Cavaliers Slipping Closer to First Round EliminationDetroit defeated Cleveland 87-82 in the first game of ABC's Sunday doubleheader. Richard Hamilton led a balanced Pistons attack (six players in double figures, including all five starters) with 21 points. Antonio McDyess had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. The Cavaliers nearly matched Detroit's balance, with all five starters scoring in double figures, but it will almost always be tough for Cleveland to win when LeBron James (20 points, six assists, five rebounds) shoots 5-16 from the field. He also committed five turnovers and, though he shot a strong 9-11 from the free throw line, he missed two free throws in the closing minute that could have cut Detroit's lead to two. James also missed his last two attempts from beyond the three point arc, following his pattern this season of shooting very poorly from distance down the stretch of close games; he desperately needs to do two things in the offseason: work on developing a more consistent shot (free throws and three pointers in particular) and cultivate a mindset to not settle for three pointers down the stretch of close games. That may sound contradictory but it's not. If James were a bonafide three point threat throughout games then teams would have to play him closer, which would open up more driving lanes. James could then attack the hoop without fear, with the confidence that if he is fouled he will make the free throws.
Detroit has all but sewn up the number one seed in the East but it will be interesting to see how significant homecourt advantage turns out to be for the Pistons; they have not played nearly as well at home this year as they did last season. Both Chicago and Miami are certainly capable of coming into the Palace and winning a playoff game. As for the Cavaliers, it is looking more and more like this team could be a first round casualty in the postseason. Chicago has passed Cleveland in the standings and this is very significant because of the NBA's quirky seeding system. The Cavaliers dropped all the way from the second seed to the fifth seed. If things remain the way they are now, Cleveland would play the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the first round. At this point, Miami would be the fourth seed but Cleveland would have homecourt advantage according to the NBA's "playoff seeding primer." Cleveland's real problem in that matchup is that Miami is a battle tested team that is playing well down the stretch and will likely have Dwyane Wade back in some capacity. Meanwhile, Chicago's late season push has likely earned the Bulls a first round date with the New Jersey Nets, a talented but underachieving team. If the Cavaliers do not find a way to climb back into the second spot then they better hope that Miami moves up to third, which would then pit Cleveland against playoff neophyte Toronto in the first round; otherwise, this year's postseason figures to be much shorter than last year's for King James.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:38 PM