Wednesday, April 30

Since I'm disappointed with the Cavs game

Let's pick on the Yankees!

I have an Indians GameCast window open as I type here (I'm out of town and without Tribe TV access) and there's been a big ad in the lower right-hand corner for single-game see the Yankees. WTF? Who the hell is going to have a GameCast up for Indians-Mariners and want to get them some New York Yankee tix? Out of curiosity, I clicked, thinking maybe it would take you to some centralized MLB ticket site, but nope, right to the Bombers' website (I closed it as quickly as possible). Weird.

King James wise beyond his years

Playoff fever has once again gripped C-Town, and the Cavaliers appear primed to oust the Washington Wizards from the NBA's second season for the third straight year. With all the blustering and boasting that's taken place both on and off the court (mostly off, in the Wizards' case), one can't help but feel a sense of pride for how the Cavaliers, and more specifically LeBron James, have handled themselves.

James' maturity obviously isn't limited to this series alone. Over the last five seasons, Cavs fans have enjoyed watching James grow up before their eyes. It's rare, but sometimes fans are given the privilege of watching a player (or group of players) who is such an exceptional talent that as a fan, one can't help but get a little spoiled. When considering contemporary Cleveland sports, the defensive exploits of Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar come to mind. Baseball may never see a better middle infield; Robbie and Omar made double plays into works of art, and made impossible plays look routine, but I digress.

With LeBron James, his excellence includes almost every facet of the game of basketball. Even James isn't perfect, mind you. I suppose his outside shooting could be more consistent, his free throw percentage certainly should be better, but complaining about those components of LeBron's game is like whining that Jennifer Aniston's arms are a little too hairy. (Are they? I have no idea.)

Ridiculous statistics, awards, playoff achievements; let's put all of that aside and briefly consider LeBron, himself. There's no doubt that James' skills granted him fame and fortune that only a handful of individuals ever achieve, and all at a very tender age.

Money, success, and being generally well-liked by the media are positive things, but they can be curses if not handled correctly. We've recently seen far too many examples of young athletes who were handed the world but for one reason or another, imploded. Pacman Jones has had multiple run-ins with the law and still awaits NFL reinstatement, a $130 million contract couldn't curb Michael Vick's appetite for dog fighting, Maurice Clarett's fall almost resembles a Shakespearean tragedy, and it seems like half of the Cincinnati Bengals' roster has been arrested over the last few seasons.

What's the worst someone can say about James -- that he got a 101 MPH speeding ticket? Are people still all that riled up about the Yankees cap fiasco? Perhaps some are irked by James having fathered two children out of wedlock, but he's been with the same girl since high school. Frankly, James probably just doesn't want to fret about ever losing half of what's his, and while that might not be too popular with traditionalist fans, it's certainly smart. While fans might not be thrilled by everything James does off the court, it's a free a free country. The fact remains that James has been by all accounts a law abiding and upstanding citizen. LeBron has realized that if he simply keeps himself out of trouble and plays basketball, he's got it made in the shade, and that's exactly what he's done during his five-year NBA career.

But returning to the playoffs and my original point, two years ago we saw James learn how to win in the playoffs, last year he carried a very mediocre roster to the brink (well, within four games, anyway) of an NBA title, and although these playoffs are still young, James is making strides once again. This time around, LeBron has been tested not just by a battle on the court, but by a war of words initiated by Washington's DeShawn Stevenson.

It all began after the Cavaliers' March 13th loss to the Wizards, when DeShawn Stevenson made his now infamous "overrated" comment about James. LeBron responded with the Jay-Z/Soulja Boy comparison, and the rest is history. Stevenson claims that James did something to prompt the "overrated" remark, but has never revealed that juicy nugget. Since Stevenson is by all accounts the NBA's version of Crazy Joe Davola, it's likely that LeBron sneezed too loud, or made an off-color remark about Stevenson's pet goldfish.

Gilbert Arenas, another eccentric (the Wizards seem to collect them), upped the ante when he stated on his blog, "We want Cleveland," prior to the start of the playoffs. Things have escalated even further with numerous Wizards players committing hard fouls on LeBron James, including a pair of flagrant fouls (Brendan Haywood in game two, DeShawn Stevenson in game four). The Wizards seem determined to break LeBron both mentally and physically, but there's been a wrench in the Wizards' plan: James has been undeterred.

While the Wizards have concentrated on false bravado and thuggery, James and his Cavaliers have been playing basketball, and James has managed to keep himself safely above the fray. Stevenson's clear swing at James' melon might provide the best example of James' superior focus. LeBron was clearly steamed by the foul, as he quickly walked in Stevenson's direction, but when faced with the possibility of a scrum James was very cognizant of the fact that his presence was much more important to the Cavaliers than Stevenson's was to the Wizards. Shortly after the incident LeBron gave a halftime interview, during which he didn't deride Stevenson for what was a blatant cheap shot, but simply acknowledged that hard fouls are part of life in the playoffs.

James has shown throughout the series that he's determined to keep the Wizards' shady tactics from getting into his head. After all, if LeBron projected the image of a player easily bothered by derogatory comments and cheap fouls, he would do nothing but make himself a marked man for future playoff series. LeBron's focus, as it has always been, is on basketball, and doing whatever it takes to help the Cavaliers win.

In a way, James' intense focus has caused the Wizards' own strategy to backfire. At certain junctures in the series, Washington, not Cleveland, has allowed their emotions to get the best of them, and it's caused mental lapses and silly fouls. The Wizards know that they haven't been able to get LeBron's goat, and it's frustrating the hell out of them. And that's not even mentioning that when the Wizards incite King James' wrath with a hard or cheap foul, he frequently responds by charging to the hoop with a renewed vigor.

An interesting subplot was added to the series' upcoming game five when Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon Journal suggested that if this game gets out of hand (i.e. blowout Cavs win), DeShawn Stevenson might be enough of a wacko to attempt to injure LeBron. If things broke down and a rumble commenced, you can bet I'm putting my money on James to clean Stevenson's clock 12 times out of 10, but once again, LeBron has more on his mind than mixing it up with some goofball.

Any suspension for LeBron James would cripple the Cavaliers' chances in the next round of the playoffs, and you can bet that James knows this as well as anybody. If such a conflict does occur, it may be James' biggest test of self-discipline on the court that we've ever seen. But given what we've learned about LeBron during his time in Cleveland and during this series in particular, you can probably expect number 23 to do what he's always done: rise above and play ball.

Monday, April 28

My concerns with the Indians

Before the season began I predicted on this blog the Tribe would win 99 games. At the time I didn’t have reason on my side, just a feeling that I went with. In subsequent posts on this blog I have taken a more optimistic view of my favorite baseball team and have shied away from the fear mongering that can set in so quickly with a Cleveland sports fan. Well I’ve been working this over in my mind and the following are a list of my concerns with the Tribe this season. Feel free to try to talk me out of them or add your own.

- 2006 Travis Hafner will never return. Long live our mediocre DH, hitting .226 after 93 AB. It isn’t the drop in power numbers that concerns me as the drop in BB and increase in K this season, currently at 12 and 24 (a team high) respectfully. At this moment Hafner sports career lows in OBP, SLG, and AVG even when taking into account the 62 AB he had for the Rangers in 2002. With numbers this low he can only go up, right?

- The Tribe had Cy-Young-type years from C.C. and Carmona last year and that is what it took to win 93 games. Sure, Lee is off to a great start and C.C. has turned the corner, but the injury to Westbrook removes him for a month. What does the Tribe need from this staff to make it to the playoffs again?

- Victor is without a HR in 71 AB. Thank god he is hitting .366 at this point.

- The Circle of Trust has shrunk to Perez, Betancourt, and Kobayashi. Jensen Lewis’s drop in velocity should be a concern at this point. Borowski and his 18.00 ERA can stay on the DL as long as he needs.

It isn’t all bad, though:

- The Tribe is only 2.5 games back of the White Sox.

- They’re 7-3 in their last 10.

- Did I mention Lee has a 0.28 ERA?

- Masa is pitching amazingly well. My only concern is how teams will react to his windup the second or third time they see him.

So there you have it. Really Hafner is my only major concern and he has to get better, but how much better is the question.

Instant replay

It occurred to me this morning that the Cavs' current first-round series against the Bullets is really quite a lot like their second-round affair with the New Jersey Nets in last year's postseason. The Bullets aren't exactly the same sort of team as the Nets, though both were built around a few stars who have been around the block for a while: the Nets with Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson and the Bullets with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison. The games thus far have unfolded quite similarly, a trend that Cavs fans should hope does not continue.

The Cavs took 2-0 series leads in both cases by winning the first two contests on their home floor. In Game 1 both years, solid defense led the Cavs to close victories, while both Games 2 were won handily by the Wine and Gold (more so this season, of course).

Taking to the road for Game 3 was rough on the Cavs in both series and in both cases allowed the other club to pull the series to 2-1. New Jersey dominated the Cavs in the Meadowlands behind a strong effort from Jason Kidd, while the Bullets destroyed Cleveland by 36 points (!) behind a strong effort by the entire Cavalier roster in not bothering to show up for the game.

In 2007 and 2008 the Cavs took commanding 3-1 series leads in the pivotal Game 4, escaping from the other club's building with narrow wins. Last year, Cleveland got 30 points from LeBron and lockdown team defense to go home with an 87-85 victory and a comfortable series lead; yesterday, Delonte West's 3-pointer gave the Cavs their final margin of victory and allowed them to return to Cleveland with the same 3-1 advantage heading into Game 5.

It is here that I wish for the Cavaliers to deviate from their 2007 form and chart some new territory. They came out in Game 5 last year as flat as possible and simply played horribly, scoring a laughable 72 points and losing by 11 despite holding the Nets to, I'm not making this up, 6 points in the 4th quarter (the Cavs, for their part, netted all of 13). With a chance to close out the series and rest before heading to Detroit, the Cavs played their least inspired basketball of the entire postseason and let the Nets creep back into the series. Granted, the Cavs took Game 6 behind the hot shooting of Donyell Marshall (a lot can change in a year, no?), but that still doesn't excuse such a poor effort in the previous contest.

