Victory! Shifting the pressure

Written May 29th, 2009 by Jeff

The Cleveland Cavaliers finally figured out how to beat Orlando last night.

A swarming perimeter defense and keeping Dwight Howard off the glass were both key elements early and late as the Cavaliers won by double-digits 112-102 Thursday night.

Oh, and getting a triple-double from a guy named LeBron.  That was big too.  James had 37 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists and played like an unstoppable force in the 4th quarter.  Also, LeBron had a statistic worthy of the Hall of Fame on this night….he had a hand in the Cavaliers final 32 points of the game, either by scoring or assisting on every basket down the stretch.

But the key stat of the night has gone unnoticed by the major media outlets this morning….the Cavaliers started off strong and they finished strong.

  • Over the first 6 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers shot 10-of-11 from the field (91 percent), outscoring Orlando 26-8.
  • Over the final 6 minutes of the game, they shot 7-of-10 from the field (70 percent), outscoring Orlando 23-12.

Put those 6-minute spans together and you have a quarter of basketball that Cleveland won by a score of 49-20, while shooting 81 percent from the floor.  They also shot 11-of-12 free throws in that same span.  Now THAT’S what I call starting strong and finishing strong.

Equally as impressive was how the Cavaliers showed no signs of pressure in their first elimination game.  They looked cool and relaxed all night long, even when the Magic were making their runs.  The only slight image of folding was a few bad turnovers in the second quarter, but they quickly shut that down and played strong down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Orlando cracked under the pressure several times, especially Stan Van Gundy.  His frequent outbursts cost him another technical foul, and it seemed to leak over into the Magic players, who began freaking out over every call against them.

With the loss, the pressure falls fully on the shoulders of the Orlando Magic.  They return home for Game 6 of the series, and while they are not facing elimination yet, this is absolutely a “must-win” game for them.  It’s their final home game of the Eastern Conference Finals, and if they do not succeed here, they have to go back to Cleveland for Game 7……and no team wants that.

Game 6 tips off at 830 Saturday night.  Folks, we’ve got ourselves a series again.

It’s Orlando. Bring it.

Written May 17th, 2009 by Jeff

There are two teams in the NBA that have a winning record against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season. Both of them are still alive. I’m fine with that, I want to take them both apart during this drive for the trophy.

Tonight, the Orlando Magic earned their shot to be humiliated on National TV. They buried the Boston Celtics in the 4th quarter of Game 7 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals starting Wednesday night in Cleveland. A 5-point game was blown wide open as the Magic won 101-82, and it truly was a beautiful sight watching an empty Boston Garden* as the clock wound down.

I’d been harping on it for about a week, and it finally bit Boston in the ass….they were tired. Paul Pierce looked like he did two years ago, helpless to do anything in a losing cause. Ray Allen dragged his feet late in the game, after being worn out all night by JJ Redick. Incidentally, that’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever written about a Boston player.

The Magic have made a lifelong career of underachieving in the postseason, but they won in a place that very few people believed they could win a Game 7. Frankly, there’s a place that Orlando hardly EVER wins a Game 7…it’s called the NBA. But tonight, they stood tall against a Boston team that looked like they had no reason to win. They didn’t want it. When you have Brian Scalabrine shooting 22-footers and Stephon Marbury handling the ball at the point, you’ve run out of ideas.

So here comes Orlando. They won 2 of 3 games against Cleveland this season, and both games in Florida were BIG Magic wins. That will be the rallying cry for all Magic fans. What they did in the regular season in those two games mean everything. The other 80 games mean nothing.

They’ll have two days rest before they have to come knocking at Quicken Loans Arena, and Game 1 will be a BIG test for Orlando. If they have a shot at knocking off the Cavs, it’s after a 9-day layover for Cleveland. If the Cavs get off with a big Game 1, it’s going to tell a lot for the rest of the series.

Here’s the biggest keys to the series for the Cavaliers to beat Orlando.

1) Dwight Howard is going to clean up the boards. But when he gets the ball in rotation, force him to stay 6 feet outside of the rim. He’s awful when he has to take 8-footers and will miss 2/3rds of them. Use Z to body him out and Varejao to drive him crazy.

2) Despite having a huge inside presence, Orlando can only beat us with three-pointers. Don’t let Turkoglu and Lewis bury us with wide-open 24-footers.

3) Orlando is not capable of stopping LeBron James. James averaged 30 points per game, and nearly had triple-doubles in all three regular-season contests. Obviously, everything runs through him.

4) Pressure, pressure, pressure. If you force this team to make multiple mistakes in a row, Stan Van Gundy will panic and make unnecessary changes. The higher his voice gets, the funnier it will be for Cavs fans. Also, his state of panic tends to piss off his players. They’ll fold right along with him.

