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Friday, March 07, 2008

Bulls Crash the Boards, Bash the Cavs

On Sunday, LeBron James scored 37 points as Cleveland beat Chicago 95-86 despite being without Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic, each of whom missed the game due to injury. Those players also were not able to play in Thursday's rematch and this time the Bulls defeated the Cavs 107-96. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 23 points each, while James finished with 39 points, three rebounds and one assist; if Kobe Bryant put up a stat line like that, a lot of people would say that he played a selfish, one dimensional game but that is nonsense: great players read the defense and react accordingly. James shot 13-27 from the field, while the other Cavs shot just 20-57, so there were not many assists to be had. Combined with his 50 points versus the Knicks on Wednesday, James has scored 89 points in his last two games, the most a player has scored in consecutive games since Bryant dropped 60 and 50 at Memphis and New Orleans last March.

This game was not decided by James' scoring or his passing; it was decided on the backboards, where Chicago enjoyed a 56-48 rebounding advantage, including a 21-14 edge in offensive rebounds. Joakim Noah had a game-high 20 rebounds, 10 offensive and 10 defensive. Five of Deng's eight rebounds came on the offensive glass. The formula for Cleveland's success is defense, rebounding and the brilliance of James. An oft-repeated statistic this season is that the Cavs are 0-6 without James but most people fail to mention that rebounder/defender Anderson Varejao also missed several of those games. Why is that significant? Prior to Thursday's game, the Cavs were 18-9 with Varejao and 17-17 without him; they enjoyed a +3.5 ppg differential with him but were outscored by 3.5 ppg without him. There is a widely believed myth that James basically carried the Cavs to last year's Finals all by himself--and the same people who are foolish enough to believe that are the ones who predicted that Cleveland would not make the playoffs this year. The reality is that during last year's playoff run James carried a heavy offensive load--as both a scorer and playmaker--but Cleveland's frontcourt rotation of Ilgauskas-Varejao-Drew Gooden played a vitally important role in terms of rebounding and defense.

From Cleveland's standpoint, the theory behind the recent three way trade with Chicago and Seattle that shipped out Gooden, Larry Hughes and four other players in exchange for Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith and Delonte West is this: the frontcourt rotation of Ilgauskas-Wallace-Varejao-Smith has more depth, West will relieve James of some ballhandling responsibilities by helping to push the ball up the court in transition and Szczerbiak will provide three point shooting. If all of those things turn out to be true, then this will be a good deal for Cleveland but it is important to understand how well Cleveland's previous frontcourt rotation played and how important Hughes was as a perimeter defender. Perhaps Cleveland's rebounding problems on Thursday were simply a function of Ilgauskas not playing and/or James not rebounding as well as he usually does--but the point of the trade was precisely to have enough depth to compensate for when the team is shorthanded up front for whatever reason. Wallace and Varejao did have 10 rebounds each but they also only combined to score six points on 3-15 field goal shooting. The nice thing about having Ilgauskas and Gooden is that they not only rebound but each of them can make a 15 foot jump shot. The "new" Cavs frontcourt may look better and deeper on paper but the question is whether or not it will look better on the court during the playoffs. I understand what General Manager Danny Ferry was thinking when he made the deal but I still am not sold that it significantly improved the team.

In addition to working out the frontcourt chemistry--and getting everybody healthy at the same time--the Cavs have to be concerned about who will be the team's lockdown perimeter defender. Maybe you saw the highlight clip of Ben Gordon freezing James at the foul line with a fake and then blowing by him to the hoop. That is going to be a recurring theme in the playoffs when the Cavs face the likes of Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton, who are bigger and more skilled than the sometimes erratic Gordon.