Which brings us to the Cavs' closeout game this Wednesday against Terrence Howard's DC squad. If the Cavs have indeed matured as a playoff-tested team, if LeBron's leadership and playing skills have progressed, and if Mike Brown has learned to motivate and strategize to take advantage of situations like these, expect the Cavs to take care of business and advance to a likely showdown with the Boston Celtics. If the Cavs haven't improved as a team since last season and think they can just come out and just roll over the Bullets like they thought they could with New Jersey last season, it's going to be a long evening at the Q on Wednesday.

Call it optimism, but I think the club has learned their lesson, and I look for improved focus and effort on Wednesday and expect the Cavs, a superior basketball team, to play the smart, defensive-minded basketball (plus a healthy dose of LeBron and Z at the other end) that wins them playoff games and dispatch the Bullets for the third straight season.


- Cavs star LeBron James, asked if he thinks the Washington Bullets can get back into their first-round playoff series, which Cleveland now leads 3-1.

Have I ever mentioned that I like having this guy on my team?

Sunday, April 27

Cavs Hang on in DC, Lead 3-1

After losing game three in blowout fashion, this game had become critical for the Cavaliers. Win and you’re up 3-1 with a chance to put the Wizards away at home. Lose and you’re looking at a brand new three-game series, and in a series that short, anything can happen.

It’s not always pretty, but LeBron James and Mike Brown have made gutsy playoff wins a Cavaliers’ hallmark over the last three years, and Sunday was no different. Facing a reenergized Washington team and a hostile crowd, the Cavs managed to finish off a crucial road win. Now the Cavaliers have a chance to finish the Wizards on Wednesday and wait for the winner of the Celtics/ Hawks match up, which is suddenly in danger of becoming a series.

Quarterly Analysis

First Quarter

Just like in game three, the Wizards came out of the gates with energy and ball pressure, especially on Cleveland point man Delonte West. Washington sprinted out to a 9-4 lead, fueled by a Caron Butler jump shot, a Brendan Haywood dunk, and an old fashioned three-point play by DeShawn Stevenson. LeBron James hit his first three shots, and three of the Cavaliers' first four shots, reducing the Washington lead to 11-8.

The Wizards were making a concerted effort to exploit Wally Szczerbiak's limited defensive skills. When Caron Butler or Gilbert Arenas would beat Wally Szczerbiak off the dribble another Cleveland defender would be forced to seal off the drive, which would in turn leave another Washington player wide open. Even with the Wizards' early push, the Cavs were able to weather the storm and eventually took a 16-15 lead late in the first quarter. That lead was increased to 18-15 when LeBron executed a spectacular dunk on a run-out, silencing the crowd.

Washington continued to commit dumb fouls; not hard fouls, mind you, but fouls that served no purpose. Case in point, the Wizards fouled Joe Smith on two jump shots late in the quarter, violating one of basketball's cardinal rules.

Washington regained the lead on a late push which included threes by Antonio Daniels and Antawn Jamison, giving the Wizards a 28-24 edge as the quarter closed.

Second Quarter

The Cavs were able to hang tough without LeBron James, whittling the Washington lead down to 30-29. LeBron returned to see the Cavs with the same four-point deficit that they had at the end of the first quarter (33-29). In spite of James' presence, Caron Butler and Roger Mason both made shots, increasing the lead to eight.

Cleveland got a huge break midway through the quarter when an apparent foul on Darius Songaila by LeBron James, which would have been an early third foul for LeBron, was instead called on Ben Wallace. James dunked the ball on the subsequent possession, as if to remind the Wizards of their ill fortune, and the Washington lead was cut to 39-33.

The Cavaliers were dominating on the offensive boards, and after a pair of offensive rebounds Delonte West brought the Cavs within a point with a trey ball. DeShawn Stevenson took a swing at LeBron James' face on a drive, drawing a Flagrant I foul call from the referees. The hit apparently didn't phase number 23, who drained a three from about eight feet beyond the arc and then was fouled taking a similar three on the next Cleveland possession, a huge mistake by the Wiz. LeBron James was officially inside the heads of the Wizards. When the dust settled it was a 13-0 run for the Cavs, who turned an 8-point deficit into a 44-39 lead.

Daniel Gibson made a huge impact at the end of the quarter, stealing an inbounds pass to set up a LeBron James dunk, and making a three on the Cavs' next possession to increase the Cleveland lead. With 6:30 to go in the half the Cavs trailed by eight, but an 18-point swing gave Cleveland a 10-point advantage at the half (54-44).

Third Quarter

Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Gilbert Arenas traded baskets as the half opened. Neither team was able to gain any ground in the third quarter's early minutes, and with nine minutes to play the Cleveland lead was still 10 points, 61-51. The Cavs continued to win on the offensive boards, and one such rebound translated into a LeBron James three. One-upping himself, James trotted down the floor and made another three on the next possession.

Leading 67-54, the Cavs were the victims of some bad officiating. Brendan Haywood drew a foul, but instead of the foul being called on Delonte West as it should have been, it was called on Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That gave Ilgauskas four fouls midway through the third quarter. Just as the Cavs got lucky in the second quarter when LeBron James wasn't called for a foul (it was instead called on Ben Wallace), Washington caught a break when Z was incorrectly hit with his fourth foul, forcing Mike Brown to bench Ilgauskas for the remainder of the third quarter.

Ilgauskas' departure sparked an 11-0 run for the Wizards, who shrank the Cleveland lead to 3 points, 67-64. Daniel Gibson hit a three to increase the lead to six, but Brendan Haywood slammed a dunk home on the other end. Then in a strange course of events, Haywood hung onto the rim and his momentum forced him to partially come down on Daniel Gibson's shoulder. Gibson didn't intentionally undercut Haywood, but intent is irrelevant in the rules, and a technical foul was assessed to Gibson.

The Cavs just couldn't build any momentum; whenever they made something positive happen, Washington answered to negate it. Devin Brown made a jump shot, but so did Caron Butler, and the Cleveland lead was 72-70. LeBron James converted an old fashioned three-point play, but Antawn Jamison did the same on the ensuing possession.

Then the Cavs made a late charge. Devin Brown was fouled in the act of shooting and made both of his foul shots. The Cavs stopped the Wizards, and after a poorly executed possession which culminated with Daniel Gibson hoisting a three, LeBron James made a Herculean effort and hauled down the offensive rebound. James then threw up an ill-advised three, but fortunately for Cleveland Joe Smith grabbed yet another offensive rebound, drew a foul, and made his shot as third quarter expired. After an officials' review, which is mandatory is a buzzer beater scenario, Smith was awarded the basket and a free throw, which he made. Thus the Cavs completed a five-point swing, making the score 80-73 at the end of the third.

Fourth Quarter

Caron Butler stole a Daniel Gibson pass and was fouled by LeBron James on the ensuing run-out. James drew a foul on the Cavs' possession, but missed both of his free throws. Luckily, Joe Smith grabbed the offensive rebound. The possession didn't result in any points for the Cavs, but it did draw two more Washington fouls, giving them three team fouls with less than one minute gone in the fourth quarter.

A Caron Butler free throw and a DeShawn Stevenson jumper cut the lead back to two, but Delonte West answered with a three for the Cavaliers, who led 83-78. Caron Butler really started to assert himself in the fourth quarter with five early points, and his jump shot brought the Wizards back within three. Delonte West stayed hot, hitting a three a few possessions later and making the Cleveland lead 88-82.

DeShawn Stevenson drained a three and LeBron James made two free throws, reducing the lead to five. Caron Butler kept to heating up, making a floater to shrink the lead to three. Washington continued to work a high trap on LeBron effectively and the Cavs had difficulty getting anything done on offense. But as he had done previously, Daniel Gibson bailed the Cavs out with a three as the shot clock expired, making the lead 93-87 with about 5:00 to play.

Brendan Haywood found himself open for another dunk, and LeBron James passed off to Delonte West, who unfortunately wasn't looking. The head-scratching turnover led to another basket for Caron Butler, and the lead was once again three. Although the Cavs were having difficulty getting the looks they wanted on offense, Daniel Gibson continued to come up big, hitting a three as the shot clock expired and pushing the lead back out to six.

LeBron James was hit with his fifth foul, forcing him to be awfully cautious on defense and mindful of the possibility of a charge on offense. Caron Butler added another jumper, giving him 11 points in the quarter and reducing the lead to 4.

With 1:10 to play Washington had the basketball and trailed by four. Gilbert Arenas drew a questionable foul on Delonte West with 57.1 seconds to play and made both of his free throws.

On the next possession James missed an ill-advised jump shot from the elbow with the shot clock only half gone. Gilbert Arenas, who had once again struggled for the majority of the game, banked home a 12-foot fader, tying the game.

The Cavs had possession with about 28 seconds on the game clock. LeBron James dribbled the shot clock away, and there wasn't a fan in the Verizon Center who didn't think James was taking that last shot. Instead, James dished to Delonte West in the corner, who drained a cold-blooded three ball. After a Washington timeout, Gilbert Arenas tried to match West's big shot with a three of his own, but was off the mark. The Cavs had hung on for a 100-97 win, taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

Quick Hits

It was the little guys. Although the fortunes of the Cavaliers usually rest with LeBron James and to a lesser degree, his sidekick Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the Cavs won this game on the shooting of their small, youthful guards. Daniel Gibson and Delonte West shot a solid 11-for-22 combined, but more importantly, the tandem was 9-for-15 from downtown. As a team, the Cavs out-shot the Wizards 13-of-28 to 7-of-19 from three-point land.

West's game-winning three was obviously the play of the game, but West and Gibson hit several key three-pointers at crucial junctures to stave off Washington rallies and swing the momentum back into Cleveland's favor. Last season's playoffs familiarized us with Gibson's penchant for heroics, but this series has been West's first playoff appearance with the Cavaliers and many were anxious to see how he would perform.