And here’s the best news Cavs fans could have….Charles Barkley just said “I think the Orlando Magic will beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.” Kenny Smith is now mocking him, saying “in basketball?” Nobody’s dared to ask him if he’s drunk yet. Chris Webber just said that “if both teams had the same NBA I.Q., I’d go with the Magic. But both teams do not have the same NBA I.Q.”

When Chris Webber picks an Ohio team to win, you know there’s a good reason for him to do it.

* – or whatever the hell they call that decrepit basketball shithole these days.

Day off, but plenty to do still

Written May 10th, 2009 by Jeff

The front page of your local sports page probably has a nice picture of LeBron James today, doing something that you’ll never do ever.  It probably has a headline about a blowout win and most of the story is about LBJ and how he took over another game and it was unbelieveable.

Yeah, The BBC did it last night too.  So did every other onlite site that I frequent.

On further review, the Cavaliers didn’t quite look so good last night.

Yes, it’s nice to know that LeBron can take over a game when he has to, but this is NOT the team of two years ago where LeBron needs to do that.  We’ve got five All-Stars on the team and, despite being very young, enough playoff experience to make James Worthy go “DAAAAAAAAMN”.  This is a team that should still extend leads with their star resting on the bench, but last night they couldn’t do much without him.

And that’s not good.

  • Ben Wallace was out of sync and never got his defense going.
  • Wally Szczerbiak missed four wide-open shots and gave the Hawks the ball under their own basket on a turnover
  • Mo Williams couldn’t find the net with any regularity (5-13 shooting, 1-6 from long range)
  • Daniel Gibson still can’t find his shot, and has put out an APB for it.  Police have been led to a secure location in the year 2007

Fortunately, this team is led by two factors….LeBron, and defense.  Both were outstanding as usual.  Holding the Hawks (who played their best game of the round) to 82 points is no small feat.  Their interior defense was unstoppable and they did exactly what they wanted to do, which was to force Josh Smith into shooting anything from more than 10 feet away from the rim.  When Smith begins to do that, he doesn’t know how to stop, short of several fans emerging from the stands to tackle him.

I don’t like to look for the bad in games like that…..I prefer to appreciate the winning while we have it, because any Cleveland fan can tell you about how it’ll end in a heartbeat.  But I think that it’s crucial to get better as the playoffs linger, because the opposition will most certainly get better as we advance.  While Atlanta is no pushover (ask Boston from their title season), winning by 15 should be thrilling….but it isn’t.

Call it Playstation Syndrome.  You play on rookie level for so long, and you get used to winning games by huge margins, then you get really upset with yourself when you “only” win by a mere double-digit margin.

The good news is that we played our worst game of the NBA Playoffs, and Atlanta played their best.  And we won by 15.  On the road.

Thanks to LeBron James.

Let’s look at this in the “big picture”…..having a guy that can and will do that when needed is not exactly a bad thing to have on your team.  There’s a reason that fans of the rest of the NBA troll our cavaliers, and it’s not because they DON’T want LeBron James on their team too.

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I actually didn’t see the end of the Dallas-Denver game until it was on Sportscenter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on it.

If you have a foul to give, don’t pat the guy on the butt just before he shoots it and hope for the call.  TELL the ref you’re going to do it, then WRAP the guy up until the whistle STOPS blowing.

Yes, the ref failed to make the call.  Yes, he admitted it through the NBA.  But Mark Cuban and Josh Howard running around throwing temper tantrums and crying midcourt isn’t the answer.  Playing the game like you’re supposed to IS the answer.    It’s Carmelo freaking Anthony.  He wilts at the first sign of physical defense.  HIT the guy and then you don’t HAVE to rely on a whistle.

If you need the refs to make a call, MAKE them make the call.  That way, no cameramen will get hurt by your owner on his way to a fine and a lawsuit.

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Some really crappy news out of Houston with Yao Ming’s broken foot.  I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like the guy and he was the Rockets’ last hope for beating the Lakers.  At least now Ron Artest can have something new to finish off his usual sentence of “we’d have won if not for (blank).”

I didn’t think the Rockets could knock off L.A. four times in a series, but now there’s no chance of it at all.

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Game 4 of the Magic-Celtics series is at 8pm tonight in Orlando.  The Magic could go up 3-1 if Boston plays like they have since early March.  The Celtics have no fire and no solid gameplan, and Doc Rivers is being exposed as a hack.  And when Stan Van Gundy is looking like the superior coach in a series, you’re got a REALLY shitty coach on the other team.

I’d like to see Boston win tonight and tie the series up at 2-2.  I’d also like to see Boston pull the whole thing out.  I want this for one reason – I want revenge on Boston for last season.

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