Tuesday, March 31

I don't care about your bracket

With Pittsburgh's heartbreaking defeat in their Elite Eight game against Villanova, I no longer have any rooting interest in the NCAA Tournament. The five Ohio entrants and Pitt are out, and The Final Four is set with Michigan State, UConn, UNC, and fucking Villanova, none of whom I care about. I'll passively pull for the Spartans out of Big Ten solidarity, but in general: eh.

Pitt's exit on Saturday night reminded me of both the major strength and major weakness of the NCAA Tournament: the fact that everyone is involved with it. Let me explain.

Obviously, the 65-team contest is wildly popular. I guarantee that, if you are reading this blog, you filled out at least one bracket. Everyone did. This is good, because it builds interest and you can discuss the results with just about anyone. Unfortunately, this results in a situation where people root for their brackets far more than for an actual team, and that's annoying. Like Pitt losing - I know a lot of people were pulling for them because of a prediction they had made, but I actually follow the team and was rooting for them out of legitimate sporting interest. Frankly, it annoys me that people with absolutely no interest in Villanova, who don't even know where Villanova is (near Philly), are excited over their win and I have to settle for yet another defeat. Trust me, Villanova-pickers: you having selected Villanova in your bracket really, really doesn't make the Panthers' exit any easier.

Admittedly, this feeling might be amplified somewhat by the fact that I submitted an almost historically bad bracket (I currently rank 70th in a 74-person pool), but I think it's legitimate regret over how actual fandom is subsumed by bracketmania during the tournament every year. This is not unlike the reason why I choose not to play fantasy football. Part of why my 2009 bracket is so lousy is that I hedged my Cleveland State support by picking Wake Forest to go far. I was more than happy to see that region go up in flames when the Vikings pulled off the upset - I wonder how many NCAA prognosticators could say the same.

Monday, March 30

And then stuff started to happen, for the Indians.

The Indians at times this spring have not exactly been impressive as a team. Sure, Jhonny has done well and this Mark DeRosa kid might work out, but as a whole the Indians seem to be a little flat-footed. While Carmona might be back, Lee's spring has been anything but worry-free. Hafner hasn't really hit the ball well. The rotation of Lee, Carmona, Pavano, Scott Lewis, and Anthony Reyes is not confidence-inspiring, thanks to Lee's troubles and the big question marks that are 2-5. The young guys have been nice to watch but again that's more about 2010 than, say, 2009. Everyone in the bullpen except Wood and Perez have been roughed up at times... wait what am I saying? This is spring training. Doesn't count. Moving on...

Scott Lewis beats Aaron Laffey
This is how I wanted it to work out after seeing how these two pitched this spring. In classic Indians fashion, after winning the job Lewis went out and got roughed up. BA likes Lewis at a VORP of 14.5 and Laffey at 2.4. It's not like Columbus is very far anyway. Here's to hoping I-71 doesn't see to much traffic this year.

Zach Jackson beats Vinnie Chulk
The argument for Jackson is that he can serve as a long reliever thanks to his work as a starter and he is left-handed which makes only him and Perez in the bullpen that share the same handedness as our President. Chulk, on the other hand, pitched better this spring and was able to pitch a scoreless three-inning stint last week. Chulk at AAA must be called up by May 15th or be released. If Jackson sucks, expect to see a swap for Chulk. Jackson's VORP is a solid -4.6 and Chulk isn't even in the book so that is the kind of production we're looking at here. I would have gone with Chulk.

Dellucci has a tight calf and begins year on DL - Crowe called up

Dellucci's injury is salt in an already infected wound for this writer so I'll let his side of the story go. Crowe did OK this spring. Crowe has hit .289/.304/.422 in his first 45 at bats this spring. Obviously the front office would prefer Crowe to be getting reps in AAA than riding the pine instead of Dellucci. The Baseball Prospectus line on these two guys are so close it's a wash. If we could get our money back I would drop Dellucci in a second, but right now there is no good choice.