Until game four West had little impact on the series, with his best game coming in the Cavs' blowout loss in game three. West came up big in game four; he and Gibson were the only Cavaliers other than James to score in double figures, and when James struggled with his shooting in the fourth quarter, the pair was there to pick up the slack. Game four just added to Daniel Gibson's already impressive playoff credentials, and was hopefully a harbinger of things to come for Delonte West.

Business as usual. LeBron James dropped 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out 7 assists this afternoon. Do you know what's crazy? As fans, we've come to expect such performances from King James. There are only a handful of players in the league who are even capable of putting up such ridiculous numbers, and there are only two other guys (Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul) who can post similar stats with any regularity. As Cavs fans, we're truly blessed to be able to watch LeBron play on a regular basis.

Hey Mike, bench Wally. As good as Wally Szczerbiak was in game two, Mike Brown should be taking more heat for giving Devin Brown's minutes to Szczerbiak. The Wizards torched Szczerbiak and his suspect (that's putting it lightly) defense, particularly in the first quarter.

If Szczerbiak isn't shooting lights out (13-of-33 from the field, 3-of-13 from three in the series) and isn't providing a solid secondary scoring option to LeBron James (Wally is averaging only 8.75 points per game in the series), the Cavs can't afford to give him starting minutes. Devin Brown is head-and-shoulders above Szczerbiak on defense, and he gives the Cavs another guy who's at least relatively athletic and can get to the rim. There's no excuse for Mike Brown starting Szczerbiak from this point on, except that he doesn't want to let his pet project (i.e. starting Szczerbiak out of the blue) die. Mike, swallow your pride and bench Wally World.

Blown opportunity. Washington had a golden opportunity to change the whole dynamic of the game when LeBron James was slapped with his third foul in the third quarter. Had they drawn another foul on James, he would have had to sit until at least the start of the fourth. Had the Wizards been able to draw a fifth foul on LeBron in the fourth quarter, he would have been forced to tiptoe around the court for the remainder of the game, and he might even have fouled out.

We saw how handicapped the Cavs were without Ilgauskas playing extended minutes in the second half, just imagine how different the game would have been if foul trouble had dogged James, as well.

Keeping their cool. Mike Brown and the Cavaliers deserve a great deal of credit for keeping their cool against a hot-headed Washington team that has been trying to provoke them all series long. While the Wizards have let their emotions occasionally throw them off their game (e.g. Brendan Haywood fouling out of game two), the Cavs have done their best to let the scoreboard do the talking for them.

LeBron James deserves extra credit for keeping his emotions in check, whether it was controlling the temptation to razz a crowd (you know he wanted to) that booed him liberally at every opportunity, or refraining from getting into a shoving match with DeShawn Stevenson, after Stevenson took an obvious swipe at his mug in the second quarter. James knows that the fate of the Cavs rests on his shoulders and that he can't risk ejection. It's an awful lot of maturity to see from a 23-year old, but it's another area in which LeBron has once again exceeded expectations.

Sidenote: DeShawn Stevenson should have been ejected when he whacked LeBron in the face during the third quarter. As Jon Barry stated during ESPN's halftime analysis, Stevenson was clearly taking a free shot at LBJ, and was lucky that he was only given a Flagrant I.

Don't think, just pass. During the series, Anderson Varejao has struggled mightily, shooting just 6-of-18 from the floor. Varejao shot a respectable 46.1 percent during the regular season, but he hasn't even come close to that in the playoffs. A/V should be instructed to clean up put-back opportunities around the hoop, rebound, and nothing else. Scoring is not what pays Varejao’s bills.

Offensive glass. Just like the three-point line, the offensive boards were another key area that helped carry the Cavs to victory. The Cavaliers beat the Wizards on the offensive glass, snagging 18 offensive rebounds to Washington's 6. As a result, the Cavs had eight more field goal attempts than the Wizards. For the entire series, Cleveland bested Washington in offensive rebounding, 54 to 32.

Overall, the Cavs out-rebounded the Wizards 51 to 31 today, and the front court of Ilgauskas, James, Smith, Varejao, and Wallace is cleaning the glass like Windex.

Zero's no hero. TCF columnist Brian McPeek had it right, the Wizards appear to be a more cohesive and effective team when Gilbert Arenas is not on the floor. Arenas is a great player when healthy, but he's clearly not 100 percent, and he's forcing some bad shots. Arenas just doesn't fit into Washington's offense right now. He still has value getting a few minutes a game spotting up and shooting threes, but he shouldn't be playing 32 minutes like he did today.

"Because he's my butler!" Although he's had a hard time finding a rhythm so far in the series, Caron Butler turned in a nice game today. Butler scored 11 of Washington's 24 fourth quarter points, and he was the biggest reason why Washington almost completed a comeback victory. Butler's stats jumped this season with Gilbert Arenas injured for all but a few games. It's amazing to think that Washington acquired Butler (and Chucky Atkins) from the LA Lakers from the small price of a useless center, Kwame Brown.

White out, blacked out. It would be cool if fans would stop copying the "white out" concept. By way of background, the "white out" (during which, ideally, all fans where white) was originally employed in 1987 by the NHL's now defunct Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes), who dubbed it the "Winnipeg White Out." The Jets used the "white out" to counter the "sea of red" enacted by fans of the Calgary Flames, who they played in the 1987 NHL playoffs.

Penn State football has used the "white out" recently (if you're an OSU fan, you've seen it on television a couple of times), and there's even been a legal battle with the Phoenix Coyotes, who own a trademark for the term, over whether or not Penn State can use it. In other words, Penn State stole the idea, the Miami Heat stole the idea again during the 2006 NBA playoffs, and now Washington's trying to get on board. Get your own tradition, guys, the "white out" is extremely played out.

Also, it's at least mildly humorous how the Washington fans boo LeBron at every opportunity. Um, you realize that all he did was respond to DeShawn Stevenson's dumb comments, right? They’re acting like LeBron was a suspect in a murder investigation or something. My bad, that was Ray Lewis.

Reggie Jackson probably said it best, "They don't boo nobodies." It’s good to see LeBron taking the high road and ignoring the crowd.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will return...Wednesday night, at, um, 6:00. I'm just as confused as you are. Up 3-1, the Cavs will look to cast an avada kedavra curse on the Wizards, thus sending them home for summer vacation for the third straight year.

Jon Miller is an idiot

During tonight's Detroit/California game, regarding Tigers fans: "They don't just come to Tigers games, they live it. They become their own way."

Whatever you say, Jon.

Saturday, April 26

Saturday Tribe notes

1) Very exciting win over the Yankees today! The Tribe certainly had enough chances to win the game, but then again so did the Spanks, and the Tribe finally put one home in the 9th, courtesy of Victor Martinez's sweet stroke, for a 4-3 win over the Bronx Retirement Home. This W, the Tribe's 5th straight, puts them just 1 game out of first place in the AL Central, first being the position I still expect them to occupy 138 games from now.

2) I freaked out a little when Grady Sizemore came up lame at second base in the 9th inning, and so did you.

3) I approve of Wedge going out there and getting himself ejected in the 8th after that awful call at second base. I think he's usually wise not to get tossed as a matter of habit, but you have to respect your players enough to get in the blues' faces after they call a force out on a play where the defender never actually, you know, had the ball.

4) Pitching is still the way the Indians do things, and even with Jake Westbrook on the shelf for a while, I still like our starting depth and the reconfigured bullpen. CC appears to have gotten back on track; Carmona is having control issues but still making good starts; Lee is off in some ridiculous bizarro fantasyland, sporting a non-physical 0.28 ERA; Jake has been outstanding; Byrd somehow has been getting people out; and we've now seen some of our vaunted minor league depth with Sowers' effort today. As for the 'pen; Lewis, Kobayashi, Perez, and Betancourt give the Tribe 4 viable late-inning options - a reworked Circle of Trust. Score 4-5 runs a game for these guys and we'll keep winning some ball games.

5) Saw ESPN's Power Rankings today and wondered, among other things, what I was bothering to look at Power Rankings for. The experts at the Worldwide Leader have the D-Backs and Cubs sitting 1-2 despite the inescapable fact that these clubs play in the National League. These are not the AAAA power rankings, friends.

6) The Tribe is languishing in those same rankings at 19th - 19th! - illustrating powerfully how transient and ill-conceived these things often are. Have some vision! Seriously, you've got a Cleveland club that won 96 games and a division series last year with mostly young players and no roster turnover and you think the 11-11 Tampa Bay Devil Rays are a better team? Please. The blurb about our Wahoos chides Fausto Carmona for his (admittedly suspect) 1:2 K:BB ratio, conveniently forgetting that his GB:FB ratio is outstanding and that he's been dominant in three of his five outings. Some day you and I will sit down and chat about small sample sizes, ESPN.

Thursday, April 24

Quick Cavs notes

1) Excellent article today by Dan Labbe at the PD debunking the myth that a high free-throw percentage is important for NBA championship-winning teams. Instead of assuming that FT% and Larry O'Brien trophies are positively correlated and writing a stupid article criticizing LeBron James for his 71% foul shooting (like our friend Bill Livingston did; I cannot in good faith provide the link), Labbe actually looked at the numbers.

Interestingly, Labbe found that recent champions like the last three Spurs winners and the '06 Heat all ranked in the bottom 5 in the league from the stripe, and that no champion this decade has ranked in the league's top 10 at making 1-point baskets. This neatly dispels the semi-intuitive notion that excellent free-throw shooting is a prerequisite for NBA championship success. Consider how Shaq's goofy shotputting must have dragged down the foul-shooting numbers for his Laker squads and then reflect upon the extent to which he and those clubs simply dominated the league.

Labbe then goes a step further, offering some numbers showing that FT attempts are actually a better indicator of championship success. The numbers point to quantity over quality, so LeBron can happily keep shooting 70% from the line as long as he continues to spend so much of his time there. Of course, this is all news to the Bullets, whose strategy appears to be fouling LeBron as much as possible. In an ESPN article, normally astute writer Brian Windhorst claims that the strategy is kind of working, but, um, no, it isn't.

