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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Improving Cavs Defeat Eastern Conference Champion Magic

Cleveland fans have a tendency to act like the sky is falling. The sky may actually be falling on the hapless Browns, but it is way too early for anyone to express serious concerns about a Cavaliers team that upgraded their roster after winning a league-best 66 games last season. The Cavs' Wednesday night victory in Orlando against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions provided a glimpse of just how potent the Cavs can be offensively and defensively.

In my newest CavsNews article, I analyze what we have seen so far from the Cavs in the first 10% (or so) of the 2009-10 season:

Cavs Defeat Eastern Conference Champion Magic

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:24 PM


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At Friday, November 13, 2009 8:37:00 AM, Anonymous Joel said...

Good writeup as always David, but I have to disagree a bit with this statement:

"Both teams will improve when West and Lewis return but the most important matchup factors are not likely to change... O’Neal can single cover Howard well enough that the other Cavs can stay at home on the three point shooters"

This should be the case when Howard goes one-on-one against O'Neal, but what about the high pick-and-roll? O'Neal has always been vulnerable here, and both Carter and Nelson are able to run it effectively.

Lewis and Ryan Anderson - both of whom are deadly outside shooters - will be playing most of the minutes at the 4 when Orlando is healthy. The floor will be more spread out than it was on Wednesday, so that pick-and-roll can still hurt Cleveland if O'Neal isn't able to contain Howard and/or prevent the ballhandler from getting a wide-open look.

I'm interested in seeing the Cavs' general approach to guarding Lewis (and Anderson) when the Magic are healthy; maybe LeBron at the 4 will do the trick.

On the other hand, I can't argue with this:

"if Mo Williams had simply played in the Eastern Conference Finals at the level that he did during the regular season then the Cavs would have won the series."

At Friday, November 13, 2009 2:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Virtually every NBA team struggles to defend the pick and roll to some extent; that is why most teams incorporate some version of it in their offensive sets.

One problem that the Cavs had in last year's ECF is that when they doubled Howard they were in full rotation defensively and gave up a ton of three point shots (as Assistant Coach Hank Egan mentioned in my interview with him prior to Cleveland's season opener). I thought that Cleveland should have single covered Howard, stayed at home on the three point shooters and fouled Howard whenever he got close enough to the hoop to dunk (I'd live with him shooting any shot outside of five feet); the Cavs had enough bigs that foul trouble would not have been an issue as long as their bigs used their fouls judiciously (no "touch" fouls, no fouls 40 feet from the hoop--only foul Howard when he was in dunking range). Anyway, that is irrelevant now because during the playoffs the Cavs can play Shaq for 30-35 minutes--maybe even 40 minutes once in a while in a key game--and have him single cover Howard.

The Lakers and Heat overcame Shaq's pick and roll defense liabilities well enough to win a total of four titles.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Williams shot better, Cleveland beat Orlando and the Cavs faced the Lakers in the Finals.

At Friday, November 13, 2009 8:07:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

The fact that the 37-year-old Shaq can single cover Howard, and the 23-year-old Howard will likely get into foul trouble trying to cover Shaq says a lot. Even though Howard is being praised as a dominant big man, I think he enjoys that status largely because traditional big men are virtually extinct. What do you think Howard's ceiling is, David? Also, people always talk about how young Howard is and how he can improve, but he's already been in the league five years. It is difficult to imagine a drastic improvement in his offensive skills.

Speaking of the Cavs, I'm sure by now you've heard of LeBron's comments about the number 23. I basically agree with Stan Van Gundy on this issue (you can read his take here: http://nba.fanhouse.com/2009/11/13/lebrons-desire-for-nba-to-retire-jordans-no-23-is-misplaced/ ).

If LeBron feels so strongly that no one should wear No. 23 out of respect for Jordan, why didn't he think of that when he chose to wear the same number at the start of his career? Ok, maybe he was young and has more perspective now. But it is very bizarre that LeBron argues on the one hand that No. 23 should be retired out of respect for MJ's contributions, and then says he'll wear No. 6 partly out of respect for another former great (Julius Erving). I wonder if he knows Bill Russell wore No. 6 as well (and that Dr. J chose No. 6 for that reason).

Whatever. I think he should have chosen a more "original" number to start with. I always thought wearing Jordan's number would make LeBron look like another Jordan copycat and prevent him from being recognized for his own unique talents. I wonder if LeBron now feels the same way to some degree.

At Saturday, November 14, 2009 1:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Even though Howard and Shaq are often compared, their games and physiques are different. Even young Shaq was bigger in the lower body than Howard. Shaq's game is based more on power than Howard's; Howard's game is based on quickness, jumping ability and upper body strength. Howard is a better rebounder and shotblocker than Shaq but is not as dominant offensively.

I don't think that Howard has necessarily peaked. Shaq did not peak until the early 2000s when Phil Jackson became his coach. Olajuwon continued to improve his offensive game past the age of 30 but he is an exceptional case. Howard does not need to add a midrange jump shot, contrary to what some people say; what Howard needs is to develop a legit low post move and a legit counter for when a defender stops that move. Right now, all Howard can do in the post is either dunk or (after facing up) drive past some defenders to shoot a short, running hook. Howard does not have an up and under, a drop step, etc. Shaq's low post game, even at his advanced age, is more refined than Howard's and Shaq is a better passer. All Shaq lacks now is the explosiveness that he once had.

