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Thursday, November 08, 2007

LeBron's Triple Double Not Enough, Jazz Nip Cavs on Deron Williams' Layup

LeBron James had 32 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists, three steals and two blocked shots but Deron Williams stole the show with a last second layup that lifted his Utah Jazz to a 103-101 home victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seconds earlier, James nailed a three pointer to tie the score at 101 but Williams received the inbounds pass, jetted upcourt past the entire Cavs' team and scored the winning basket with 1.3 seconds left. Paul Millsap scored a team-high 24 points, while Carlos Boozer had 23 points and 12 rebounds. Williams did not shoot well (4-12 from the field) and committed eight turnovers but he still managed to score 15 points and distribute 12 assists. Sasha Pavlovic had a season-high 17 points--all in the first half--most of which came as a result of great passes from James. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 18 points and 14 rebounds.

Utah led for most of the game but never by more than nine points. People who believe that Cleveland is going to miss the playoffs gravely underestimate this team. Playing without Larry Hughes and despite Pavlovic still getting rid of some rust after his holdout, Cleveland battled hard throughout the game in one of the toughest road environments in the NBA. The Cavaliers rely on James' brilliance plus collective efforts defensively and on the glass; that three pronged formula ensures that on most nights the Cavs will at least have a chance to win. Once Pavlovic rounds into form and Hughes gets healthy (which has admittedly been a dicey proposition in recent years) the Cavs will be fine; if they can work holdout Anderson Varejao into the mix soon enough then they could very well post a better record than they did last season but even if he does not come back this team will be better than most people seem to think.

James shot just 12-27 from the field and 7-15 from the free throw line but his floor game was impeccable as he posted his 11th career triple double, achieving the feat midway through the third quarter. As ESPN's Hubie Brown put it, "He and Kobe Bryant do not take possessions off. They are 48 minutes of horror show (for the other team)." ESPN ran a graphic that showed that James (27.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.0 apg) and Bryant (31.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg) were the only two players who averaged at least 27 ppg, 5 rpg and 5 apg last season.

In this game we saw plenty of the great James and also a little of the not so great James. He has a commanding, overpowering physical presence and yet he also plays with great finesse; James' court vision is remarkable and he delivers his passes on time and on target. James' two weaknesses are his defense and his outside shooting. It is evident that he is working hard to improve his defense; James is very active at that end of the court and is not out of position as often as he used to be. With his physical tools, James is certainly capable of becoming an All-Defensive Team player if he puts his mind to it the way that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did early in their careers.

The FIBA Americas tournament supposedly showed the results of the extra work that James has done on his outside shot but I suspect that his gaudy field goal percentage in that event had a lot to do with the shorter three point line and the fact that the players guarding him were completely overmatched. James' free throw shooting in this young NBA season is worse than ever and his jump shot is still very erratic. He seemingly has the ability to get to the hoop virtually at will, so his field goal percentage does not always reflect how badly he is shooting from outside of the paint; James can miss four jumpers in a row and then bull his way to the hoop for four layups or dunks. The problem is that those four jumpers were wasted possessions, particularly because he shoots too many off balance fadeaways early in the shot clock. James must either develop a more reliable jump shot or stop shooting so many low percentage jumpers early in the shot clock. Also, there is also no reason that a player with his talents should ever shoot less than .750 from the free throw line. Considering how many fouls he draws, he could easily add one or two ppg to his average just by improving in this area. The Cavs would not have been in the game without James' rebounding, passing and ability to score in the paint but they could possibly have won the game if James had made a couple more jumpers or a few more free throws. I don't have a problem per se with a great player shooting early in the shot clock; great players usually get double-teamed late in the clock, so sometimes the best shot they are going to get is the first one that becomes available. However, James does not have a reliable jumper like Bryant does. Bryant also generally does not fade away on his jumper and even when he does his body is more on balance; James shoots way too many off balance fadeaways and stepback jumpers from 20 feet and out. Those look great when they go in but a player with his size, speed and ballhandling ability should not settle for such a low percentage shot.

San Antonio showed in last year's Finals that a great team that is dedicated to executing a sound defensive game plan can force James into shooting a low percentage and committing a lot of turnovers. In order to become the best player in the game--a realistic goal for James--he must attack the weaknesses in his arsenal as relentlessly as Jordan and Bryant did early in their careers.

posted by David Friedman @ 7:08 AM



At Thursday, November 08, 2007 12:41:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James had a fantastic game. Per minute though, Ilgauskas was almost as good. 7 offensive boards in 31 minutes. 9-14. 4 blocks.

Without Varejao, the Cavs will suffer defensively and on the boards in a big way. There is only so much Lebron can do. They are also much more vulnerable to injury. I don't think its unreasonable to see them struggling to make the playoffs. On nights the Lebron doesn't play well, they are in trouble...

Millsap had an amazing game. Five steals in 27 minutes? He is good. I think it's easy to make the argument he should be getting a lot of Okur's minutes...

Good post btw...

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 9:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z is definitely carrying a heavy load with Varejao out and Z did play well at Utah.

I agree that the Cavs are more vulnerable to being impacted by frontcourt injuries as long as Varejao is not in the fold but I really don't see them struggling to make the playoffs unless they just have wholesale injuries (meaning Z and Gooden being out for extended periods or, obviously, LeBron getting hurt).

Okur does a good job of spacing the floor with his outside shooting, so he provides a nice complement to Boozer and Millsap.


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