2) Another Bullets-related note: the club apparently plans to play a hefty dose of music by inconsequential rapper Soulja Boy during Game 3, in response to an earlier flap between LeBron and DeShawn Stevenson over who has the best DoubleCapital in their FirstName. Stevenson comically called LeBron "overrated," to which the King laughed and offered an analogy comparing himself to rap titan Jay-Z and Stevenson to lesser light Soulja Boy. This irked Stevenson and, apparently, Soulja Boy himself, despite it making reasonable sense to anyone versed in the twin towers of African-American culture, hip-hop and hoops. Now those crafty Bullets apparently plan to get back at James and the Cavs by playing some Soulja Boy songs during the game.

Memo to Bullet management: this does not punish LeBron. It punishes the fans who now have to listen to awful rap while watching their hideously-dressed club get booted from the playoffs by the Cavs for the third straight year. Fan-tastic!

Wednesday, April 23

Series Notes: Cavs / Wizards

Two up, two down. After absorbing blow after blow from fans and the media, it appears that reports of the Cavaliers’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. There’s a reason why they actually play the game, and there’s a reason why it’s never wise to count a team out when they still have LeBron James on the roster.

The Cavs survived a hard-fought series opener and stupefied the Wizards in game two, which turned into a laugher. With a commanding 2-0 lead, the series now turns to Washington as LeBron James and the Cavaliers look to send Washington home for the summer.

Here are some of my impressions from the first two games, in no particular order.

Tallest on the team, flying under the radar.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is among the league's most underrated players. Ilgauskas has the rare ability stretch the floor from the center position, and is positively un-guardable when his jump shot is falling. He's an excellent free throw shooter (80.3-percent this season) at a position where players typically struggle from the line. While it's not his greatest strength, Ilgauskas' passing ability is better than many would think. Z's chemistry with LeBron James, particularly on the pick and roll, is also extremely valuable.

Although the Cavs probably could have won game two without Ilgauskas, he played a crucial role in the Cavaliers' victory in the series opener. Z scored 22 points on a decent 7-of-17 from the field (a perfect 8-for-8 from the line), grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists. Ilgauskas gave Mike Brown that all-important second scorer behind LeBron James (and his usual 30-plus points), keeping the Wizards honest and preventing them from consistently sending double or triple-teams LeBron's way.

Is Wally finally right? Mike Brown was wrong to start Wally Szczerbiak during this series. With Sasha Pavlovic unable to find a rhythm all season (holdout, injuries) and on the fritz for this series, Devin Brown should have been given the nod at shooting guard.

Whether in a starting or reserve role, Brown has been one of the few constants on the team all year long, consistently providing coach Brown with quality minutes, and he earned the starting job when Pavlovic faltered. When I heard that Wally World was starting game one, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Wally hit an early three in game one, but other than that he was pretty useless, scoring just eight points on an ugly 2-of-10 shooting. If Wally isn't scoring, and isn't shooting a reasonable percentage, then there's no reason for him to be on the floor because he's such a defensive liability.

In game two Szczerbiak woke up, scoring 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-5 from downtown. A sharp-shooting Szczerbiak would be a major boon to Cavaliers' chances of getting by Boston in round two (assuming that they can close out the Wizards), but like I said before, if Wally isn't shooting well, Mike Brown simply can't afford to play him because he's such a burden defensively.

Caron Butler has been taking Wally to school off the dribble because Szczerbiak just doesn't have the lateral quickness to stick with the league’s better guards and swingmen. Don't be surprised if Eddie Jordan runs more of his offense directly at Szczerbiak in game three.

Speaking of Eddie Jordan... He's probably one of the league's more underrated coaches. Terrence Dashon Howard- I mean, Jordan held the Wizards together in spite of the fact that Gilbert Arenas missed 69 games this season, and Jordan’s boys were actually winning the Southeast Division for much of the season. Fun fact: Eddie Jordan is the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, after coaching only five years in the District of Columbia.

For game two of the 2006 Eastern Quarterfinals, Howard concocted one of the most creative and effective defensive schemes, in terms of stopping LeBron James, that I've ever seen. Jordan's Wizards played LeBron's penchant for setting up his teammates against him, feigning a double-team when LeBron crossed the timeline and then sagging off of LeBron to intercept his passes. It worked like a charm; Washington beat Cleveland 89-84, James scored 26 points but shot an extremely inefficient 7-of-25, and King James was forced into a ridiculous 10 turnovers.

You had to feel for Jordan when things turned ugly during the second half of Monday's game. Jordan was clearly out of answers, and looked completely defeated. I didn't like seeing Jordan that way, but if that's the price of two more blowout victories for the Cavs, I'll just have to suck it up (that's some sarcasm, there).

Buck up, big men.
Regardless of who's on defense (Z, Big Ben, Andy, Joe Smith), Washington's centers have been shoving Cleveland’s guys around and having their way on offense. Both Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche, especially Haywood, have been muscling for position on offense, and doing so effectively. These guys have been getting set up way to close to the hoop, and it's cost the Cavs numerous cheap baskets.

This hasn't been a huge problem so far, mainly because Haywood and Blatche don't take a high percentage of the Wizards' shots, but the pair are a combined 13-of-20 in the series. If the Wizards ever wake up and realize that their centers are getting so many easy looks, the Cavs will have to adjust quickly, or the series might head back to the North Shore for at least a fifth game.

Much ado about nothing.
Ben Wallace has been chastised by fans for his offense, or lack thereof, and such criticisms are unnecessary. While Wallace isn't a high volume scorer, he's relatively efficient, so while his offense does little to buoy the Cavs, it doesn't do anything to sink them, either.

Consider that Drew Gooden, Wallace's predecessor at the power forward position, was shooting 44.4-percent for the Cavs this season. Wallace shot a comparable, although slightly superior, 45.7 percent. The big difference is that Gooden was shooting that percentage while taking 10.3 shots per game, while Wallace took only 3.7. While Wallace was only good for 4.2 points per game in the regular season, he wasn't a drain on the offense because he wasn’t shooting. Gooden's 10.3 shots per game took shots away from the team's two best scorers, James and Ilgauskas. Ben Wallace isn't going to turn any heads with big scoring numbers, but he won't drag the offense down, either.

Wallace has continued to play within himself in the playoffs, taking only five shots in the series (all in game two, and all dunks or layups), and making three of them. When Big Ben doesn't have a high percentage shot to take, he passes it off so the team's scorers can shoot. It's not ideal to start a player with very limited offensive skills, but by the same token, Wallace's limited skills aren't single-handedly deactivating the Cavaliers' possessions (see: Hughes, Larry). Give Ben a break.

A sight for sore eyes. It sure is nice to have Daniel Gibson back in the fold. Gibson has scored 24 points (8-17 shooting, 4-7 from deep) in the series' opening two games, and although he'd been back for 10 games since missing 22 of 24 games in February and March, Gibson had struggled to find a rhythm. It looks like the playoffs were just what the doctor ordered, along with some snack wraps and large sweet teas.

Boobie (I'll finally concede to calling him that, but I don't have to like it) is playing like the Boobie of old, and just like last year's Eastern Conference Finals, he's been a sparkplug for the Cavaliers. However, it looks like the effects of Gibson's left high ankle sprain are lingering a bit, because Boobie's speed and quickness are not what they used to be. That said, as long as Gibson can shoot, he will play a valuable role for the Cavs as they continue their playoff run.

Good guys win, bad guys lose.
The Wizards' commitment to defending LeBron James in a "physical" (an athlete's code word for "dirty") fashion has turned them into the bad guys in this series. Particularly in game two, Washington didn't come out swinging, they came out shoving. Washington wanted to wrap LeBron James up, beat him up when he came inside, and keep his old fashioned three-point play opportunities at a bare minimum. With the latter, who can blame them?

But instead of just fouling "hard," the Wizards took this tough guy mentality too far, and were thrown off their game mentally. Gilbert Arenas was hit with a technical foul for shoving Wally Szczerbiak during the first half, and intentionally tripped Delonte West in the second half. Brendan Haywood shoved LeBron James in midair, clearly making no attempt for the basketball, and was ejected. Andray Blatche has hit LeBron in the face multiple times during the first two games. None of this has helped Washington make any progress. By trying to get into the Cavaliers' heads, the Wizards have been taken out of theirs.

And if there's one thing that the rest of the NBA should have learned about LeBron James by now, it's that hard fouls, especially dirty fouls, don't deter him. Dirty fouls don't stop LeBron, they merely incite his wrath. I said it before the series and I'll say it again: antagonizing LeBron James, whether it be physically or verbally, is not wise. James is the most physically gifted player of his generation, and as an opposing player infuriating James would be the last thing on my list. You don't want to give this guy an extra incentive to bury you.

No suspension for Haywood.
Brendan Haywood's now infamous hit on LeBron James will not be punished with a suspension. That's the right call. Haywood's hit was dirty, it was definitely a flagrant foul because he made no attempt for the ball and the contact was excessive. The foul was probably a Flagrant 2 because the excessive contact appeared to be intentional, so Haywood's ejection was justified.

Also, at that point in the game tempers were flaring and violence was escalating. If someone wasn't punished, the fouls were only going to get more and more severe, or worse: a full-fledged fight could have erupted. Ejecting Haywood helped stave off a melee, but that hit wasn't bad enough to merit a suspension, and while it would benefit the Cavs to have Brendan Haywood watching game three on television, it wouldn't be fair.

Wine & Gold beats Gold. Will Washington's front office puh-leeze pull the plug on those positively repellent gold jerseys already? Without a doubt among the worst in the NBA, the Wizards' threads look even worse when contrasted against the Cavs' excellent uniform design. Honestly, Washington’s goofy duds, along with the Sacramento Kings' gold abominations, should be yanked from the shelves immediately, taken out back, and given the Old Yeller treatment.

Killer instinct.
It's that elusive quality fans have been searching for from LeBron James' Cavaliers for a long time, and have rarely seen. On Monday, LBJ and friends gave us all we could handle.

The Cavs established a five-point lead in the first quarter, built it to 13 by the half, and instead of letting Washington hang around, they went for the jugular. Midway through the third quarter, the game was over. The lead was increased to 23 by the end of the third, and 30 when the final horn sounded. Even during last season's magical playoff run, the Cavs had trouble putting teams away (game six of the Conference Finals sticks out as an exception). Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. This is a different Cavs team, King James is one year wiser, and maybe, just maybe, the Cavs have finally learned how to deal an opponent a knockout blow.

