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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cavs Set Individual and Team Records in 114-94 Win Over Toronto

Another NBA TV "Fan Night," another Cavaliers rout. Three weeks ago, the Cavs dismantled the Knicks in the game that fans most wanted to see that Tuesday and yesterday the Cavs wiped out Toronto 114-94. The L.A. Lakers have had their share of blowout wins this year but even in some of those games they needed to bring Kobe Bryant off of the bench in the fourth quarter to stabilize matters. That is not the case with LeBron James and the Cavaliers; the Cavs have a league-best 13.6 ppg point differential and have been taking care of teams so easily that James has not played a single minute in six of their past eight games.

The Cavs have won nine games in a row and just moved past the Lakers for the second best record in the league. With all due respect to the defending champion Boston Celtics, I think that the Cavs are the best team in the NBA right now.

For more details about the Toronto game and the incredible season that the Cavs are having, check out this article at CavsNews (6/17/15 edit: the link to CavsNews.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

The wins and records just keep piling up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who improved to 18-3 with a 114-94 victory over the Toronto Raptors. LeBron James had 31 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals, surpassing Mark Price’s franchise record for career steals (734) with a swipe that led to a fast break dunk shortly after the game began. Three other Cavs scored in double figures: Wally Szczerbiak (16 points), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13 points, six rebounds) and Mo Williams (13 points, nine assists, one turnover). Ilgauskas broke Brad Daugherty’s franchise career rebounding record (5227) shortly before halftime. James and Ilgauskas each received standing ovations during the first stoppage of play after they reached their milestone achievements.

Those individual marks are impressive, a tribute to James’ quickness and defensive improvement and Ilgauskas’ longevity, perseverance and tenacity respectively but the Cavs set an NBA record that is astounding: they have now won nine straight games by at least 12 points each, breaking a tie for the NBA record that they had shared with Portland (1990-91), Chicago (1996-97), Detroit (2003-04) and Houston (2007-08); Chicago and Detroit won championships in those seasons, Portland made it to the Western Conference Finals after having the best record in the NBA and the injury-depleted Rockets put together the second longest regular season winning streak in NBA history. The Cavs have triumphed by an average of 21.5 ppg during their nine game winning streak and James has not played a minute in the fourth quarter in six of Cleveland’s last eight games.

The Cavs’ success this year is based on the three pronged formula that has served them so well in recent seasons: defense, rebounding and LeBron James’ brilliance, plus a fourth prong added to the mix this summer: point guard Mo Williams, who has been better than advertised defensively and whose ability to create shots for himself and others (he ranks second on the team in scoring and assists) has helped to keep James fresh while involving the whole team in the offensive flow. The Cavs rank fourth in the NBA in scoring and second in the NBA in field goal percentage after ranking 24th and 27th respectively in those categories in 2007-08. Of course, being a high scoring team is hardly a guarantee of playoff success in the NBA, so the foundation of Cleveland’s game plan under Coach Mike Brown has always been defense and rebounding and the good news for Cavs’fans is that the team’s offensive improvements have not come at the expense of productivity in those areas: the Cavs lead the league in fewest points allowed and defensive field goal percentage after ranking ninth and 11th respectively in those departments in 2007-08. The Cavs led the NBA in rebounding differential last season and this season they are again leading but by an even wider margin.

Only one Raptors starter scored in double figures, point guard Jose Calderon (14 points); Joey Graham led Toronto with 17 points off of the bench. Chris Bosh is one of the NBA’s top scorers this year but Ben Wallace and company almost completely shut him down (nine points, 11 rebounds, 4-11 field goal shooting); offseason acquisition Jermaine O’Neal was also a nonfactor (eight points, four rebounds, four assists, 2-6 field goal shooting). The Raptors have some talented players but they do not mesh well on offense and do not seem to have much interest in defense, though part of Toronto’s defensive problems in this game were caused by committing live ball turnovers that resulted in fast break dunks; dead ball turnovers like a traveling violation, a three seconds call or a charge result in losing possession of the ball but at least you can set up your half court defense after those kinds of miscues, but when your players throw the ball to an opponent or get ripped while dribbling the ball then the other team almost always has a numbers advantage in a fast break situation. That is exactly what happened on the first two plays of the game, both of which resulted in soaring dunks by James, who had seven dunks overall. If the NBA allowed James to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest by submitting videos of his in-game dunks he probably would win hands down; against Toronto he took off from a variety of angles and distances and during his third quarter slam that gave Cleveland a 67-53 lead he put his left hand behind his head and buggy whipped a right handed dunk a la Karl Malone in the Mailman’s prime.