I picked a FCF baseball team.
Due to founding editors Andy and Nick being preoccupied the joy of selecting the FCF's Cleveland Sports Blog Fantasy Baseball Team fell to me. The one who writes about the Indians. In my defense I was determined to not follow the autopick and select a team with character. Here is who I picked:

C - Geovany Soto (Cubs)
1B - Mark Teixeira (NYY)
2B - Brain Roberts (Baltimore O's)
3B - Aramis Ramirez (Cubs) and maybe my least favorite pick
SS - Jhonny Peralta (You know who)
CI - Mark DeRosa (CI stands for corner infielder)
MI - Orlando Cabrera (Middle Infielder) this pick might need to be addressed
OF - Carlos Beltran (NYM)
OF - Curtis Granderson (Tigers)
OF - Lasting Milledge (Nationals)
OF - Brad Hawpe (Rockies)
Util - Xavier Nady (NYY)
BN - Kelly Shoppach (Maybe a foolish pick)
BN - Orlando Hudson (Dodgers)
BN - J.D. Drew (Red Sox)
BN - Jason Giambi (Oakland)
BN - Mike Cameron (Brewers)
BN - Russell Branyan (Mariners)

SP - Rich Harden (Cubs)
SP - Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
RP - Brad Lidge (Phillies)
RP - Kerry Wood (Indians)
P - David Price (Rays) also not available and in AAA
P - Jared Weaver (Angels)
P - Fausto Carmona (Indians)

The team is a little Indians-heavy, but hey, that's how it goes. The glaring problems are Orlando Cabrera as a starter and David Price even being on the roster. A mental lapse caused me to pick the AAA-bound Price. However, if he gets called up and we don't need that roster spot until then I think he's an excellent young pitcher. The actual day-to-day running of the team looks to be placed in Andy's capable hands so I'll let him update you on his roster moves and how the teams doing. Go FCF! I especially like the Milledge pick we'll have to see how he works out this year.

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Sunday, March 29

Cavs blitz Mavericks for 60th win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delonte West fro? Love it.

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

Flipping the switch

A few snapshots from the Cavaliers' club-record 12th straight victory, a ???? win over the Dallas Mavericks:

2nd Quarter, 10:06: Mavericks 35, Cavs 20

Halftime: Mavericks 49, Cavs 47

End 3rd Quarter: Cavs 77, Mavericks 60

4th Quarter, 10:29: Cavs 84, Mavericks 60

Rest of 4th quarter: Cruise control

Serioiusly, that was ridiculous. They looked asleep in the first quarter, and then you look up and all of a sudden they're up 24 against a West Conference playoff-caliber team. "The Diff" was -10 in the 1st, +8 in the 2nd, +19 in the 3rd, and then, just for fun, the Cavs rack up the first seven of the 4th. Before you know it, you're 35-1 at home (!), 60-13 overall (!), and looking at a Magic Number of 5 to clinch the East. This game was downright comical for a while. Hope the Pistons are looking forward to their trip here!

Thursday, March 26

Remember when 48-13 seemed good?

You know, back before the CaVs ripped off 10 more in a row to increase their mark to 58-13 and broke the club record for wins in a season with 11 still to play? This just in: these guys are good.

John Hollinger wrote a piece a couple of days ago where he said that his playoff odds calculations predicted the Cavs would clinch the NBA's best record on the final day of the season, which I found interesting. The race for the East's best regular-season mark is all but over - their magic number is just 7 over Orlando and 6 over Boston with 11 to play, including 7 at home. The CaVs are 33-1 at the Q so far - win out in Cleveland to go 40-1, and the East is theirs even if they don't even bother to travel to their remaining road games and both the Magic and Celtics win out. Enjoy playing each other in the East Semis, Orlando and Boston! We'll let you know how things went with the Hawks!