The Bulls held James to 3-12 field goal shooting in the second half, keeping him out of the paint and off of the free throw line, and they outscored Cleveland 60-45. Yes, it's just one game, but the Cavs showed weaknesses in the very areas that I questioned as soon as this trade was announced. Cleveland Coach Mike Brown was not at all pleased with what he saw: "We've got to dig down deep and find out who we want to be. Play 110 to 115 on the road and win sometimes and look pretty winning? Or do we want to be a playoff team that's going to go far in the playoffs and have a chance to compete for an NBA championship? Get ugly and dirty sometimes by getting stops first and figure out how to score second. It's very concerning for me right now."

The Cavs are 4-3 with their new players (they also won a shorthanded game after the trade when various players had not yet been cleared to play by the league); they started out the calendar year 15-7. The "old" Cavs went 2-1 versus Boston and 0-1 versus Detroit; the "new" Cavs are 0-1 versus Boston and will face Detroit three times before the regular season ends. Keep in mind that the "old" Cavs beat Detroit in six games in last year's playoffs--rattling off four straight wins--and even as an inexperienced team they extended Detroit to seven games in the 2006 playoffs.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:55 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Friday, March 07, 2008 9:06:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Let me understand this. James (true indeed the Knicks arent any good) had the best played game this year of any player but you have no post about it. (The fact that he did it in the Garden does elevate it.) But in this post you mention Bryant being selfish if he had a similar game to what James had against the Bulls. You are talking about Deng and Gordon, mention what James did, then all of a sudden mention what Bryant would have done. Now if you arent a Bryant apologist then no one is. And not many people are saying that Bryant is selfish now.

A lot more of the phony experts are actually saying this is Bryants best year and saying that he is making his team better. I havent heard anyone say he is selfish this year.

The game Bryant had in the Garden this year was great but not as great as James's. How do you not comment about that!!!! If Bryant was 50, 10 assists, 8 rebs with 4 stls shooting 16-30 with 7 threes in the Garden you would definitely mention and say that it reminded you of the double nickel. Be fair David in your analysis sometimes. Once again I love Bryant and Jamess game equally but you are not equal in your praise of other great players (there arent many I realize that) and always praise Bryant even when hes not playing. Its your blog so you can do what you want. I understand that but come on you are over the top at times.

Im not of these guys who cares about personality or listen to any of the hype or what Barkley or ESPN says (you know that). And as you know Ive always enjoyed this blog. But, David, Bryant is not the only great player in the NBA. You could have posted Jamess game in the Garden, unless you missed it. A Cavs Lakers finals would be what the NBA needs and a great watch. And it could definitely happen. I dont think the Lakers will beat the Spurs but the Cavs can definitely come out of the East with that trade. Time will tell. If the Cavs do play the Lakers I need a press pass from you because I know you will be at all the games.

Its also amazing that Starbury is one of the players with a 50, 10 assist game.

 
At Friday, March 07, 2008 4:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

If you really, honestly think that I am some kind of "apologist" then that is too bad. The fact is that I am analyzing the NBA game, without prejudice, and--quite frankly--I am doing a better, more accurate and more objective job of it than the guys at the big mainstream media platforms. I've been saying for two-plus seasons that Kobe is the best player and I've been explaining why. He really is not doing anything differently this year than he did in previous seasons; since Gasol arrived his assists and shooting percentage have gone up, which is only natural when the talent level on the team improves, but Kobe is playing the same way that he always has. Most people just don't understand the game well enough to see this.

I've been praising LeBron here for quite some time. I have a very high opinion of his game. I rank him second in the MVP race and I think that he is closer to Kobe than anyone else has been in the past several years. I've clearly explained exactly what makes LeBron great and exactly what he needs to do to equal Kobe.

I mentioned James' great game in the Garden in my Leaderboard post. I have never written recaps of every 40 or 50 point game by Kobe, LeBron or anyone else. If you noticed, that night I watched a different game (Suns-Nuggets) and did a full length post about it. I did not see the entire Cavs-Knicks game so I can't very well do an in depth post about it.

Go back and read my accounts of LeBron's playoff games that I covered (or even the ones that I watched on TV) and I defy you to show me an example of how I analyze his game unfairly or in a different way than I analyze Kobe's game (or anyone else's). When everyone was criticizing LeBron for passing at the end of the game versus Det. I defended him--and I picked the Cavs to make the Finals last year and the playoffs this year when most "experts" doubted them.