Really? REALLY?

According to this report, the Cincinnati Bengals rejected a trade offer from the Washington Redskins for Chad Johnson. The Redskins offered a first round pick this year, and a third round pick next year that could become a first round pick depending on Johnson's performance.

I just don't get it. The Bengals are a team with character problems. Chad Johnson doesn't get arrested, but he's a pain in the ass who is becoming more of a pain in the ass by threatening to hold out. Johnson and Marvin Lewis simply don't get along (supposedly Johnson took a swing at Marvin Lewis in the locker room during the Bengals' 2006 playoff game against the Steelers), and that's not going to change.

Now the Bengals get a chance to unload Chad, who's no spring chicken at age 30, and pick up two early draft picks that could become a pair of first rounders, and they balk? Even if they only got the first and the third, it's a good deal. I guess it's why the Bengals are the Bengals. Suck on, 'Nati.

Tuesday, April 22

Why I don't watch NFL pre-Draft coverage, #322

I was watching the Tribe game in the exercise room when a guy came along, grabbed the remote, and flipped on ESPN (I didn't protest because I had something to read). I was treated to one of ESPN's talking heads discussing a list of the Best #7 Picks of All-Time. Wow, what a waste of time. Even Mel Kiper wouldn't be interested by that. Even if your team holds the #7 pick, that information has no value to you. Whatever.

Also: on Yahoo! sports I discovered a list of the Top 10 Worst #1 Picks; still dumb, but slightly more compelling since #1 is more unique and prestigious and less random than, say, #7. Oddly, the list was topped by some guy from Buffalo I've never heard of (which I suppose bolsters his case, though he was before my time) and even more oddly, featured Michael Vick. Really? I know he had the dog thing and all, which obviously biased whoever wrote this story, but he was a reasonably productive QB for many years if never a true superstar. His passing never caught up to his running abilities, but surely there have been 10 #1's that didn't pan out as well as Vick. FYI, yes, both Courtney Brown (8) and Tim Couch (4) made the list, though I'm once again compelled to point out that Couch had some solid games and seasons on utterly horrible teams.

Banking on Big Men

During the 2007 off-season, Phil Savage identified the Browns' most glaring weakness: the offensive line. Savage acted quickly to turn that weakness into a strength, re-signing center Hank Fraley on the eve of free agency, inking stud left guard Eric Steinbach on the first day of the signing period, adding guard Seth McKinney later on, and drafting Joe Thomas with the third overall choice in the Draft, ensuring that the Browns would have one of the premier left tackles in the league well into the next decade. Given how abhorrent Cleveland's line was in 2006, the improvements Savage made for the '07 season were akin to changing water into wine. You have to tip your cap to Savage; the man can pinpoint the flaws in his own team’s design, and he does so without worrying about saving face for poor past decisions or giving pet projects time to develop.

This off-season, even the most casual of Browns fans could ascertain the Browns' Achilles' heel, and although criticisms of Derek Anderson do bear validity, it wasn't quarterback play. No, it wasn't the quarterback; it was the defensive front seven, and perhaps even more specifically the defensive line.

By the time the curtain dropped on the 2007 season it was clear that the Browns had about four and a half passable players on the front seven, all with various degrees of proficiency. There were the (Agent) Smiths on the line (both solid - Shaun looked very good by the end of the season), and at linebacker, D'Qwell Jackson (average), Kamerion Wimbley (very good, not quite excellent), and sometimes Leon Williams (he counts as "half"; flashes of brilliance, but we need to see more of him).

Unfortunately for the Browns Savage's hands were bound by the Browns' lack of a first round Draft choice (dealt away for The Mighty Quinn), and a dearth of quality linemen and linebackers in the free agent pool who could play in the 3-4 scheme. Savage was forced to improvise.

Even with the deck stacked against him, Savage used a blitzkrieg attack to renovate the defense, targeting the defensive line. When the free agency period began at 12:01 AM on February 29th, Savage immediately swapped the Browns' second round draft pick for Green Bay defensive tackle Corey Williams, who was freed from the yoke of the franchise tag. Less than 24 hours later, Savage completed a deal that would send the Browns' third round pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden to Detroit for titanic defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. One day into free agency Savage had acquired two-thirds of his starting defensive line for the upcoming season, and had made it awfully unlikely that the Browns would glean any immediate help from the 2008 NFL Draft. The die had been cast.

The Corey Williams trade has been almost universally praised, and I don't disagree. Williams is young, proven, and should be coming right into his prime. A guy like Williams, who will make an immediate impact, simply isn't available in the second round, although the downside is that the Browns were forced to pay Williams exponentially more than they would a second round choice.

By way of a crude comparison, the Browns chose Eric Wright in last year’s draft with the 53rd pick. Wright signed a four-year contract worth $3.165 million, with $1.5 million guaranteed. The Browns inked Corey Williams to a six-year deal worth $38 million, with $16.3 million guaranteed. Savage sent the 56th pick to the Lions in exchange for Williams, so the player that the Browns would have drafted would have likely received compensation similar to Wright’s.

The Shaun Rogers deal is the big question mark. The gargantuan nose tackle was a headache for coaches and management in Detroit, clashing with Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. Rogers also dealt with weight problems, and some in Detroit felt that he was increasing his weight as some strange act of defiance. Beyond that, Rogers has a smattering of character question marks, including a four-game suspension in 2006 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and a June 2007 sexual assault accusation by, can you guess it? That's right, a stripper! Note to professional athletes: bad things happen when you go to strip clubs. By trading for Rogers, Savage may have endangered the stable locker room environment that he worked so hard to construct.

The real question is: now that Rogers is out of Detroit, on a winning team, and more than fairly compensated (6 years, $42 million, $20 million guaranteed), will he toe the line? Can Rogers stay in shape and deliver a more consistent motor? Can Romeo Crennel consistently motivate him? In a way, Savage gambled just as much on Crennel's ability to connect with and motivate players as he did on Rogers himself. Savage can't afford to be wrong; reworking the contracts of Rogers and Williams, along with re-signing Derek Anderson and signing receiver Donte Stallworth, has erased the Browns’ short-term salary cap flexibility, and puts them on a collision course with salary cap hell a few years from now.

The question that looms over all the wheeling and dealing, and also over the Rogers uncertainties, is, "Has enough been done to upgrade the defense as a unit?" There's no doubt that the defensive line has been improved, but it may have been at the expense of the secondary. Starting cornerback Leigh Bodden was shipped to Detroit as part of the Shaun Rogers deal. Bodden may be overrated, and he's certainly injury-prone, but he was still the Browns' best corner and an above-average starter.

Supposedly the Cincinnati Bengals were very close to completing a trade for Rogers, the cost being their third and fifth round draft picks. Some have been displeased that through deductive reasoning, the Browns appear to have valued Leigh Bodden as a fifth round draft pick. Things aren't that simple.

The Bengals have higher picks (number nine in each round) than the Browns (number 22 in each round), but we can account for that using the NFL's Draft Value Chart. According to the chart, the value of the picks (numbers 77 and 145) that the Bengals were offering the Lions is 238.5. The third round choice (number 87) the Browns traded to Detroit is worth 155 points, leaving us with a difference of 83.5 points, which is the equivalent of the number 105 pick, the sixth pick in the fourth round (84 points). Essentially, this trade values Leigh Bodden as a high fourth round pick.

While that might seem like a low price for a starting cornerback, there are other factors in play. With the premium teams place on draft choices, a high fourth rounder is probably on par with Bodden's value. Don't forget that in 2004, Terrell Owens, in his prime one of the best receivers in football, was traded to Baltimore for just a second round pick (the trade was later voided). Last year Willis McGahee, perhaps the best player on the Buffalo Bills' roster, was traded to Baltimore for two third round picks and a seventh rounder. The moral of the story is that NFL teams value draft choices far more than established players.

Let's look at this from the Browns' perspective. Bodden was a good player, but he was ineffective at times last season because he was playing through injuries (high ankle sprain, groin). Throughout his career Bodden has been no stranger to injury. In fact, last season was the first time he played in all 16 games since he became a starter in 2005. It wasn't Bodden's fault, but he just seemed to be one of those fragile guys who always got hurt (see: Hughes, Larry). Plus, the Browns desperately needed linemen. Good 3-4 linemen can be hard to come by and are less prevalent than good cornerbacks.

But the tipping point was probably Bodden's contract demands. Unbeknownst to many, Bodden, apparently dissatisfied with his current deal, wanted to renegotiate his contract with the Browns that ran through 2009. Bodden is slated to make $1.7 million this season and $1.8 million in 2009. It remains to be seen whether or not the Lions will renegotiate with Bodden. What now seems most likely is that Bodden went to the Browns with new contract demands; the Browns didn't like what they saw and didn't foresee a reachable compromise, and jettisoned Bodden before it became a distraction. If that's the case, then it’s easy to understand why the Browns traded Bodden, even if you don’t agree with it.

Right now, why the Browns traded Bodden isn't what's important. It's a done deal, and we'll learn soon enough whether or not trading Bodden was prudent. At present, the Browns are left with only four legitimate cornerbacks under contract; Daven Holly, Brandon McDonald, Eric Wright, and Kenny Wright. Eazy-E will likely retain his starting job, while Holly and surprising rookie Brandon McDonald will duke it out in training camp to start opposite Wright. Whoever loses out on the second starting job will make a fine third corner for nickel and dime packages, but after corner number three, things get awfully murky on the depth chart.

Kenny Wright didn't turn any heads last season as he did his best to be 2007's version of Ralph Brown. Wright was also recently arrested for possession of marijuana and evading arrest, leaving his future with the Browns very much in doubt. And frankly, if Wright's having trouble outrunning local cops, he doesn't have what it takes to cover pro receivers.

