Monday, February 25

New-Look Cavs Tame Grizzlies

Well, that was easy. The post-trade Cavaliers trounced the Memphis Grizzlies 109-89 to stay a perfect 2-0 in a game that wasn’t as close as the 20 point differential on the scoreboard. (I’m not a math major, so I always make sure to check “The Diff” on The Q’s Jumbotron to take care of that troublesome subtraction.) Quicken Loans Arena was jumpin’, the four new Cavaliers were mostly solid, Austin Carr’s laugh was heard early and often, and the Cavs kept pace with the Orlando Magic (they remain three games behind the Floridians) in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

First Quarter
This quarter essentially decided the game. Cleveland out-shot Memphis 50 percent to 28 percent on their way to opening a 19-point advantage, which for all intents and purposes provided the margin of victory for the game (20 points).

The energy the Cavaliers displayed was remarkable, and by contrast illustrates just how stagnant and in need of a shakeup the roster had become. Memphis came out with a full-court press that they would utilize for most of the game with varying results. The press wasn’t a bad idea; almost half of the Cleveland roster was composed of new additions, and the press did give the Cavs problems from time to time due to their lack of chemistry. But ultimately the Cavs were just too talented for a beleaguered Memphis club that is now 1-10 since their front office donated Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers, a transaction which should be considered tax deductible.

The first quarter included a 17-2 Cavs rally, a hot-handed Damon Jones (3-3, 8 points), and a magnificent fast break alley-oop from Delonte West to LeBron James that brought the crowd to a fever pitch. Cleveland’s ball movement was outstanding, and the most telling statistic was that the Cavaliers had nine assists in the quarter, a rarity for this season’s club.

Author’s note: Starting in quarter number two, this became less of a game, and more of a “Welcome New Cavaliers” party, so bear with me if I cut the quarterly analysis short, but go a little long on post-game thoughts.

Quick Hits

Hello, Ben Wallace: Big Ben was the headliner of Thursday’s blockbuster trade, and for at least one game he exceeded any realistic expectations. Wallace logged 33 minutes, banking 12 points (tying a season-high), 10 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Some of the complaints about Wallace in Chicago centered around his shot selection. No problem there; Wallace was a super-efficient 5-of-6 from the floor.

Wallace, who is quicker than most center/forwards, made a living on backdoor cuts to the hoop followed by emphatic dunks. With the attention LeBron James draws from opposing defenses, look for Wallace to get a lot of wide open cuts to the hoop, and look for James to find him more often than not. Big Ben appeared to be in his comfort zone, constantly cutting to the hoop, stonewalling Memphis defenders on picks, and rarely putting the ball on the floor. Apart from a couple of “whoops” turnovers, Wallace played within himself offensively, and that’s exactly what the Cavaliers need him to do.

But Wallace doesn’t make his money scoring the ball, and was most impressive on defense in his Cavaliers debut. On that side of the ball there is simply no comparison between Wallace and now ex-Cavalier Drew Gooden. Wallace cleaned up defensive rebounds all night long, disrupted shots, and gave opponents hell in the post. But Wallace’s defensive play of the game came late in the fourth quarter when he forced a five-second violation on a Memphis inbound pass by face guarding Memphis’ Kyle Lowry (a guard). That was the Ben Wallace of old, and hopefully he’s here to stay.

I’m far from sold, but here’s hoping that all Wallace needed was a change of scenery and a system that was a better fit for his skills.

Greetings, Wally Szczerbiak: Wally World was subbed into the game late in the first quarter along with Joe Smith, and he struggled to find a rhythm early on. Szczerbiak eventually recovered to salvage his evening, finishing 4-of-10 for 10 points including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.

Szczerbiak’s biggest struggles were on defense, which is his Achilles’ heel. Wally was torched by some of Memphis’ young, quick guards, as he just doesn’t move laterally very well. In the end, Szczerbiak’s weaknesses on defense will keep him out of Mike Brown’s starting lineup, but he will still see 20-plus minutes per night off of the bench as instant offense.

Szczerbiak had arguably the least impressive debut of the new Cavaliers, but given his track record and his skills as a shooter, there’s little doubt that he’ll mesh well with LeBron and friends.

Aloha, Mr. Hand, err, Delonte West: On paper, Delonte West didn’t have a great night. Although he dished out six assists, grabbed three steals, and swatted a block, all against two turnovers, he was 2-of-12 from the field (1-of-5 from deep). But the box score doesn’t tell the whole story with Delonte West.

West likely assuaged many of the doubts about how effectively he can run the point in the Cleveland offense. His impact was felt immediately, as he pushed the ball up the floor authoritatively in the first quarter, a stark contrast from how Larry Hughes used to shuffle across the timeline. On the Cavs’ first offensive possession, West executed a pick and fade with Zydrunas Ilgauskas to perfection.

West’s energy was a welcome addition to the offense, and he continued to play under control for the balance of the game. It was a pleasant surprise to see that West and LeBron James didn’t appear to have trouble sharing the point guard duties, as LeBron basically served as the point guard about half of the time even when West was in the game. Regardless of whom the Cavs install as their point guard, James is always going to control the ball regularly, and given his tremendous passing ability that’s not a bad thing.

While West did struggle shooting the basketball, it was only one game, and in a debut such shooting problems can be chalked up to nerves or any number of other things. It’s difficult to come away from the game unimpressed with West’s prowess at the point. Delonte might be that elusive point guard that the Cavs have spent several seasons searching for.

Howdy, Joe Smith: The former number one overall pick (1995) from Maryland was the most overlooked player in Thursday’s trade, but against the Grizzlies he showed that he’s far from a mere throw-in. Smith had a terrific debut, shooting 6-for-8 for 14 points and snagging 6 rebounds.

