Mike Brown decided to sit LeBron James last night, and although Brown stated that it had nothing to do with the apparent ankle injury LeBron suffered in Friday night’s game against the Pistons, that was probably the main reason behind resting the superstar. Resting LeBron probably cost the Cavs the game, but even with the loss they remain 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers (the Cavs own the head to head tiebreaker), and 5.5 games ahead of the Magic. With 19 games left on the schedule, the Cavs have the luxury of giving LeBron a night or two off as a precaution.
The tough thing about sitting LeBron – besides the obvious problem caused by losing the game’s best player - is that the Cavs’ entire offense (and to some degree, their defense) is totally altered. LeBron is such a big part of what the Cavs do offensively that keeping him on the bench doesn’t just reduce the team’s total firepower, but it severely changes the way their plays flow and throws off everyone’s timing. The Cavs were essentially starting from square one last night, and frankly, it showed.
Hot Sauce in My Bag
It was nice to see Delonte West take advantage of an opportunity and fill the scoring void with LeBron and Shaq on the bench. West was really the only Cavalier who did any damage off the dribble, and he poured in 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting.
The Cavs obviously don’t need that kind of scoring from West every night, but he’s starting to become just as dependable as Anderson Varejao off the bench. That’s something that can’t be discounted as Mike Brown tries to sift through all of the talent Danny Ferry has assembled to come up with a consistent eight or nine man rotation. Right now if everyone’s healthy, you’d think that rotation would include the starting five, plus Varejao, West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas when he returns, and probably Jawad Williams.
Mike Brown is going to have to find a reliable rotation while still keeping key role players like Daniel Gibson and J.J. Hickson motivated, as an injury or just a particular matchup could press one of those guys into action.
Settling in Nicely
Remember when we were all grumbling about Antawn Jamison’s 0-for-12 shooting debut? Jamison is doing just fine now, and he’s become the automatic 15 to 20 points per game that we all thought he would. Last night in Milwaukee, Jamo was the high-scorer with 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting, just like Delonte West, with whom Jamison showed some nice pick-n-roll chemistry.
In fact, last night’s game was reminiscent of the first round of the 2007 playoffs, when Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas were injured and Antawn Jamison was the Wizards’ only scoring threat. The shoe was on the other foot last night.
One thing I never fully appreciated about Jamison was his veteran craftiness; he scores a few easy buckets every night with some finesse post moves. Jamison’s additional scoring firepower will come in really handy with Shaq sidelined until the playoffs.
No Supporting Cast
While Antawn Jamison and Delonte West combined to shoot 22-for-36 and score 57 points, the rest of the Cavaliers shot just 12-for-41, including an abysmal 3-for-17 night from Mo Williams. Williams actually apologized to fans after the game on Twitter.
Daniel Gibson could have been very useful to the depleted Cavaliers last night, but he missed his third straight game tending to his newborn son. Some guys just need to get their priorities straight, right?
The Cavs actually managed to stay in the game for over three quarters, but the lack of support for Delonte and Jamo finally caused the Cavs to atrophy in the fourth quarter. What was frustrating about this short-handed loss wasn’t the loss itself, it was the fact that the Cavs had a legitimate chance to win this game in the fourth quarter, but they simply didn’t capitalize on the opportunity. The Cavs are still in a great position to have the best record in the East and in the NBA overall, but they let one slip away last night.
Andrew the Aussie
You know that Cavs are thin up front when Darnell Jackson isn’t wearing a suit on the bench. Sans Shaq and Z, the Cavs have been playing the very undersized combination of J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao in the pivot, making them very vulnerable to prototypical centers. At 7 feet tall and 260 pounds, Andrew Bogut is one such center.
In spite of the huge size mismatch – especially with Hickson – Bogut attempted only nine shots. That’s just bad coaching. Scott Skiles could have made his job much easier if he would have just kept feeding his seven-footer.
And while we’re talking Bogut…
I’d be Remiss if I Didn’t Mention “Squad 6”
“Squad 6” is a group of 100 fans in the lower bowl at the Bradley Center who attend Bucks games on Andrew Bogut’s dime. These fans had to audition for the privilege and basically, the rowdier you were, the better chance you had of making the cut. Bogut estimates that he’ll spend $100,000 this year for all of the tickets.
This is incredibly cool. You can definitely hear the Squad 6 fans on television, and as someone who prefers the NBA game but loves the atmosphere in college arenas, anything you can do to ramp up fan excitement in the NBA is definitely a positive.
Anyone who’s been to an NBA game can probably attest to the fact that some of the fans definitely aren’t that into the experience – especially the fans closest to the floor. Just look around during a telecast; the closer fans are to the floor, the less likely they are to be sporting the home team’s gear or for that matter, paying attention. One of the tough truths about modern pro sports is that the hardcore fan has been priced out, by and large. This move by Bogut makes me wonder why more players don’t do things like that for the fans. It’s really not that expensive in the context of what these players make every season, they would truly be giving something back to their fans, and they would be canonized in the media. It’s a total win-win.
Climbing the Eastern Conference Ladder
Don’t look now, but the Bucks have won 15 of their last 19, ascended to 6th in the East, and look poised to pass Toronto for that 5th spot. I don’t think that the Bucks have enough weapons to beat out teams like the Celtics or the Hawks, but if they keep playing like this, they could be a very tough out in round one. One thing is for sure: with Bogut and Jennings, the Bucks have two solid young pieces to build around. Their next step is to find a physical wing scorer to complement Jennings.
Up next: 3/8, San Antonio Spurs, The Q, 7:00
Sunday, March 7