The One They Owed Them: Cavaliers Repay Mavericks for Opening Night DefeatThe Cleveland Cavaliers took another step toward regaining the form that carried them to the 2007 NBA Finals, earning an 88-81 road win versus the Dallas Mavericks. The Cavaliers had not won in Dallas since 2000 and were booed on opening night by their home court fans during an embarrassing 92-74 loss to the Mavericks; as Chris Berman (channeling Howard Cosell, as he often does) would say, "I remember because I was there." The formula for the Cleveland win, as usual for this team, consisted of rebounding (56-45 advantage), defense (Dallas shot .365 from the field and scored fewer than 20 points in two quarters) and the all-around brilliance of LeBron James (game-high 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists). This was not a pretty game by any means and the Cavaliers shot just as poorly (.364) as the Mavericks did but good teams are able to win "ugly" games. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Larry Hughes added 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Hughes is an erratic shooter and is often the target of boos and derision by Cleveland fans but there is no disputing the fact that this team is most successful when he is healthy. Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard led Dallas with 19 points each; Nowitzki also had a game-high 20 rebounds.
TNT analyst Mike Fratello made an excellent point during the broadcast, reiterating something that he mentioned last week during Cleveland's 94-90 win over the Lakers: continuity is vital to any team's success and three of the top eight players in Cleveland's rotation from last season (Anderson Varejao, Sasha Pavlovic and Eric Snow) missed all of this year's training camp either due to injury (Snow) or holdouts. The Cavaliers hit their stride last season when they had a starting lineup of James, Ilgauskas, Hughes, Pavlovic and Drew Gooden, with Varejao, Snow, Daniel Gibson and Donyell Marshall providing support off of the bench. That rotation (minus the injured Marshall) is now set again, so--as I wrote after Cleveland's recent victory over the Lakers--"it would not be surprising at all if the Cavaliers go on a winning streak or at least put together a run of .700 or .800 basketball to boost their record."
The only dark cloud hovering over the Cavaliers at the moment is the bizarre sideshow centering around little used guard Damon Jones, the self-proclaimed best shooter in the NBA who has scored just 24 points so far in December. Prior to Cleveland's Christmas Day victory over the Heat, Jones declared that he wants to be traded to Miami, adding, "Oh, man, that would be the icing on the cake for me. Especially with the group of guys that they have now, still, some of the key guys that were there when I spent the best year of my career. It would be special. Man, I'm very comfortable with the system. I don't know if I could really say what I want to say, but I would definitely enjoy being back in that system and trying to get back that success we had some years ago." TNT commentator Reggie Miller interpreted that last sentence as a not so thinly veiled shot at Cleveland Coach Mike Brown. Jones escalated this situation by refusing to enter the Heat game in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and he has reportedly been fined by the Cavaliers for his insubordination. Here's a better idea for the Cavaliers: cut him. This will likely not happen, due to salary cap ramifications and the possibility of the union filing a grievance, but one of the things that is wrong with the NBA today is players not understanding how good they have it. You would think that Jones, who worked long and hard in various minor leagues just to get a chance to play in the NBA, would have the right perspective about this. He really needs an intervention, for someone who he respects to calmly explain to him that he is not in fact the best shooter in the NBA; Jones is a one dimensional role player who should keep his mouth shut and ride the LeBron James gravy train to more playoff success and more financial success than he will obtain anywhere else. Think for a moment how twisted it is for Jones to want to leave Cleveland and go to Miami; the Cavaliers went to the Finals last year and are rounding into form now, while the Heat are a moribund franchise with one star who is banged up and another star who is over the hill. As Charles Barkley quipped, Pat Riley is not thinking to himself that Damon Jones is the answer to Miami's problems. If Jones can't get his head back together and the Cavaliers can't find a team willing to deal for him then they really should bite the bullet and cut him; it simply is not worth it to have that kind of distraction emanating from the team's 12th man. Years ago, Riley coined the perfect phrase to describe Jones' affliction and how it can bring a team down if it is not nipped in the bud: "the disease of me."
posted by David Friedman @ 5:26 AM