Although the Cavs opened the game with a 16-5 run and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, some sloppy second quarter play by Cleveland enabled Toronto to creep back to within five points before James hit a long three pointer just prior to the halftime buzzer. However, the Cavs took over the game with a 23-4 run at the start of the third quarter; James had seven points and one assist during that burst. He then scored Cleveland’s last four points of the quarter to put the Cavs up 90-67, earning a well deserved fourth quarter rest.

Thanks to the L.A. Lakers’ loss at Sacramento, the Cavs now own the second best record in the NBA, just one and a half games behind the defending champion Boston Celtics. Cleveland has the best point differential by far this season (13.6 ppg), easily surpassing the Lakers (11.0 ppg) and Celtics (9.2 ppg). Considering that point differential is a good predictor of team success, if the Cavs stay healthy it is not unreasonable to expect them to win 65 games and possibly even become just the second team to win 70 games. The Cavs lost at Boston on opening night and have yet to play the Lakers but, having seen all three teams not only on TV but also in person, I think that the Cavs are the best team in the NBA right now based not just on numbers but also on their mindset, their discipline and the lack of any obvious weaknesses at either end of the court.

Ilgauskas offered a great summary of his team’s championship level mindset: “We treat everybody the same. We respect everybody, but we fear nobody.”

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:04 AM


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At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12:08:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

the only thing worth watching was Ahmad, GP and CWebb.

At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 4:13:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

I know you're a big Kobe Bryant fan, but consider this: Without LBJ, how would a team of Mo Williams/Delonte West/Ilgauskas/Ben Wallace/Wally fare? They would struggle to hit .500 and make the playoffs in the East. How about a Kobe-less team of Fisher, Vujacic, Bynum, Gasol, Radmanovic, with Farmar/Odom/Ariza off the bench? They'd probably be about where Phoenix and Dallas are right now.

At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 5:15:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...

I did criticise LeBron's free-throw shooting earlier this season, but he's now at 79.4% for the season so far. Let's see if he can keep it up for the next 6-7 months and also develop enough confidence in his stroke to knock down the crucial ones late in close games.

At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 5:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

I'm not writing as a fan; I'm writing as an analyst. Last season, I rated Kobe as the best player in the game, with LeBron right behind him. This may be the year that LeBron surpasses Kobe. LeBron has improved his free throw shooting and his defense has continued to get better as well. Kobe is playing at his usual level--some of his stats are down because his minutes are down but that does not reflect a skill set reduction--although his three point shooting has been off target.

The Cavs look like a 60+ win team right now. MVP level players like Kobe and LeBron are worth about 15-20 wins over the course of a season, so I suspect that this Cleveland team would win 45 games or so without LeBron. I think that the Lakers would be a little worse off than that without Kobe.

Here are the reasons that I think that the Lakers would miss Kobe more than the Cavs would miss LeBron:

1) The Cavs have a team-wide defensive mindset that the Lakers do not have; even without LeBron, that defensive mindset would enable them to keep games close.

2) During the Cavs' winning streak, LeBron is hardly playing in the fourth quarter and the Cavs are winning comfortably. The Lakers have a similar record to the Cavs but they have needed Kobe to bail them out in the fourth quarter several times.

3) The Cavs are a better rebounding team than the Lakers.

Obviously, neither of these teams would be a championship contender without their MVP level player but I would still say that Kobe is more valuable to his team than LeBron is to the Cavs.