So the Browns are left with only three reliable corners and lots of uncertainty beyond that. Gary Baxter was re-signed to a one-year contract but given the injuries he's trying to return from, the Browns can't count on him. The Browns may try to move Baxter to safety where he might be more able to hide his lack of the speed, speed he's invariably lost after the operations to repair the patellar tendons he tore early in the 2006 season. Regardless of whether or not Baxter actually sees the field, the Browns still need to add quality depth at cornerback.

This brings us to the linebackers. As far as starters are concerned, I'm comfortable with Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson, and (sometimes) Leon Williams. Basically, the Browns needed to replace Andra Davis and Willie McGinest, both of whom had sub-par seasons and were (especially in McGinest's case) showing signs of aging. Antwan Peek showed potential as a pass rusher, but was so dogged by nagging foot and ankle problems that it was difficult to fairly evaluate him. Like Baxter, Peek could be a contributor, but is probably too unreliable for the Browns to count on him.

The linebackers were largely ineffective last season, and Phil Savage has thus far done nothing to upgrade at inside backer or find a suitable counterpart for Kamerion Wimbley to play left outside linebacker. We could get into a chicken/egg debate on whether the impotence of the linebackers was a direct result of an awful front three, or if the linebackers themselves simply aren't that skilled, but if Savage heads into the '08 season with the status quo, the upgrades on the defensive line mean that the linebacking corps will be left with no excuses for lackluster play.

Returning to the root of this debate, whether or not the 2008 Browns are a defensive success may rest largely (fat man pun!) on the shoulders of Shaun Rogers. By trading for Rogers, Phil Savage swapped a valuable draft choice, greatly thinned the Browns' considerable depth at cornerback, and sunk big money (six years, $42 million, $20 million guaranteed) into a controversial 29-year old player who plays a position that doesn't typically age gracefully.

If Rogers is the dominant force that terrorized the NFC, tore through double teams like tissue paper, and made the Pro Bowl twice, Savage looks like the genius we all hope he is. If not, this season may mirror its predecessor; plenty of points, loads of excitement, an inability to close out games, and reserved seats on the couch come January.

Monday, April 21

Dear Washington Bullets

Hope you guys had a nice stay in Cleveland. Thanks for visiting!

Koufos to Declare for Draft

Ohio St. big man Kosta Koufos will declare for the NBA draft, but will not hire an agent. You see this often, where players will declare to get a feel for where they will be selected, but not sign with an agent, making them eligible to take their name out of the draft and return to school.

Koufos expects to be selected in the first 15 picks. If it is brought to his attention that he may not be drafted that high, he will either return to the Buckeye City, or sign a lucrative contract to play overseas in Greece. Basically nothing has been decided and Koufus' future is still up in the air. Obviously for selfish reasons, I would really like to see Kosta back in the scarlet and grey, but I legitimately think that he still needs to get stronger and more physical before heading to the big leagues. At least one more year at Ohio St. would certainly be beneficial to him.

What scares me is that an NBA team may want to draft him too high based on potential alone. I'll keep the updates coming as the situation further develops.

P.S. Big mouth Wizard guard Deshawn Stevenson just made his first shot of the game, cutting the Cavs lead from 19 to 16. He then mocked LeBron by doing his signature John Cena "you can't see me." Does he realize his team is down quite a bit and he isn't good? King James responded by making a trey ball right back in Stevenson's face. Oh, poetic justice.

Thursday, April 17

NBA playoff non-analysis

Have you ever wondered how little effort someone can put into an NBA playoff preview column and yet still publish and sign his name to it? Well, you're about to find out. I'm not going to project future rounds because talking about potentially non-existent playoff series is a waste of time. If you pressed me, I'd say Detroit over LA in the Finals.

Eastern Conference First Round

(1)Celtics vs. (8)Hawks
Wait, the Atlanta Hawks? In the playoffs? How long have I been asleep?
Celtics in 3

(2)Pistons vs. (7)76ers
Tough draw for Philly here - I think they could take down most of the East right now, but not Boston, and not Detroit either. This Piston club won 59 games (!) this year and all you ever hear about is Boston and the teams out West. Watch out for these guys.
Pistons in 5

(3)Magic vs (6)Raptors
I have no insight into this series whatsoever, which makes me think maybe it will be a fun one to check out. Seriously, how am I supposed to analyze this? I have seen the Cavs play both clubs and they generally had a tougher time against the Magic (1-3) than the Riptors (3-1). Add in Orlando's home-court and superior outside shooting and I think that's the pick. I'd rather see Toronto win, though. Their point guard Jose Calderon has 58 assists and ONE turnover this month. That's astounding.
Magic in 7

(4)Cavaliers vs. (5)Wizards
Once...twice...three times a crazy point guard.
OK, I'm too hard on Agent Zero, especially since he makes a good point about wanting to draw the Cavaliers in the first round for the third straight season. Wouldn't you? The Cavs haven't played that well recently, LeBron's back is sore, and the Wizards are extra-motivated aftr having been dispatched by Cleveland two years straight. Compared to a lot of other opponents, the Cavs look like a reasonable target. That doesn't make Arenas' latest missive any more decipherable:

With a team like the Cavaliers and a player like LeBron, all you need is distractions. We got to be Bush. We got to be Bush-league. We're having everybody talking about the war, when we just want to get the oil. We're Bushing it. That's all we're doing. We're trying distract LeBron over here while we try to get some wins over there. That's all we're doing.

Right, Gilbert. Cavs in 6

Western Conference First Round

(1)Lakers vs (8)Nuggets
What a strange, strange team the Denver Nuggets are. FCF loyalist Dave should enjoy this pick.
Lakers in 5

(2)Hornets vs (7)Mavericks
I have this terrific old rap CD by Prince Paul (A Prince Among Thieves) where in one song they keep saying "Prince Paul!" over the background and it sounds like they're saying "Chris Paul!"
Hornets in 7 (though this has serious upset potential)

(3)Spurs vs (6)Suns
I'm tired of the Spurs, and I think Phoenix is as well.
Suns in 6

(4)Jazz vs (5)Rockets
These are good matchups out west, no? Other than the 1-8, we've got some neat games going on here. Deron Williams creates too many problems for the Rockets - even when they won 22 straight I never had a really high opinion of Houston for some reason. Maybe the state it's located in (I picked against all 3 Texas clubs)
Yazz in 6

Tuesday, April 15

But I don't wanna lose!

The Cavaliers locked up first-round homecourt advantage against the Wizards (again) last night, with a 91-90 road win over the 76ers that featured a strange ending. I'd like to talk a bit about the game's conclusion and even more about the reaction to it.

Trailing by a point with four seconds to play, LeBron James took the ball rimward, was fouled by at least six Philly defenders (no call), and had his shot blocked. The ball fell to Devin Brown, who was semi-tackled by Samuel Delambert while putting up a short, errant shot as time expired. It appeared that the 76ers would win, but the referees ruled that Brown was indeed fouled with 0.2 seconds remaining and had thus earned two foul shots. Brown sank both of them, game, set, Cavs.

Let's be very clear on this next point: it was absolutely the right call, and the officials made it using the correct protocols. Black and white. There is no dispute of this.

That doesn't mean there wasn't Philly whining about it, though! Evoking shades of the Browns' win in Baltimore this past season, the decision brought out boos from the fans and complaints from the players and coaches, despite, I reiterate, being correct and fair. Like the Ravens, the Philly team left the playing area while the refs were sorting the matter out, as if taking their ball and going home (or, in Andre Miller's case, punting it) would make things better. As if the refs would rule the play in the Cavs' favor and then think, "well, the 76ers already left and it might bother them to have to come all the way back out - some of them might be in the hot tub already - so let's just forget about it." What a childish thing for the Philly players to do. I'm glad they had to stand there and watch Devin Brown dispatch them before heading back for good.

When the ruling was made, Philly coach Maurice Cheeks stormed around and called it "bullshit" while Philly fans booed. Sorry Mo, it was no such thing. Sorry Philly fans - you have nothing to boo other than Dalembert's regrettable foul. How presumptious of the spectators - like you even saw what happened! Accept it, and start training your eye-lasers on Devin Brown.

Granted, this play benefitted my team greatly, but I'd be writing this same article (only with far less glee) had it been the other way around. Of course, I think Mike Brown would have handled it with a bit more serenity, but who knows? The important thing is that the right call was made, so let's not lose sight of that.

The 76ers, of course, really, really lost sight of that. Let's get a couple of reactions:

Andre Miller: I thought the game was over.

I was taking off my ankle braces.
Shoulda waited.

We had the win
No you didn't.

but the refs brought us back and reviewed it. That's the decision they made.
...and it was the right one according to the NBA rule book? Maybe the reporter just missed that part. Anyone else? Andre Iguodala, your thoughts?

You feel like you just got seriously slapped in the face
Rick James: "What did the five fingers say to the face? Slap!"

It was like we had the 'W' and it was marked off.
Kinda like that, except you never had it. Coach Cheeks, you have a comical name - surely you can offer some perspective?

To be a winner, then a loser, that's pretty tough.
How would you know?

I wonder if any of the players simply said, "It was the right call and we lost," but the writers decided that wouldn't make good copy. I would love to have seen a player or coach show such honesty, but that's not typically how it goes when "controversy" is out and about.

Looking ahead, I'm excited about this series against the Wizards, in which one could make a good case for Washington being the favorite. They're healthy and motivated, and the Cavs have not been playing well. Still, the Wiz's incessant anti-Cavs and anti-LeBron trash talk (spearheaded by DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas) will probably earn them a few monster performances from LBJ, who thrives on trash talk from opposing players and even fans. Hey, Wizards, maybe win something before trying to talk smack?

Boston, Borowski, and bunts

That game SUCKED. No other way to put it. Borowski losing that game in the 9th was as disappointing as it was inevitable. Lobbing straight-arrow slowball at one of baseball's best lineups is no kind of way to win, and I don't think many observers expect Borowski to keep the closer's job much longer with that "stuff." In post-game talks, it's clear Borowski knew he wasn't feeling right - if he really knew that, he should have done the best thing for him and the team by telling Eric Wedge and the medical staff, so that the Indians could bring in Masa Kobayashi or Jensen Lewis. Manny Ramirez not being able to identify for reporters the Borowski offering he hit about 670 feet as a fastball or a changeup pretty much sums it up; comical, but if you're a Tribe fan, black comedy.

