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Friday, February 08, 2008

Rockets Pound Banged-Up Cavs

The Houston Rockets pounded the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on the glass and cruised to a 92-77 home win. Yao Ming had 22 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists. Tracy McGrady spent most of the day in the hospital due to a severe upper respiratory infection but gutted out 32 tough minutes, producing eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Bonzi Wells provided a nice boost off of the bench with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Rafer Alston (17), Shane Battier (15) and Luis Scola (10) each scored in double figures, a mark that only two Cavs reached: LeBron James (32 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocked shots) and Larry Hughes (13 points, four rebounds). Injuries sidelined Cavs' big men Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao and starting shooting guard Sasha Pavlovic. Cleveland's weakness in the paint was painfully evident throughout the game, as Houston enjoyed a 55-35 rebounding advantage, including a 17-7 edge in offensive rebounds. Cleveland's recipe for victory is LeBron James' brilliance, solid defense and excellent rebounding. James did his part and the defense was adequate, at least in terms of defensive field goal percentage (.435), but a defensive possession is not successfully complete until the rebound is controlled and that is the area that cost Cleveland the game. Donyell Marshall started at power forward and had just five rebounds in 24 minutes, while Dwayne Jones came off of the bench to contribute zero rebounds in 16 minutes.

Many people base their support for LeBron James as MVP on Cleveland's 0-6 record in games that he missed this season. I rate James a close second behind Kobe Bryant in this season's MVP race, but it must be noted that the 0-6 mark is not even close to being the strongest argument on James' behalf. Varejao also missed those six games and Hughes missed four of them. Obviously, those players aren't nearly as valuable as James is but the cumulative effect of their absences doomed the Cavs in those games. If those losses boost the case for James as MVP then to be fair and consistent one would have to say that this loss in Houston works against James. I mean, James' supporters cannot have it both ways: James cannot get all of the credit for the wins that he plays in and all of the "credit" for the losses that he missed but none of the "blame" for the losses that happen when he plays. The reality is that this kind of rigid thinking is nonsense. James is clearly the best player on the team and he is a worthy MVP candidate but no single player--not Kobe, not LeBron, not anybody--can win or lose games by himself. If anyone in recent years has come close to winning games by himself, it was Bryant down the stretch of last season when he strung together enough 40 and 50 point games to carry the Lakers into the playoffs.

Cleveland's frontcourt rotation of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao makes a significant contribution to the team's success; placing Larry Hughes at point guard and Sasha Pavlovic at shooting guard gives the team size and enables Daniel Gibson to be an effective scoring option off of the bench. James did not magically carry the team to the Finals by himself last season, nor is he solely responsible for the team's victories this season. James is a great player who performed tremendously well last season and who is playing even better this season. The case for selecting him as MVP should be based on his great offensive production as a scorer and playmaker, his deadliness as a fourth quarter closer, his above average rebounding from the small forward position and his improved defense. Cleveland surely could have used him in the six games that he missed but he was no more the sole factor in those losses than he was at fault for this defeat in Houston.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:59 AM

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