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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Orlando Defeats Cleveland Again in NBA China Games 2007

Orlando finished the NBA China Games 2007 with a 3-0 record by beating Cleveland 100-84. Previously, Orlando defeated Cleveland 90-86 and then the Magic routed the Team China All-Stars 116-92. Dwight Howard led the way for Orlando with 17 points in less than 24 minutes, while LeBron James and Larry Hughes had 14 points each for Cleveland. Just like in the first matchup between these teams, most of Cleveland's key players sat out the fourth quarter; Cleveland Coach Mike Brown openly admitted after the game that he experimented with some lineups that he definitely would not use during the regular season.

James scored eight of his points in the first quarter as the Cavaliers raced to a 30-23 lead. There is a lot of talk about how weak the East is, that the conference is right there for the taking and that Cleveland not only failed to improve its roster but is currently without the services of holdout free agents Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic. While the East does not have one single team that is as good as San Antonio, Dallas or Phoenix (and you could probably add Houston and Utah to that list) the overall depth is not bad; there will be a dogfight at the top for the best record and another dogfight at the bottom to determine who will get the eighth spot. Boston's massive upgrades ensure that at least one Eastern Conference playoff team from last year will be on the outside looking in this time around, so Eastern Conference games figure to be very spirited and competitive. Cleveland will definitely miss Varejao and Pavlovic--particularly Varejao, who runs the pick and roll with James better than anyone else on the team and who provides energy and hustle while also serving as an irritant to the opposing team's bigs--but don't write Cleveland off even Varejao and Pavlovic stay on the sidelines. A healthy Hughes plus young guards Daniel Gibson and Shannon Brown can more than pick up the slack for Pavlovic. The absence of Varejao could prove deadly if Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Drew Gooden get hurt but otherwise Cleveland can make do, possibly even going with a small lineup for a change of pace when the reserves come into the game. The Cavaliers will be better than some people seem to expect because they play good defense game in and game out and because they have the best player in the conference in LeBron James. The former means that Cleveland will rarely get blown out and the latter means that Cleveland will win a lot of games when James takes over down the stretch.

The biggest news in Orlando--literally--is the development of Dwight Howard's post game. Against Cleveland he showcased hook shots and spin moves that no longer look mechanical and predictable. Howard's improvements will have a trickle down effect on the rest of the team because opponents will have to start double-teaming him, leaving Orlando's shooters open. Speaking of shooters, a recent headline at USAToday.com declared, "Redick's shooting woes, defense may limit role." You really think so? The theory behind drafting Redick with a lottery pick last year is that he could make spot up jumpers when Howard is double-teamed. The Catch-22 is that on defense Redick matches up poorly with most starting shooting guards in the league but if he plays on the second unit--which is unlikely to have a player who is worthy of being double-teamed--then Redick may have to create his own shot, which will not be easy for him even against bench players. Orlando has given Redick a lot of run in the summer league and in the preseason but it looks more and more likely that Keith Bogans will be the starting shooting guard and that Redick will come off the bench. After two abysmal games in China (shooting 1-6 from the field in the first game versus Cleveland and following that with a 2-9 clunker), Redick actually played solidly versus Cleveland, scoring 14 points on 5-10 shooting while adding four rebounds and four assists. He made his first basket in very uncharacteristic fashion, nailing a fadeaway jumper on the move at the end of the first quarter. In both games versus Cleveland he struggled to stay in front of Hughes. At times, Redick seemed to use poor shot selection, though perhaps Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy is OK with Redick shooting pullup three pointers on the fast break because Orlando is making a real effort to generate more transition offense this year; I'm not convinced that this is the way to do it, but right now Van Gundy seems loath to rein anyone in, perhaps wary of damaging the confidence of his three point shooters. Redick scored nine of his points in the fourth quarter as the reserves from both squads finished out the game, with Orlando outscoring Cleveland 29-15 in the final stanza.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:39 AM

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