The Cavaliers are Joe Smith’s eighth unique team (he had two separate stints in Minnesota) and while he’s a 32-year old journeyman power forward, he may prove to be one of Mike Brown’s favorite bench options. Smith is remarkably quick and athletic for a player his size, and perhaps more importantly, his age. The first thing that stands out about Smith’s game is his marksmanship as a jump shooter, as he has the ability to stretch the floor much like Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Smith’s jumper has an uncharacteristically high arc for a big man, and he should help solidify what will be one of the deepest benches in the league once guys like Gibson, Pavlovic, and Varejao heal up.

Smith has the versatility to play any of the three frontcourt positions, although he’s best suited as a power forward. With Ilgauskas, James, Varejao, and now Smith and Wallace, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the Cavaliers may have the best, and certainly the deepest frontcourt in the league. Especially with the rebounding skills of Ilgauskas, James, Varejao and Wallace, the Cavaliers are going to give opponents nightmares on the glass.

Hakim the Dream? The play of third year forward Hakim Warrick was one of the few bright spots for the Grizzlies. Coming out of Syracuse, Warrick was an intriguing professional prospect; he was extremely athletic and capable of putting up huge numbers, but he was also wildly inconsistent. Memphis picked him 19th overall in 2005, and after a strong sophomore campaign during which he averaged more than 12 points and 5 rebounds per game, Warrick’s numbers have dipped this season due to reduced playing time.

But after the Lakers won a free Pau Gasol, Warrick has seen a bump in playing time, and hence an increase in production. Warrick has scored more than 20 points in five of the Grizzlies’ last six games, and he might be playing his way into starting in the Memphis frontcourt for years to come.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You: The Cavs’ last meeting with the Grizz resulted in a 132-124 thrilling overtime victory. Rudy Gay and Juan Carlos Navarro burned the Cavs for 30 and 26 points, respectively, the first time around. This time the Cavs did a better job containing Memphis’ young guns.

Navarro had only 14 points, while Gay had 19. Those are still solid numbers, but they weren’t nearly enough for the Mike Miller-less Grizzlies to make a game of things. Considering that Memphis was facing a large deficit almost all game long, it’s surprising that Navarro only took four three pointers (2-of-4), after he drained 6-of-10 the last time the two clubs met.

“Brownie, You’re Doin’ a Heck of a Job”: Big ups to Devin Brown, one of the Cavs’ few off-season additions, who has proven to be an excellent depth player. Brown started his second consecutive game and quietly posted six assists after dishing out seven assists on Friday night. A solid defender, Brown has been one of the few constants on Mike Brown’s roster this season, consistently providing quality minutes. Danny Ferry’s signing of Brown went largely unnoticed, but the addition of Brown, not unlike the Ron Flip Murray trade two seasons ago, is a move for which Ferry deserves some props.

LeBron’s Line: 25 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block, 6 turnovers. Except for the double-digit assists and the uncharacteristically high turnover numbers, it was a fairly ho-hum game for King James. The blowout did allow James some much earned rest, as he played under 40 minutes for the first time since the Cavs were stomped by the Nuggets back on February 10th. Generally, LeBron seemed in sync with his new teammates.

I’m going to criticize LeBron here, so skip this paragraph if you don’t like to speak ill of The Chosen One. The Cavs had outstanding ball movement throughout the first half, but they started to look sluggish in the third quarter. Why? Because LeBron started holding the ball and subsequently trying to take his man one on one. This is one of the few times I’ll ever criticize LeBron, but I think that he stalls the offense sometimes when he starts to hold the ball for five, six, seven seconds at a time. When LeBron gets into this frame of mind, the rest of the team falls victim to “LeBron watching,” and Mike Brown’s supposed “motion” offense grinds to a halt. Alright, LeBron-bashing complete. I half-expected to be hit by lightning for blasphemy while writing that.

Digiorno Pizza® Austin Carr Quote of the Game: [referring to the Cavs’ need for quality human beings, not just quality basketball players] “You need somebody that you can say, ‘you cover my back, I’ll cover your back, and we can cover this whole situation.’”

Good Luck Chuck
: Chuck Yarborough, have you ever heard of this guy? Apparently he’s a reporter for the Plain Dealer, although I don’t know him because he doesn’t write about sports. (I don’t subscribe to the PD, I freeload on Regardless, he was under one of the baskets filming for what Fred McLeod kept calling “Chuck Cam,” which is pretty much just a camera next to the hoop that has lousy resolution, and pretty much a total waste of our time. Not to mention that Yarborough looks like a grizzled old scallywag; you could toss him into a lineup of extras from Pirates of the Carribbean, and you wouldn’t be able to pick out the newspaper reporter, but I digress…

See You Later Alligator: The Bulls lost to the Rockets 110-97 on Sunday. Drew Gooden had 12 points, 8 boards, a block, and 3 turnovers. Larry Hughes had 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. Cedric Simmons scored two points. All three players came off of the bench.

After ‘While, Crocodile: The SuperSonics fell to the Lakers 111-91, and Ira Newble had two points and an assist coming off of the bench. Donyell Marshall did not play, and managed to keep his shirt on.

The Cleveland Cavaliers Will Return: Tuesday night at 8:00, when they take the short trip to Milwaukee, a city home to the Milwaukee Bucks and a city frequented by Alice Cooper (“WE ARE NOT WORTHY!”). The Cavs won their last meeting with the Bucks on December 17th, 104-99, when LeBron poured in 31 points. Four of the Cavaliers’ next five games come against the dregs of the league, and they need to mop up accordingly.

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