Another way to look at his question is to remember that for two years in a row Kobe led the Lakers to the Western Conference playoffs with Kwame Brown as his starting center, Smush Parker as his starting point guard and Luke Walton as his starting small forward. Smush is not even in the league now, Walton is glued to the bench and Kwame has "helped" Detroit get off to a slow start that is being blamed on Allen Iverson.

At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 5:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


LeBron does seem to have fixed his ft problems. If that holds true throughout the season and he maintains his normal productivity in other areas then I would have to say that he and Kobe are pretty much in a dead heat for the MVP. Kobe's three point shooting is off so far this season, LeBron's defense has improved and their teams have about the same record, so most of Kobe's advantages over LeBron have shrunk or disappeared. All that is left now is that Kobe is a better midrange jump shooter and that could still have an impact on how the elite teams defend each player during the playoffs.

At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 7:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David - Here is a tiny URL with the stats for Howard, Paul, Lebron, and Kobe.


To me, it's absolutely amazing that you think the Lakers would miss Kobe more than the Cavs would miss Lebron. They couldn't win a game without him last year as I remember.

Again, Kobe, not the best player in the league. Not close. And I would love to see a skill set analysis of why Kobe is better than a healthy Dwyane Wade. Wade's lack of three point range no doubt....



At Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:39:00 PM, Blogger Joel said...


With the level LeBron is playing at right now I would vote him as my MVP if you asked me today. I don't think Kobe is playing at his absolute best level right now but that could change as the season wears on.

At Thursday, December 11, 2008 2:56:00 AM, Anonymous tp said...

Health and durability should count when evaluating a player. Wade must erase his poor health record before it can be assumed that his occasional stellar play is his "default level", so to speak.

At Thursday, December 11, 2008 6:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are aware that Cleveland's current roster is almost completely different from their roster at the start of last season, right? Cleveland's record without LeBron last season has nothing to do with how they would fare without him this season--but since you brought it up, let's look at the seven games that LeBron missed last season.

First, this is a small sample size but I have noticed that "stats gurus" are fond of using examples that consist of small sample sizes when those examples support what they believe but they dismiss such examples when the examples don't portray the "higher truths" that they hold dear. Berri did a real "nice" job with this when he talked about Bynum's value last year and the Lakers' record, disregarding the strength of opposition and home/road balance of the Lakers' games; my article about the Lakers' "three seasons" is a much more complete, unbiased and accurate portrayal of how the Lakers actually performed.

Anyway, the first thing that must be noted about those seven games without LeBron is that five of them were road games.

Two of the games were back to backs and a third game was the second game of a back to back that concluded a stretch of three road games in five days on the West Coast. One of the road losses was at Boston, the eventual NBA champions who went 35-6 at home. The final of the seven losses was the last game of the year, when the Cavs were locked into their playoff spot and rested several key players in a game versus Detroit.

In the first five losses, Anderson Varejao did not play and Sasha Pavlovic--who had started for the Cavs during their run to the Finals the previous year--had just come back from his holdout and was rusty.

If you look at the Cavs last year, they were a .500 team when Varejao did not play--and that covered 34 games, not the small sample of seven games you chose. The Cavs were 28-20 when Varejao played--including a loss in the throwaway final game versus Detroit--and 17-17 when he sat out.

Considering Varejao's obvious impact on their w-l record due to his defense and rebounding, it is reasonable to assume that the Cavs could have won some of those games without LeBron had Varejao played.

The only Cavs players who are on the roster now who were on the roster when they lost most of those seven games are LeBron, Z, Varejao, Pavlovic and Gibson. Literally more than half of the roster has been overturned. The Cavs now have a legit pg in Mo Williams, they have a sg who can play some pg in Delonte West, they have Ben Wallace playing d/grabbing rebounds, they have Wally hitting jumpers and they have some young guys who show potential (Hickson, Jackson).

