Tuesday, January 27

Returning from the roadie

The Cavs play their first home game in 11 days tonight, hosting the Sacramento Kings at the Q in a game that should easily run the CaVs' perfect home mark to 21-0 before they hop on another plane for their Thursday night showdown with Orlando. Before we move on however, I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the Caballeros' recently-concluded West Coast swing, during which they posted a 3-1 mark.

First off: I'm delighted with taking three of four on the road against such competition. The 2002-03 Cavaliers won three road games all year.

[It's true. If you have a sec, look at the Cavs' 2003 Schedule and Results. We've come a long way from the days of breaking 15-game losing streaks behind 29 points from Dajuan Wagner. Someday, when the Browns are 14-2, we'll look back laughingly on the 2008 Browns in a similar fashion.]

Anyway, this was a really strong trip for the Cavs. Yes, the Lakers stuck it to them pretty good in the opener, but to come out and take the last three shows the sort of resilliency that has thus far been a hallmark of the 2008-09 Cavs and should serve them well come postseason time. Cleveland still has not lost back-to-back contests this season, I believe making them the only team in the league that can claim as much.

Following the Laker debacle, the Cavs still had three tough games. Golden State isn't great, but I can always fall back on the old NBA crutch that every road game is tough. GS sports a 10-11 home mark anyway, and ended up giving the Cavs their toughest test. The other games were against high-quality opponents: Portland (27-17, 16-5 at home) and Utah (25-20, 17-5 at home), and the Cavs went right into their buildings and took them down.

Portland was a key game because the Cavs came in having lost 4 of 5 on the road and looked particularly inept against the Lakers two nights before. Perhaps sensing this, the team's two stars (especially with Z out) took command and spearheaded a 104-98 Cavalier win. LeBron went off for 34 points, 7 boards, and 14 assists, while Mo Williams came through with 33 big points. The two stars shot a combined 53.1% from the floor, leading a teamwide 52.6% effort. It's not a secret that the Cavs aren't quite as deep as they were a month ago, with two starters missing extended time, and occasionally a team like that needs to rely on its stars to get the job done, and the Cavs did just that.

Interestingly, only three Cavs ended up on the negative side of the +/- ledger; JJ Hickson (-14), Daniel Gibson (-9), and Darnell Jackson (-7). Take that stat for what you will, but it'd be interesting to track Hickson's development with respect to the Cavs' performance while he's on the floor, especially as long as he's getting extended minutes.

Golden State two nights later looked like the surer bet of the two remaining games on the trip, as the Cavs would face a Utah team the very next night that was both rested and, well, better than the Warriors. Doug recapped the thrilling finish of the 106-105 game in an article a couple of days ago, as LBJ buried a buzzer-beater dagger to secure a Cavalier victory. LeBron also led or tied for the team lead in scoring (32), +/- (12), rebounds (9), assists (8), steals (3), and blocks (2) on the night. I'm not making that up. This guy, lest we forget, is good.

The big shot turned out to be worth possibly more than we even imagined initially, as the following night the Cavs dispatched the Jazz in Salt Lake City, 102-97. I think a lot of people just expected the Cavs to bank a 2-2 road trip and get ready to head home, but the Cavs (and their leader) once again came out with fire and beat a quality team in their own building. I'm of the opinion that, if LeBron's buzzer-beater doesn't drop the night before, the Cavs don't come out like this and take this game. Perhaps emboldened by their triumph in Oakland, Cavs, and especially LBJ, overcame strong performances from the Jazz bench unit, Paul Milsap (Carlos who?), and a 17-point, 16-assist effort from Deron Williams to close out the trip in style. LeBron was superlative again, posting a 33/14/9 line. The Cavs also got 25 from sidekick extraordinare Mo Williams and a mind-boggling +22 rating from the suddenly-productive Sasha Pavlovic.

Looking to this week, obviously the showdown with Orlando is on everyone's mind. That game is sandwiched between two exceedingly winnable home games against SAC and the LA Clippers. The most immediate challenge to the Cavs' perfect home mark seems to be, yep, the LA Lakers, who come to visit for a Sunday afternoon ABC game on Feb. 8. I know, I know, I'm not taking it one game at a time, but I think rooting for a 34-8 team gives me some license to think ahead...like to June.

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