Tuesday, March 24

And Spring Training Rolled On

I was prompted by our editor Andy to write up a Tribe post to fill in the waxing gap that is late March here at the FCF, especially given the Siena win over OSU in the NCAA tournament. Just in case I didn't mention it a few times already, Spring Training isn't exactly a time of excitement and intrigue for the Indians. The real show is the fact that baseball is back. The Indians as an organization aren't ones to have a classic battle in Spring Training for a starting position. The only real question marks coming into the spring were the fifth starter and the seventh reliever. Not exactly what you would consider high intrigue. If you didn't already know, mlb.com Indians reporter Anthony Castrovince has done an excellent job tackling what he has named the excruciating minutia of the day. Look, this spring stuff isn't exactly exciting.

So another week has gone by and the WBC is mercifully over and what have we learned?

- Lee looked better his second time out. He did a better job of throwing pitches other than his fastball. If you remember last week Cliff was touched up for more runs in his debut than he gave up in all of the 2008 Cy Young campaign. It was pointed out that this performance was a) Lee's first outing of the year so he had to be rusty, b) he threw only fastballs to work on his release and spotting this pitch he used so effectively last year, and c) Lee was also pitching against the Texas Rangers, the team he will face Opening Day in Arlington in a couple weeks. Obviously Lee didn't want to give the Rangers' hitters too good a look. Look for his remaining outings to be increasingly more gamelike.

- I love Michael Brantley. Have you heard a bad word about this guy? Because I haven't. His stats thus far this spring are: .343 OBP, .344 Slugging, and a .313 average. Brantley was the player named later in the CC trade. While he isn't one to impress with his power, his ability to make contact and his speed have been impressive.

- A Hoynes report quoted a scout as mentioning how Hafner hasn't regained any of his bat speed. This, combined with his inability to drive the ball in spring training games, has drawn into question Hafner's prospective effectiveness this season. Castrovince took on a few questions in his last mailbag where he was more optimistic, pointing out that Hafner's bat speed is too subjective of a quantity to be overly concerned about. He also mentions that Hafner's pitch recognition isn't yet up to speed - slow that down and everything else gets messed up and a swing is bound to look slow. Time will tell - unless Hafner jumps out of the gates fast, this will be discussed at length for the rest of the season.

- A few weeks back I talked about Asdrubal Cabrera's offensive output being a little light. Well he's turned it around and now sits on a .405 OBP. Goes to show what I know. Hopefully last year's second half can be marked down as a big lesson learned for Cabrera.

- Victor Martinez is back, mark it down.

- It will be nice to see Mark DeRosa's return to the Indians lineup after a solid WBC performance.

- Zach Jackson and Scott Lewis are my favorites for the remaining reliever and starting pitching spots. Sowers got sent down today so it is Lewis or Laffey. This was Laffey's job to lose and I think he did, but I don't run a ball team so what do I know.

- I hear Barfield, while learning every position but pitcher, catcher, and second base, is still a little light with the bat. Oh well.

12 Days to Opening Day
Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

The Tribe

Hey Indians fans, I'd like to recommend to you that you become a member of the Indians' official fan club, The Tribe. You get various deals like presales, a tour of Progressive Field, prize drawings, and Team Shop discounts, plus free Gameday Audio. It's only $20 to join the Tribe, and I was going to drop $15 on Gameday Audio anyway, so it's really a pretty good deal. Just thought I'd pass it along.

Thursday, March 19

Buckeyes make Big Ten run, look ahead to NCAA's

Going into last week's Big Ten tournament, Ohio St found themselves squarely on the bubble. A first-round loss would give them a coin flip's chance to make the big dance, one win would most likely put them in, and a trip to the finals would guarantee them a spot.

