute span. The fifth foul, while jostling for post position, was particularly weak). Shaq finished 4-5 from the floor (though the miss was embarrassing) in just 16 minutes of court time. LeBron and the offense was a concern all game and Brown just let it happen (and really, it’s a concern every game). It’s great that the offense looks crisp and effective against teams like the Wizards but it still reverts to this Le-Iso stuff against good teams. The Cavs went small for roughly 30 seconds in the fourth (well, Varejao plus the other starters) but Brown quickly subbed in Z for Hickson. Going small might been a decent idea, as the Cavs had trouble staying with the Denver bigs on pick-and-rolls (Nene had 20 points, Kenyon Martin had 19 and Chris Anderson pitched in 8 off the bench).

Anderson Varejao should get some kind of award after the season. I don’t care if it’s Sixth Man or Most Improved Player or they have to make up some new award just for him- he’s been great. Varejao came off the bench and gave the Cavs 9 points and 15 boards. He’s not longer just a flopper; he makes great rotations, he picked the pocket of J.R. Smith (one of Andy’s 3 steals) and he blocked Kenyon Martin. The guy brings loads of energy and he’s the only Cavs player who moves on offense no matter what. You’re starting to see some of Varejao’s hustle rub off on J.J. Hickson; I thought J.J. did a great job hustling for boards (2 offensive) and not giving up on the play but he still needs to find his man and box out on every shot (the Nuggets had a couple of easy putback dunks- not all Hickson’s fault- as Billups would get inside and draw help defenders, leaving K-Mart open).

LeBron: 28 shots. Mo, Delonte, Shaq & Z: 29 shots. Not good. Delonte’s game, in particular, seems to suffer the most when LeBron dominates the ball. West had 5 points (2-5 shooting), 3 boards, 2 blocks and zero assists in his 26 minutes on the court. Delonte is one of the few Cavaliers who can create shots for both himself and his teammates but when he’s relegated to hoisting corner threes, he’s much less effective. The Cavs don’t need LeBron to play off the ball for the entire game but they have to get the ball to their guards and let them run things.

I’m getting sick of the Cavs having to relearn the same lesson. The offense has to keep moving! You have to utilize the post (either with LeBron or somebody else). You can’t take nights off just because a team is missing their star (who else feels that the Cavs would’ve played differently had ‘Melo suited up?). Maybe the Christmas day Laker game spoiled me but I want to see more of that team. I want to see LeBron running down court and posting up near the rim, I want to see tight defensive rotations that don’t inexplicably leave the opposing power forward unchecked on rebounds, I want to see the Cavs utilizing Shaq to the best of his ability. Instead, we’ll see the Cavs play a great game and then two nights later lay an egg by going full Le-Iso. What gives?

and finally…

Well, they started this way on their last West Coast trip too. I’m skeptical that the Cavs can rebound and sweep the rest of this trip (as they did after losing to the Dirk-less Mavs to begin their last visit out West) but here’s hoping. They let a very winnable game slip through their hands (seriously, 18-29 free throws is just unacceptable) and it doesn’t get any easier coming up. The Cavs play in Portland on Sunday and even though the Blazers are hurting, they beat the Lakers Friday night (in fact, the Celtics and Magic lost on Friday as well).

Cross-posted at

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