I think that the Magic should single cover Shaq with Bass or someone else and do a "rope a dope"--let the Cavs keep feeding Shaq early with the idea that he will wear down over the course of the game, plus other Cavs (including LeBron) will not be involved if Shaq is facing single coverage. Phil Jackson used to do this when he coached the Bulls--Shaq would go off in the first half but in the second half he would wear down and/or the Bulls would start trapping with Pip or MJ and Shaq's teammates were not in rhythm. Howard is more valuable defensively as a weakside shotblocker/rebounder anyway. A guy like Bass who has a strong base might be able to keep Shaq out of the paint.

I agree with SVG that it is not clear that MJ is definitely the best player of all-time and that MJ is not a Jackie Robinson-type figure. LeBron is free to choose whatever number he wants for whatever reason but I disagree that the NBA should retire 23.

LeBron did mention both Erving and Russell regarding number six. LeBron seems to have a genuine interest in NBA history and a respectful attitude toward the greats who preceded him. Until now, I did not know that Dr. J was his second favorite player of all-time behind Jordan and that this is why LeBron chose six as his Olympic number.

At Saturday, November 14, 2009 3:04:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

i dont understand where jackie enters the equation. no one is a jackie robinson figure. for anyone to even try to imply that is ignorant and needs to rethink what is going on. i keep hearing bill russells name. its not a social issue.

but its ok for gretzkys number to be retired throughout the nhl? jordan is highly regarded as the best ever like wayne is.

At Saturday, November 14, 2009 10:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Jackie Robinson's name is brought up because MLB permanently retired his number.

I think that it is clearer that Gretzky is the greatest hockey player ever than it is that MJ is the greatest basketball player ever; Gretzky set records of Ruthian proportions--the basketball equivalent of Gretzky is not MJ but rather Wilt Chamberlain, though Gretzky's teams won more championships than Wilt's did.

At Monday, November 16, 2009 12:45:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I think you are right that Howard can peak later on (like Shaq and Hakeem, as you pointed out). But so far, I really can't imagine him making a leap to a pantheon-level. Even though Shaq and Hakeem peaked in their late 20s/early 30s, they were much more difficult for defenses to contain at 23-24 than Howard is.

Howard might be slightly better than Shaq was at rebounding, but the difference is rather small, IMO. So far, Howard hasn't been a better shot-blocker than a young Shaq.

Howard's RPG from ages 21-23: 12.3, 14.2, 13.8

Shaq's RPG from ages 21-23: 13.9, 13.2, 11.4

Howard's BPG from ages 21-23: 1.9, 2.2, 2.9

Shaq's BPG from ages 21-23: 3.5, 2.8, 2.4

Did Phil Jackson actually say that was his strategy to deal with Shaq? I find it curious that Jackson wanted Shaq taking a lot of shots early in the game to put his teammates out of rhythm. Why? Because Jackson coached a guy who took more shots during an average than Shaq would during a very busy game.

Also, Shaq has never been a go-to guy late in games (largely due to his poor free throw shooting). I wonder how much of the Bulls' success was actually due to Jackson's strategy as opposed to Shaq disappearing from the late-game offense as usual.

Anyway, even if the "rope a dope" has been effective against Shaq in the past, would it even be employable now? What I mean by that is: would a 37-year old Shaq (who is much less a focal point of his team's offense than he was in his prime) take such an overwhelming number of shots against single coverage that the rest of his team is thrown off?

At Monday, November 16, 2009 9:44:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

david....i know robinsons number is retired. come on david im not vince coleman. i shouldnt be commenting on your blog if i dont know about jackie robinson. that was a social thing amongst other things. that was my point. i hear jordan is the greatest ever in the same relevance that i hear gretzky.

At Monday, November 16, 2009 11:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree with you that it does not seem likely that Howard will attain Pantheon-level status.

I don't have the exact quote handy, but I recall that some reporter asked Jackson if he was concerned about how many points Shaq had scored (versus the Bulls) in the first half and Jackson responded that he was OK with this as long as Shaq's teammates were not involved. There is also a Jackson quote (perhaps in one of his books) about Shaq scoring a lot early in games but not being able to sustain that activity level/production in the second half. When Jackson became the Lakers' coach, one of the first things that he did is insist that Shaq get in shape (other coaches had asked Shaq to do that but he did not respect them enough to follow through). Jackson wanted Shaq to have enough energy to play a full game at a high level at both ends of the court.

In recent games, the Cavs have gone to Shaq in the post extensively early in games and Shaq has played well. I think that there is some danger that his teammates could get out of rhythm but I suspect that Coach Mike Brown's plan is akin to what Jackson used to do with Bill Cartwright--establish him in the post early in games to give defenses something to worry about (and to see how the defense would react). The Bulls almost always went to Cartwright in the post in their first few half court possessions but of course MJ dominated the ball after that. I plan to explore the theme of "old" Shaq as Bill Cartwright in an article later this month.


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