So the Bucks had a lot of pressure on them going into their first-round matchup with fellow bubbler Wisconsin. Both teams play a slow-tempo, slug-it-out style of play, and this game was just that. I thought for sure I was going to look over at the sidelines and see Jim Tressel and Bret Bielema standing there. I came home from teaching at halftime, with OSU ahead 29-28. Wisconsin controlled most of the second half, but the Buckeyes stayed within 4-7 points. Every time it looked like the Badgers were going to pull away, Evan Turner would come up with a big play or Jon Diebler would hit a big three. Wisconsin led 54-47 with six minutes remaining in the game, when Ohio St decided to really clamp down. The Badgers could only manage three free throws the rest of the game, as OSU finished on a 14-3 run led by (who else?) Evan Turner. ET finished with a team-high 19 points, helping the Bucks to a 61-57 victory and putting them one step closer to an NCAA bid.

Round two saw Ohio St go up against top-seeded Michigan St. Turner struggled mightily in the first half, being held scoreless. But thanks to some nifty three point shooting by OSU and some serious brick laying by the Spartans, the Buckeyes were up at halftime, 34-29. OSU exploded in the second half, scoring 48 points, including 18 by Turner. MSU continued to have trouble getting the ball to go through that metal thing attached to the backboard, and Ohio St made their way to the conference finals, winning 82-70. It was the second-highest total Michigan St had given up all year, and no team can keep up with that when you shoot 38% like Sparty did. ET clearly showed he deserved Big Ten Player of the Year over MSU's Kalin Lucas, as he outscored Lucas 18-17. Ohio St saw contributions from almost everyone on the roster, as Diebler poured in 17, Big Ten Freshman of the Year William Buford had 14, and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year B.J. Mullens added 12.
(Random Rant: I was in Pittsburgh for St Pattys Day during this game, so I went to a bar to watch it. They had several TV's there, so I had them put this game on a small screen in the corner for my friend and I. Everything went well until with five minutes left they switched it to the Pittsburgh Penguins game. I realize the Pens get priority, but I was literally the only one watching this TV. Stupid Pittsburgh.)

It was on to the finals for Ohio St to take on Purdue. The Buckeyes led pretty much the whole way through a boring first half, taking a 30-25 lead into the break. The second half went back and forth, but the Bucks couldn't withstand Purdue's late rally. Led by E'Twaun Moore's 17 points (14 in the second half), the Boilermakers won their first-ever Big Ten Tournament, 65-61. As usual, Turner led all scorers with 22 (along with 10 boards), but the Buckeyes got no help from the bench. Five points was all they could come up with, as the usual contributions from key reserves Jeremie Simmons and Mullens (2 and 3 points, respectively) were not there. Although the loss was disappointing, you had to love how OSU played in this tourney, not only guaranteeing them a spot in the Field of 65, but also rapidly improving their seeding.

Next up for the Buckeyes is the real deal in the NCAA Tournament. The 8th seeded Bucks drew #9 Siena in the first round in Dayton, OH (Friday at 9:40, CBS). When I first saw this, my initial reaction was, "Who?" All I know about Siena is that they're from the MAAC and I vaguely remember them upsetting someone in last year's first round. Upon doing some simple Googling, they did in fact beat 4th seeded Vanderbilt in '08 as a 13 seed. Playing about an hour's drive from Columbus certainly won't hurt Ohio St, and I think as long as they don't take this game for granted they should be in good shape. A victory will (barring history being made) match the Buckeyes up with overall #1 seed Louisville in round 2.


Tuesday, March 17

OK no one panic

In case you haven't been following Indians spring training baseball - and I can't blame you - the ace of our staff, Cliff Lee, gave up 10 runs, nine earned, in 2.2 innings of work. My first reaction was: Holy Crap! Then I realized this was only Lee's second start and he could still be finding his release point and that sort of thing. Moving on, I've got a few stray thoughts here you may be interested in.

- Rafael Perez returned from his stint at the WBC without giving up a run. Of the arms in our bullpen not named Wood I think Perez is easily the most solid. Actually everything considered he probably is the most solid.

- Chris Gimenez has been getting a lot of press of late. He is an option at backup backup catcher along with first and outfielder as well. Obviously the Indians love versatile players.