PD ace buffoon Bill Livingston said that last night's 9th-inning implosion "continues the Indians' nightmare." I guess that's true if you consider coming within one game of the World Series and then starting a 162-game season 5-8 a nightmare. Try being a Pirates fan sometime.

Anyway, enough about that garbage. I want to talk about bunts.

Let's discuss a scenario from the game last evening. The Indians opened their half of the 5th inning leading 2-1. Casey Blake drew a leadoff walk and Grady Sizemore followed suit, giving the Tribe runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. Asdrubal Cabrera then sacrifice-bunted both men over, and both scored on Travis Hafner's 2-run single. Not bad work.

The decision to bunt caused much consternation among the online crowd at Let's Go Tribe, as rabid an anti-bunt crew as you'll find. Those of you who follow baseball know that there's a sharp and growing division between old-fashioned types who favor things like bunts and base-stealing, and new-thinking people who eschew these things on the basis of statistical analysis.

I definitely put myself in with the latter crew - I think sabermetrics and statistical analysis are far better than "traditional" tactics and gut instincts. However, I think it's important to be flexible in one's thinking and not toe a party line either way.

Much of the thinking of the statistical-based people, especially regarding bunts, is based on a very handy device called a runs expectancy matrix. This chart breaks down, on average, how many runs a team should expect to score given the occupation of bases and the remaining outs in a frame. Click that link and have a look to get a feel for it. What it says, reading between the lines, is that outs are much more valuable than stubborn proponents of "smallball" realize.

For instance, most new-thinking people abhor the practice of giving up the first out of an inning to push a runner to second base (let's not get into pitchers bunting for now). The numbers bear this out: expected runs fall from 0.93 to 0.73, a drop of over 20%. The matrix doesn't speak to how the probability of getting just one run changes between these two scenarios, which can be relevant in endgames, but it shows that bunting a leadoff man over is, generally, poor strategy. The same is true for bumping a guy from 2nd to 3rd with your first out, though here I think the odds of getting just one run are almost certainly enhanced.

Getting back to the Indians game, and a situation where the club wanted max runs, not just one, the matrix is a useful tool. The Let's Go Tribe team decried Cabrera's bunt, some of them citing the expectancy matrix. Look at the two scenarios:

1st and 2nd, 0 out: 1.51 runs
2nd and 3rd, 1 out: 1.44 runs

That's 0.07 runs, a difference of less than 5%. About 1 in 15 times this might cost you one run, but generally you end up the same. However, keep in mind that these are average numbers, and are entirely situation-independent.

Consider the Tribe's situation here. Cabrera has looked totally lost at the plate recently. He seems every bit as good a candidate to hit into a DP as get a hit (exaggeration by me). He already has one successful (if ill-advised) sac bunt in this game against this same pitcher. The Tribe's two top hitters are on deck. There is a chance that the sacrifice is unsuccessful, resulting in a 1st and 2nd, one out scenario (0.91 runs expected), which would suck, but Cabrera is an excellent bunter and that chance is mitigated somewhat by the odds of him reaching safely.

Thus, in this case, I think the bunt was a very reasonable strategy. Swinging away would also have been acceptable (or taking a few pitches, considering that Red Sock pitcher Lester had walked the first two batters), but I think Tribe manager Eric Wedge made a good decision here, one that resulted in two runs. Might it have produced more to have Cabrera swing away? We cannot know.

The moral of the story is that it's always good to use statistical analysis to assist your judgments, especially if you don't want Fire Joe Morgan to rip into you, but when you do so, take a couple of precautions. First, make sure the numbers actually agree with your point (which, for the anti-bunters in this particular instance they did not). Second, make sure you are choosing the right numbers, ones that fit your game situation. Then you'll be the smartest baseball fan on the block.

Pro vs. NCAA hoops redux

I'd just like to expand a bit on Nick's post that resides just below this one and on the basketball article that sparked it.

First off, I'm going to respectfully diagree that the NCAA Tournament's popularity is "primarily driven by gambling." I fully acknowledge that there is considerable wagering interest in the game, both by entrants in office pools and by Vegas pros. However, I think the event is great sports and great theater even stripped of the gambling context. Sure, filling out a bracket gets casual fans interested, but anyone with even a passing interest in basketball finds this competition compelling.

Second, both Nick and Kelly Dwyer make the point that NBA players are simply better and that translates into higher quality of play and entertainment value. This point I agree with - there's a reason why people pay the most money to see athletes compete at sports' highest level of competition. NCAA fans bring out arguments about how they're kids and the sport is more "pure": that latter claim I find both incorrect and irrelevant. If a good game is played well, it's generally fun to watch; the NCAA tournament is a good game played well, the NBA is a good game played much, much better.

Third, I'd like to expand on Nick's excellent point about how the NCAA basketball tournament often awards the title to a team that is probably not the nation's best. Obviously a quality team always wins, but it's more the school that catches a hot streak than the true "best" team. The single-elimination format is exciting as hell, no doubt about it, but it naturally produces lots of flukes and cheapens the thirty-game regular season. The NBA's grueling series format ensures that the team left standing in June is truly the most deserving club.

What's interesting is that commentators hold the NCAA tourney up as a model of proper championship determination and at the same time decry the BCS system responsible for doing so in college football. Grumble as people may about pollsters and computers deciding the key matchups, it's almost indisputable that every year one of the nation's top two teams claims the title. Look at the recent winners: LSU, Florida, Texas, USC - there's no question these were the top teams. This particular success of the BCS (among others) is a fact that far too few people credit properly. It's easy for talking heads to spout off populist rhetoric about how they want the championship decided "on the field" without stopping to recognize that all those games played in the regular season (on fields) are what decide the title game's participant and ensure a worthy champion.

Tom Hamilton on Joe Morgan

Hammy: "Jeff Kent might make the Hall of Fame, his numbers put him up there with the likes of Ryne Sandberg and Joe Morgan. But don't try to explain that to Joe."

I love it. And so would these dudes.

Monday, April 14

This is why the "mute" button was invented

So the Tribe game tonight against the Red Socks is going to be nationally televised by ESPN. In other words, the announcing team is going to talk constantly about last year's ALCS and spend roughly 80% of the broadcast loving the Socks. Remember last year's ALDS, when you could watch an entire game without once being informed that the Yankees did, in fact, have an opponent? Multiply that by six and you'll get tonight's game. I think I might fire up my Gameday Audio for the occasion and keep the old TV silent.

Weekend notes

I went to PNC Park on Saturday night along with about 890 other fans and saw the Pittsburgh Pirates edge the Cincinnati Reds 4-3. Despite the chilly conditions (the promotion was a free blanket), I spent the final 2.5 innings of the game shirtless, showing my commitment to baseball, or at least to drinking too much.

Glad to see the Tribe salvaged a game out of the series this weekend. They're not playing well right now - CC has turned in three straight bad starts, Byrd has been awful in both of his appearances, and even Carmona struggled in his latest outing, plus the whole club has struggled to get on base and then convert the scoring opportunities they have had. All that having been said, they still stand at 5-7, haven't been swept yet, and aren't digging themselves a colossal hole like a certain Central Division rival of theirs.

I happened across this article from noted sports authority Forbes regarding the nation's most miserable sports cities.
Cleveland're not going to believe this...eighth. Somehow, the sporting misery of metropolises like Phoenix and San Diego outstrip the Forest City's long and well-documented decades of heartbreak. This is ridiculous.

Am I the only one who simply cannot watch pre-NFL-draft features on sports networks? Who enjoys this stuff? I mean, even if the Browns had the first 150 picks in the draft this year, I wouldn't give a fuck who the 3rd-highest-rated left guard in the nation is.

Watching the Cavs game just now on FSN during the first quarter of their game against the Miami Heat, I saw a commercial to today's game against the Miami Heat. I'll get right on that, guys.

Sunday, April 13

Late Cavs Surge Cools Heat

The Pistons' win over the Toronto Raptors earlier this afternoon sealed the Cavaliers' fate for the opening round of the playoffs, partially. For the third straight year the Cavaliers will meet the Washington Wizards in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. All that is left to be decided is whether or not the Cavs will have home court advantage over their rival.

The situation was this: the Cavaliers had three games remaining while the Wizards had only a pair. Any combination of two Cleveland wins or Washington losses would lock the Cavs into that number four seed, ensuring them home court advantage for at least the first round. Considering that the Cavaliers were playing .667 basketball inside the friendly confines of The Q (entering Sunday), and just .425 on the road, that extra home game could prove vital to the Clevelanders. A match up with the rudderless Miami Heat, sans Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion and sporting an NBA-worst 14-65 mark was nothing short of a blessing for the struggling Cavs, who are limping to the regular season's finish line for the second straight season.


First Quarter
First blood was drawn by the Cavaliers when Ben Wallace kicked the ball out to a wide open Delonte West, who drained a three. West's three-point shot has vastly improved over the last few weeks. At the 7:30 mark the Heat tied the game at seven, clearly not packing it in despite having a very young and relatively talent-depleted roster.

While the Heat were unable to trot out a very skilled team, they definitely played hard, because frankly hustle is going to be the difference between making an NBA roster and spending a career in the D-League for many of their players (in fact, the Heat presently have seven players on the roster who spent time in the D-League this season).

After a LeBron James three-point play, a trey from former Buckeye Daequan Cook evened the score at 10. On one possession, Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a comical number of tips in an effort to corral an offensive rebound, but was unable to do so. Perhaps due to this failure, Austin Carr passed on a prime opportunity to tell fans that Z is "the best tip drill man in the league."

A Daniel Gibson three and a pair of Ilguaskas free throws gave the Cavs a five point edge as the final third of the quarter commenced. Daqequan Cook served as a one-man offense for the Heat, scoring 11 of Miami's first 19 points with a fine display of jump shooting. Miami finished with a flurry, outscoring the Cavs 7-0 during the final two minutes of the quarter. A six-footer off the glass from Earl Barron gave the Heat a two-point lead (21-19) at the quarter's closing, and served as a reminder that this Miami team was not going to roll over and be the Cavaliers' doormat.

