Another efficient, methodical victory (that was never really in doubt). The Cavs had a strong first quarter, a so-so second quarter (led 52-48), took control of the game in the third period (a 20-7 run will do that) and were up by double digits for the entire fourth. The Cavs got whatever they wanted on offense, especially on the block (both Delonte and LeBron worked the post) and in the pick-and-roll (J.J. got a ton of easy buckets). The Cavs shot 57% for the game and had 26 assists to just 9 turnovers. There were a couple times they lost their focus (Delonte had a couple of brain farts) but overall, they played hard and took care of business.
LeBron had one of his ‘average’ spectacular nights. James led everyone with 38 points and finished with 6 boards and 9 assists, but if you watched the game, I don’t think you’d come away saying he played some amzing game. LeBron wasn’t dominating the ball or making crazy plays left and right, he just went about his business, scoring 38 points by shooting an efficient 15-22 from the floor and 7-8 from the stripe (Bron-Bron was just 1-5 from behind the arc, meaning he was a ridiculous 14-17 from two point range. Wow). LeBron consistently took the smaller New Orleans defenders down in the post (he really had no reason not to, as he was being guarded by Marcus Thorton and Chris Paul) and scored on a variety of moves, including a nifty lefty finger roll. I can only hope this will continue into June.
Speaking of efficiency, J.J. Hickson everybody. Hickson went 9-11 from the floor and finished with 20 points and 9 boards. The 9-11 shooting is great enough, but J.J. put up those numbers in just 26 minutes of court time. You can tell he’s comfortable with LeBron in pick-and-roll situations and the Cavs exploited the New Orleans bigs with Hickson’s quickness throughout the game. I know I’ve said this before, but Mike Brown is gonna have a tough time with his playoff rotations. Right now I’d say Hickson is their 5th big man come the playoffs (after Shaq, Jamison, Varejao, Z) and while he may not be as mentally or defensively sound as the others, J.J. has something that the other four don’t: young legs. He can get a lot of easy points using his athleticism. Again, he had 20 and 9, on 9-11 shooting in just 26 minutes. Pretty nice.
Speaking of, Zydrunas Ilgauskas made his triumphant return. Not gonna lie, Big Z looked a bit rusty out there, scoring just 1 point and missing both field goals he attempted (though that’s to be expected). He finished with 3 boards and 2 assists in his 17 minute return. I liked the fact that Brown brought Z off the bench; Z is going to be Shaq’s backup when the going gets tough and I want him used to that role. Plus, the Cavs started the second quarter with a lineup of Mo, Delonte, Jamison, Varejao and Z. That group could be the starting five on a playoff team. Maybe not championship contenders but that’s quite a good second unit.
Delonte was a monster in the second quarter (but that was about it). West scored 13 of his 15 points in the second period, often abusing the small Hornet guards on the block. As I’m sure you know by now, I love when the Cavs use the post and Delonte was an absolute beast on the block. He just takes his time, knows exactly where he wants to go and will score in a variety of ways (fade-aways, up-and-unders, step-backs, etc). West also made a few mental errors (letting Darren Collison get behind him for a layup to end the first quarter and he and Andy had a miscommunication leading to a bad pass and eventually an 8 second violation) and finished with just one assist and zero boards.
The Hornets went small and the Cavs (*gasp*) countered by going big. Me gusta. In the past, I’ve been critical of Brown always adapting to the other team’s style (who cares if the Clippers want to run, you’re better! Make them adapt to what you want to do!) but on Wednesday, he stuck to his guns. The Hornets like playing three guards (Chris Paul, Collison and Thorton) and pushing the ball but the Cavs punished them by going big (Brown went with a five of Delonte, LeBron, Jamison, Varejao and Z). By going big, the Hornets were forced to have the 6-0 Paul check the 6-8 James. Not fair. James took Paul into the office (as Austin Carr would say… constantly) and simply over powered the smaller CP3 (who doesn’t look quite healthy).
Jamison had a so-so night but still manged to finish with a double-double. From watching the game, I wouldn’t say Jamison played particularly well (he picked up two quick fouls to start the night) but then I check his box score and see he scored 11 points (5-10 shooting, 1-2 3PT) and grabbed 11 boards to go with 3 assists in 33 minutes. Ho hum, 11-11-3 on 50% shooting. It was definitely cool seeing Jamison share the court with Z (it’s also cool that both their power forward and center can shoot the trey).
The Cavs are 57-15, already equaling the win total of the best Price-Nance-Daugherty teams. Enjoy this team. They’re really really good. And deep. And big. Their magic number to clinch home court throughout the East is at four with ten games to go. Things look pretty good. With the return of Z (adding a rotation player), I wonder how much the Cavs will rest their players down the stretch, especially LeBron (scoring title or no). Late in the first half, James landed on James Posey’s foot, rolling his ankle in the process. Obviously, he wasn’t too hurt but still, the Cavs have to be a little concerned that he could hurt himself in, if not a meaningless game, one that doesn’t matter all too much in the long run. The Cavs face the Spurs in San Antonio on Friday and then play the Kings in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.