Are you honestly telling me that if Bryant had a 39 point, one assist game that no one would say that he played selfishly? In fact, looking at some of the beat writers' reports about the Cle-Chi game, there is some talk that LeBron played "streetball" in the second half. I don't agree with that, but if these guys are going to say that type of thing about Kobe on nights when none of his teammates can make shots then I guess that they should be consistent.

If someone would at this moment say that Kobe is playing selfishly then they would look pretty stupid, wouldn't they? Just go back to the start of the season and read what people said or wait until Kobe has one game with one assist and see what nonsense gets spewed.

 
At Saturday, March 08, 2008 12:43:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Ill respond to that later. Did you watch the HOF discussion that Kamla had with his list and had Monta Ellis and Josh Smith as projected future HOFs? Vecsey was just laughing.

Alright....obviously you didnt watch the game and I never said you didnt comment on Lebron. I just dont see how you didnt and if it was Bryant you know you would have. I dont need to you to tell me that you are doing the best at breaking down the game. Your blog should speak for itself. There is no way that you being such an avid basketball lover yourself should have missed that performance. I dont care whose better I just enjoy them both. You dont have to admit it but Im pretty sure you wouldnt have missed that game if it was Bryant for some Suns vs Nuggets game. When Bryant played in the Garden you definitely posted about that.

I dont see many people saying Bryant as being selfish this year. If you do then fine.

 
At Saturday, March 08, 2008 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I did not see the HoF discussion but I read your breakdown of it in your comment to my "Least Favorite Announcer" post. Like I said before, Kamla would be right there behind Aldridge. Kamla always sounds like a 12 year old fan instead of a professional announcer. It's fine to enjoy watching Ellis and Smith but they are not even close to being future HoFers.

I don't know what the deal is with NBA TV--and NBA.com's writing staff is not so great, either. I'm really hoping that when TNT takes over they clean shop in both places.

How many Knicks' recaps from this year do you see on the site?

I watched the Suns-Nuggets game because I wanted to analyze what is happening with those two teams as the playoffs approach. The Knicks aren't going anywhere, I write a lot about the Cavs and I'll be going to another Cavs game soon. Sure, if I had known that LeBron was going to have a game like that then I would have watched.

When Kobe had his 81 point game, I did not see it live. Go back and look and you will see that at the time I just wrote a four paragraph post that put the achievement in historical perspective but did not break the game down play by play.

NBA TV rebroadcast the entire game, so I did get to see it eventually. A week after Kobe scored 81, I did a post that detailed everything that Kobe accomplished in that month (January 2006) and included some analysis of what I saw in the 81 point game (that post is titled "Kobe's January Performance is One for the Ages" and it ran on February 1, 2006). So, you are mistaken in assuming that I would automatically write an in depth post about Kobe scoring a lot of points if I did not see the game.

I don't know if LeBron's 50-10 is going to be replayed. If I see the whole game, I'm sure that I will write something about it.

I do enjoy watching both Kobe and LeBron play because they are the two best players in the game right now. I don't "love" one and "hate" the other. I just happen to think that Kobe is still a little better, a little more complete, than LeBron.

 
At Monday, March 10, 2008 11:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

people dont like kobe as much as lebron why people would say he selfish and the fact he took 28 shots a game 2 years ago lebron 22 i dont think kobe selfish right now not at least as much as he was or not really at all.lebon is nowhere near selfish he has been the best player and probably mvp because he is 2 bords from a triple double every night basically and he is doing more with less than anybody but the 50 10 and 8 was the best game this year he got 38 37 50 and triple double last 4 games no one is playing better.

rich kamla a young cat i like kamla he knows his stats he probably didnt really think that he says stuff sometimes of the top no diffrent from bill walton or another announcer i think he does a good job for nba tv and monta ellis could be a hof famer not smith though.

 

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