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Saturday, November 18, 2006

A "Hughes" Loss for Cleveland: Without Larry, Cavs are Defenseless

Cleveland Cavaliers' Assistant Coach Hank Egan has repeatedly said how important Larry Hughes is to the team's success. Exhibit A for anyone who doubts that is the game film from the 111-99 beating that the Washington Wizards administered to the Cavaliers on Saturday night, ending Cleveland's five game winning streak. You may recall that Cleveland defeated this same Wizards team 97-94 on opening night. One big difference: Larry Hughes played in the first game but sat out Saturday's game with a sprained ankle. That led to the second big difference: Gilbert Arenas, guarded mostly by Hughes, shot 2-12 from the field and only scored seven points in the first game; on Saturday, Arenas pumped in 45 points, just two less than his career-high, which he could have easily passed if he had not sat out the last six minutes after the Wizards' lead ballooned to 24. Arenas also had six assists and five rebounds. Usually I hate this saying but in this case it was absolutely true: the game was not as close as the final score indicated. LeBron James led Cleveland with 20 points, but shot just 8-20 from the field and only attempted five free throws. He also had five rebounds and four assists.

Cleveland got off to a quick start and led by as much as 20-12 in the first quarter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored eight points in the period (he finished with 16) and the Cavaliers led 29-26. Arenas had only three points in the first quarter but he did distribute five assists. Washington tied the score at 37 with 7:57 remaining in the first half but the Cavaliers rebuilt their advantage to 46-38 barely two minutes later. Arenas scored 10 points in the last 3:37 and the Wizards took a 62-58 halftime lead. He finished with 18 points in the first half, while James had 13. The Wizards had an assist/turnover ratio of 15/0, a strong indicator that the Cavaliers were neither pressuring Washington's ball handlers nor contesting shots. A perfect example of both deficiencies happened on the last play of the half. The Wizards inbounded the ball in their backcourt, DeShawn Stevenson took two dribbles past midcourt and then passed to a wide open Antawn Jamison, who scored an uncontested layup as time expired. This happened in 3.9 seconds, after a timeout; it may have been the worst inbounds defense that I have ever seen. How can a team take the ball out at one baseline and score an uncontested layup at the other end of the court against a defense that has been put in place after a timeout?

Cleveland's offense disappeared in the third quarter (16 points) but that was not because of increased productivity on defense; Washington scored 31 points, taking a 93-74 lead into the fourth quarter. Arenas outscored the Cavaliers by himself with 17 points in the period, including a three pointer at the buzzer. James took his turn guarding Arenas in the fourth quarter--to no avail. Arenas nailed a jumper after faking out James so badly that he tripped and fell. Soon after that he made back to back three pointers over James, putting Washington up 103-79. James answered with a jumper but soon both he and Arenas were on the bench watching the teams' reserves play out the string.

A scary moment happened with 2:31 left when Washington's Jarvis Hayes took a nasty fall while trying to block Shannon Brown's layup. Hayes landed awkwardly on his back and was taken off of the court on a stretcher. He moved his legs and arms but seemed to be in a lot of pain. Several of his teammates crowded around him and Cleveland Coach Mike Brown walked over to express his concern to Washington Coach Eddie Jordan. There was no immediate word on the nature or extent of Hayes' injury.

posted by David Friedman @ 10:33 PM

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