Sunday, March 29

Cavs blitz Mavericks for 60th win

It's been a dream season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and this afternoon they cleared a major hurdle to seal a franchise record 60th victory. Things are going well when every win between now and the season finale can be labeled "franchise record."

The Cavs' winning streak now stands at 12 (again, a franchise record), and it's totally feasible that they could lock up the top seed in the East by the first week of April. The top spot in the conference is a forgone conclusion, and the Cavs' next task is to outlast the Lakers for the number one overall seed. With each successive win, the Cavs come closer to realizing that goal, and the Hawks are leading the Kobes as I'm writing this, meaning that the lead could grow to two by this evening.

Don't let the final score fool you -- this game wasn't 48 minutes of smooth sailing. On the contrary, the Mavericks came out of the gate with a flourish, shooting an uncharacteristically high percentage while the Cavaliers struggled to find the bottom of the net. Mo Williams struggled, in particular, as it took Mr. Momentum eight shots to hit his first field goal.

At the end of the first quarter, the Mavericks led 30-20 (it even took a Joe Smith 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to 10), and just minutes into the second quarter they increased that lead to 15 points. Mavericks hadn't experienced such success since Pete Mitchell flipped the bird. It was the largest deficit the Cavs had faced at home all season. The Mavs weren't missing anything, and the vaunted Cleveland defense was out of synch. Things didn't look promising for our heroes.

But midway through the second quarter the tide started to turn. The Mavs cooled off and the Cavaliers started to buckle down on defense. Then the Cavs' shots started to fall, the crowd got back into the game, and the swing in momentum was palpable. The rally was on, and by the end of the first half the Cavs were only down by a deuce. Clearly, the Mavericks had lost that lovin' feeling.

The second half can only be characterized as a landslide. As the Cavs continued to pour it on, the Mavericks continued to falter. Cleveland outscored Dallas 55-25 in the second half as the Mavericks' jump shots did their best Larry Hughes impressions. Although they once trailed by 15, the Cavs ended up winning by 28 in one of their biggest routs of the season. Once again, this club showed the kind of grit and intestinal fortitude that have been the hallmarks of this incredible year. The playoffs can't start soon enough.

It just rolls off the tongue: 60 wins. "It's time to buzz the tower."

Quick Hits

It's good to be the king. John Hollinger's PER stats are going to place LeBron James' season among the greatest in NBA history. Is it the best season in history? No, but there are only a handful in front of it. The MVP trophy already has LeBron's name etched into it, and this afternoon's game was more evidence of why that's the case. Twenty-four points, 12 assists, 6 boards, 2 blocks and a steal, all against no turnovers. Pinch yourself, Cleveland fans, because we haven't seen a player this dominant since Jim Brown was pancaking defenders.

An interesting proposition. Zydrunas Ilgauskas will probably retire next year, and we shouldn't rule out the prospect of Big Z calling it a career this season, especially if the Cavs win a title. Whenever it occurs, Z's absence will leave a huge hole in the middle. It will be very interesting to see if the Cavs re-sign Anderson Varejao this summer, but even if they do, they'll still need another starter up front to pair with A/V.

With that in mind, I hope that Mike Brown and Danny Ferry are at least considering moving LeBron James to the power forward position. James in the post would be a nightmare for defenders, and he could also draw the attention of the opposing four on the wing, where 90-percent of NBA power forwards wouldn't stand a chance of stopping him. LeBron's size would allow him to defend in the post, and his speed and quickness would cause serious problems for just about anyone he would be guarding. That would allow the Cavs to add another quality wing player to the starting five, which could make this team downright scary.

The bottom line is that LeBron's versatility gives the Cavs a ton of flexibility to tinker with, and ultimately improve the starting five, and it will be interesting to see what they settle on. This is also predicated on two things; one, LeBron staying in Cleveland, and two, the development of JJ Hickson.

Joe-mentum. You have to love the options that Joe Smith gives Mike Brown. Smith can give the Cavs 10 minutes or 30, but regardless, you know that you're going to get some solid shooting, rebounding, and cagey veteran play. Smith's line vs. the Mavs: 27 minutes, 12 points, 13 boards. It's great to have a scoring big man on the second line. Also: obscure democratic primary Joe Lieberman reference? Check.

The road to recovery. Wally Szczerbiak was back in the lineup after missing four games with a sprained left MCL, which will replenish the Cavs' backcourt depth. Keep your fingers crossed, but it looks like the Cavs are getting healthy right in time for the playoffs. There's still no finite timetable on Ben Wallace's rehab, but no setbacks have been disclosed, either. Szczerbiak's return to the lineup, combined with Sasha Pavlovic's improved play this season, also means that (hopefully) we won't see Daniel Gibson on the floor unless he miraculously rights the ship or the Cavs are putting their best free throw shooters on the court at the end of a game.

Give Kinsey a shot! Tarence Kinsey won't see the floor in the playoffs unless it's garbage time, which is why the Cavs should try to give him some minutes in the last few games so they can try to better evaluate him. Kinsey usually looks solid when he's given playing time, and it's tough to figure out why he hasn't been able to find any kind of a spot in Mike Brown's rotation. Tarence only played for 2:36 today, which is only a hair longer than one of the most awkward/random scenes in film history. (Be sure to check out the :38 mark. What was that about?)

Wally Szczerbiak's gone after this season, Sasha Pavlovic is only signed through 2009-2010 and is very inconsistent, and although it'd be great, we can't simply assume that Daniel Gibson can return to last season's form. With that in mind, Kinsey might be able to provide some in-house depth next season, but we won't know that unless he gets a little more playing time.

The Delonte West fro? Love it.

Up next: 3/31, Detroit Pistons, Quicken Loans Arena, 7:00
The Cavs will try to stretch their record winning streak to 13 against their most-hated Central Division rival, and if they can get the job done, they'll close out March 16-1. This is also a potential first round playoff preview, as the Pistons and Bulls are currently tied for the eighth spot in the East. The Pistons aren't what they once were, but Rasheed Wallace is still a jerk. Some things will never change.

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