Second Quarter
The Cavs' opening possession of the second quarter was marked by a Wally Szczerbiak shot clock violation. A quick aside: will someone please bench this man? A sweet Joe Smith jumper from the baseline tied the game at 21. LeBron spent a good portion of the second quarter nursing his ailing back, a back that has grown weary of carrying 11 other players game after game.

An Earl Barron hook shot squared the score at 24 with just over 8 minutes to play, and the Heat continued to hang around. The Cavs didn't have much offensive leadership during the first half of the second quarter with LeBron James and Delonte West on the bench. If I'm scouting the Cavaliers, that definitely sticks out. Cleveland scored only eight points in six minutes to open the second.

The return of Ilgauskas, James, and West provided the Cavaliers with the proverbial shot in the arm. The Cavs opened a 35-28 lead, a run highlighted by a three from West and an emphatic fast break dunk from James that brought the crowd roaring to their feet. But once again, the Heat just continued to hang around, as they answered with five straight points to cut that lead to 35-33. Heading into the break, the Cavs led 40-38.

Third Quarter
As the quarter began, FSN Ohio displayed a graphic indicating that the Heat are 4-39 against winning teams this season, with their last victory over such a club coming on December 22 against the Utah Jazz. Fox’s game editor should have followed said graphic with another that read: "(These guys suck.)"

A Ricky Davis three allowed the Heat to regained the lead (45-43) with 10 minutes to play. The Cavaliers were having trouble both hitting open jump shots and establishing an inside presence, and such problems usually don't translate into boatloads of points.

LeBron James tied the game once again with a pair of freebies, but five minutes into the second half the Cavaliers had scored just five points and trailed 47-45. Zydrunas Ilgauskas finally broke out of his dry spell to hit a jumper, making the score 47 all.

Austin Carr commented that the Cavaliers couldn't find a rhythm, and anyone watching the game would be inclined to agree. Whenever something positive happened for the home team, they were unable to build on that success to generate any separation.

There was no shortage of ties and lead changes tonight, and an Anderson Varejao layup tied the game once more, this time at 53. As the quarter wound down, two consecutive baskets by Devin Brown tied the game at 57 until Chris Quinn slashed inside to give the Heat a two-point lead. At the end of the third, the Cavs trailed the Heat 59-57.

Fourth Quarter
The Cavs shot just 37-percent during the first three quarters, a stat which had to improve if the home team expected to post a win.

With nine minutes to play the Cavaliers held a 62-60 lead following a Daniel Gibson trey. On the following possession Gibson drew a foul on a three-pointer, a maneuver at which he has become adept this season. Gibson knocked down all three freebies, and combined with an Ilgauskas bucket the Cavs had opened up a 67-60 lead with about 8 minutes to play.

A couple of Anderson Varejao baskets (one of which was not pretty) gave the Cavs a 71-63 lead with less than 6 minutes to play. Two AV free throws made the Cleveland advantage 10 points with 5:00 remaining.

Joe Smith did a terrific job filling the lane and drew a blatant charge on Chris Quinn, giving the Cavaliers the basketball with 3:30 to play and a 76-65 lead. If we learned anything about this incarnation of the Heat tonight, it's that they don't quit. Ricky Davis hit a three to cut the Cavalier lead to 76-70, making it a two possession game with 2:33 to go.

Somehow a LeBron James layup rolled out, but Ilgauskas was there for the tip in (possibly offensive goaltending), and Austin Carr was there to remind us that nothing has changed since Wednesday; Z is still the best tip drill man in the league. Mark Blount's jumper shrunk the lead to six and kept Miami alive. Blount was on fire (get it?) late in the game, and he managed to draw a foul on the subsequent possession. The Blountman split his pair of free throws, and the lead was five.

Delonte West missed a jump shot, but Sasha Pavlovic crashed the boards, caught the rebound, and slammed it home in stride. The lead was now seven (80-73) and the Cavs were firmly in control. Miami was forced to foul, and Delonte West hit both free throws to increase the lead to nine.

On the other end, Chris Quinn made a three to keep Miami’s comeback hopes on life support. Once again, Delonte West was fouled intentionally, and once again, he was money from the stripe. West's free throw shooting essentially iced the game. Ricky Davis threw up a prayer, Daniel Gibson grabbed a hotly-contested rebound, and the Cavs walked down the tunnel with an 84-76 victory.

Quick Hits

Snowman in the booth. Fred McLeod and Austin Carr welcomed one of the Cavs' several financial albatrosses, Eric Snow, into the broadcasting booth during the second quarter. Snow has one more year on his current contract, and will almost certainly retire when that contract expires. E-Snow seems a lock for some sort of coaching position.

During his quarter in the booth, Snow seemed very sharp. There's no doubt that he knows the game and relates well to the other players. There's no way to know how Snow would handle the X's and O's part of coaching, but he certainly seems prepared for most of the job’s other facets. Look for him to catch on as an assistant somewhere and eventually get a shot at a head coaching position.

Strategery. Pat Riley is no dummy, and you can bet he realizes that his present team stinks. How did Riley try to compensate for that lack of talent? By limiting possessions, not unlike Mike Fratello used to do with some of the mediocre Cavs teams of old. I have no numbers to back this up (so obviously, I'm opening myself to harsh criticism), but basketball inherently seems to determine the superior team more effectively than other sports. In baseball, hockey, and soccer one player (pitcher, goaltender) can get hot and win the game almost single-handedly. In football, the possibility for a high ratio of turnovers to the relatively low number of possessions can cause volatility (see: Browns vs. Bengals, December 23, 2007), giving lousy teams the opportunity to defeat better clubs.

But in basketball, the high number of possessions and therefore, scoring opportunities, means that it's very hard to "luck" your way into a victory. Likewise, one player can't decide the outcome of the game on his own. Even an all-world superstar like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Rasho Nesterovic (if you caught that you’re still awake) will typically only score about one-third of his team's points. These two factors mean that over the course of a 48-minute game, things tend to go in favor of the best team, ceteris paribus.

Getting back to my original point, by slowing the game down and thereby reducing the number of possessions, Riles is hoping that his team can hang tough for three quarters, and then maybe pull it out with hustle and luck in the fourth. That strategy almost worked tonight.

"You don't need to put me on the bench." Wally Szczerbiak must be pulling some sort of Jedi mind trick on Mike Brown, because that's the only explanation for Wally World seeing double digit minutes in a meaningful game. What does this guy have to do to get benched? Prior to being traded to Cleveland, we all knew that Wally's defense was, to put it lightly, sub-par. Nothing has changed since he's taken up residence on the North Shore.

Szczerbiak's saving grace has always been his ability to make jump shots and flat out score the basketball. But Szczerbiak seems unable to score with any regularity or efficiency at this point. Wally came into Sunday's game shooting 35.6-percent (36.5 from downtown) in Wine & Gold. There's no reason to pull punches anymore; Wally Szczerbiak is Jiri Welsch. The only reason the fans aren't screaming for Mike Brown's job whenever Wally checks into the game is because the guy went to school in Ohio.

Compound Szczerbiak's gratuitous allotments of playing time with the fact that Sasha Pavlovic and Damon Jones can't buy their way onto the floor, and you have yourself a paradox. Jones is shooting 42.3-percent from beyond the arc, and is no more of a defensive liability than Szczerbiak. Something’s got to give. I've made up my mind. Szczerbiak must be using a Jedi mind trick. He probably had great success buying booze and cigarettes in high school, as well. "You don't need to see my identification."

A little help from his friends. LeBron James scored just 13 points tonight, shooting only 9 times. But the Cavs were able to bother the Heat on defense, and LeBron's supporting cast did just enough to seal the victory. Six Cavaliers scored nine points or more, including a strong 18-point effort from Delonte West, who is getting more comfortable in Mike Brown's offense by the day.

“Sweet” is the new sour. There is no reason for the Cavaliers to play Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" during halftime every game, trying to make it into some kind of forced tradition. This isn't Fenway Park, and this isn't the middle of the eighth inning. After last October, being reminded of the Boston Red Sox is the last thing I'm looking for at The Q.

He's not one of my favorite artists, but some of Neil Diamond's stuff is really good, and "Sweet Caroline" is a tune with a high karaoke value. That said, let's find our own damn song.

My suggestion: Run DMC's “Down With the King." It's a solid rap track (even if the group had passed their prime at the time of the album's release), it’s topically relevant as long as LeBron James is in C-Town, and Eric "Eazy-E" Wright even shows up to assist D.M.C, Jam-Master Jay, and Rev Run, so there's a Browns tie-in. Another positive: it's over four minutes of Ahmad Crump not yelling at me. Danny Ferry, make this happen.

Digiorno Pizza® Austin Carr Quote of the Game: "[The Cavs] have to understand they are a blue collar team, Fred. They are not a Hollywood glare, LA Laker kind of team. This team, they need floor burns, they need knockin' people down, that's who they are. That's how they got to the situation they got into last year. But now all of the sudden nobody is going to put it on the line and I don't understand that."

Andy dispelled the silly notion of the "blue collar" sports cliché. Floor burns and knocking people down were not what got the Cavs into the Finals last season. They were propelled into the Finals by a favorable path through the bracket (Washington and New Jersey in rounds one and two, respectively), outstanding team defense, and the presence of LeBron James, arguably the most dominant player in the game. As much as Michael Stanley's old tune might suggest that the Cavs get it done "with sweat and hustle," most NBA teams play hard (this is particularly true in the playoffs), and neither a vastly superior level of effort nor a figurative collar hue (not even a “pinkish hue”) fueled the Cavaliers' 2007 playoff run.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will return: Tomorrow, when they travel to the Quaker City to meet the suddenly surging Philadelphia 76ers. The resurgent Sixers have won 14 of their last 21, and should provide a good test for the Cavaliers as they look to lock up the Eastern Conference's fourth seed with a win. Tip off time is 7:00 at the Wachovia Center.