As I have said here and elsewhere, an MVP level player is worth about 15-20 wins. Obviously, the Cavs would be worse without LeBron than they are with him--but they would still have a good rotation of bigs, a solid guard rotation and shooters who can spread the floor. Their commitment to defense would enable them to keep most games close.

This year, the Lakers have not shown that they can beat anybody without Kobe having a significant impact on the game. Even in games where his boxscore numbers are so-so by his standards, he has had an impact. On Wednesday he hardly played great but in the fourth quarter he scored seven points and had two assists in the fourth quarter--and one of those assists is exactly the kind of play that I have been telling you about over and over: even with Kobe shooting poorly, the defense still felt compelled to trap him and he lobbed a perfect pass in to Bynum for a dunk/three point play opportunity (Bynum missed the free throw). Bynum does not get that shot opportunity without Kobe's presence drawing the defense. Neither Bryant nor most of the Lakers (other than Gasol) looked sharp versus the Suns but without Bryant's fourth quarter input they would have lost. That's been the story this year for the Lakers, while LeBron has been sitting out in most of the fourth quarters as his bench maintains or expands the lead.

I don't know what's wrong with Kobe's three point shot this year or why he's had a couple bad shooting games overall in their last two outings, but he is still having a major impact--a vital impact as far as the Lakers are concerned.

I don't have a problem with saying that LeBron has been the best player in the NBA for the first 20 games or so of this season; he's playing wonderfully well. But Kobe's impact on the Lakers has been just as important, if not more so.

Before I say anything about Wade, I'd like to know where you stand on the issue of how many wins a team has to have for its best player to be considered an MVP candidate. Kobe put up better numbers than Wade in a tougher conference in '06 and '07, carrying Smush and Kwame to the playoffs, but a lot of people said that the MVP has to come from a 50 win team. Do you believe that? Unless you had Kobe as the MVP in '06 and '07, don't even bring up Wade now with the seasons that the Lakers and Cavs are having.

As for Paul, he is the best pg in the league but he is not a better player or tougher matchup than Kobe or LeBron. Elite teams can guard him by staying at home on shooters, keeping Chandler out of the paint and forcing Paul to be a scorer. When the Spurs figured that out, they handled Paul and the Hornets. With the regular season Western Conference crown on the line, Kobe and the Lakers handled Paul and the Hornets last year in a game that some people considered to be a referendum on Kobe vs. Paul for MVP (funny how after the "wrong" guy won all of Paul's supporters seemed to forget about the importance of that showdown).

Howard is a different matter. He is the most dominant rebounding and defensive center in the league. I don't judge such players based on skill set; their skill set is narrow in terms of shooting, ballhandling and passing but they have a huge impact in the paint. That is why I thought Shaq should have won the 2005 and 2001 MVPs over Nash and Iverson respectively. However, to this point Howard is not as dominant as Shaq was and neither he nor the Magic are as hard to match up with as Kobe and the Lakers or LeBron and the Cavs are.

At Thursday, December 11, 2008 6:43:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I have no problem with saying that LeBron is Player of the Month or the early MVP leader. He has improved one skill set weakness (free throw shooting) and he is also playing the best defense he has ever played. His three point shot is not great but Kobe has not been shooting the three that well either.

That said, Kobe is still a better midrange shooter and we have seen in the playoffs the past two years that when elite defensive teams play LeBron or play Kobe they don't allow them to just stroll to the hoop for dunks; the seven dunks that LeBron had against Toronto might be a series' worth of dunks versus Boston. The ability to hit the midrange jumper will be critical in such situations. I still say that Kobe is the better all around player but even last year I did not think that the difference between the two was great, because LeBron's edge in size/youth/physicality mitigates some of his disadvantages.

At Thursday, December 11, 2008 6:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is an excellent point, because Wade has missed 31 games each of the past two seasons. In general, I would not vote for someone for MVP if that player missed more than 12-15 games; I thought that Kobe was the Player of the Month or early MVP in 2004-05 (the first season without Shaq) but he missed 16 games that season and that is too many games for a player to miss and still be considered for MVP.


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