- Who is your money on as first veteran off the team? David Dellucci, Masa Kobayashi, or the dark horse (yeah that's right) Carl Pavano? Kobayashi could probably last a couple months as a garbage time reliever. Heck I could probably last a couple months as a MLB garbage time reliever. OK maybe just a few weeks.

- Zach Jackson is the early favorite for the final bullpen spot. The fact that he is left handed and an option for long relief situations makes him attractive. Well, that and those sideburns of his.

- Despite my tendencies to prefer Scott Lewis as the fifth starter, this competition is Aaron Laffey's to lose.

- Can Jensen Lewis pitch this well in the actual season? My hope is yes, though I've read opinions that says no. My longshot prediction of the week is that Lewis will have a better bullpen year than Betancourt.

Only 19 more days until Opening Day.
Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Another quality road trip

In late January, I brought you the tale of the Cleveland Cavaliers posting a 3-1 record on a tough road trip after losing the first game badly..

In late February, I told of the Clevelanders again taking three of four away from home, once again following an opening game drubbing.

The key, it turns out, is this: only take three-game trips, and make sure the one you cut out is that lousy first game. The Cavs took that lesson to heart, sweeping all three games in a West Coast swing through LA (the Clips, not the Lakers, another key), Phoenix, and Sacramento. It wasn't always easy - the Cavs needed furious rallies to edge the bottom-feeding Kings and Clippers - but a tired Cavalier team got it done each night to return home with a sparkling 52-13 mark.

The Cavs kicked off the roadie in the Staples Center, facing the pathetic 15-48 Clippers. Yet despite the weak opposition and them coming off of a strong win vs Miami two days prior, the Cavs came out flat against the Clippers. LA got some easy baskets early, but the Cavalier defense got progressively tighter during the game. The Cavs just couldn't hit any shots. It was brutal. Trailing by 19 in the 4th quarter (to the Clippers!), it looked like they were making their customary start to a road trip. Then, as Hubie Brown once said in a hilarious NBA video, the gong went off. The Cavaliers outscored LA 35-14 in the final frame to claim a 87-83 victory over the hapless Clippers, whose final attempt to tie the game was a 34-foot off-balance airball by Zach Randolph. Go Clippers! LeBron was a man once again, going off for a triple-double line of 32/13/11. Z and Mo Williams were the other leading scorers at 16 and 14 respectively, with Z adding 8 boards and Anderson Varejao contributing 10 boards and his usual frenetic play. The most interesting figures, to me, were Daniel Gibson's +14 rating and Delonte West's -11. Not a good game for Brother Red.

The stat lines for the two teams ended up quite even: same FG%, same FT%, close 3-pt. FG%, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, all pretty well in line. The Cavs just executed a little better down the stretch and escaped with a W.

Two nights later, Cleveland found themselves facing the reeling Phoenix Suns (33-31), in a building where the Cavs hadn't won in 9 years, making it the only NBA arena where LeBron had yet to taste victory. Well, like Homer Simpson seeing Farrah Fawcett naked, The King made sure to cross that off his list, notching his 3rd straight triple double (34/10/13, plus 3 each of blocks and steals) in a 119-110 shootout win over a Suns team with virtually zero interest in playing defense. Mo Williams added 30 for the Cavs, Z had 15, and Sasha Pavlovic came out of hibernation with 16 points on 6-9 shooting and a team-high +/- rating of +16. The Cavs' top three +/- figures all came from guards, including an unusually aggressive offensive night from Wally Szczerbiak (+14) and long-range bombing from Mo Williams (+11).

Though the offensive numbers looked good, the Cavalier defense was not strong, allowing the Suns to shoot nearly 55% with lots of open looks and transition baskets. If Phoenix had any interest at all in trying to prevent Cleveland from scoring points, this one might have gone to the home team. It's been written in other spaces, but the Cavalier interior defense has not been as strong recently as it was earlier in the year. It may be the absence of Ben Wallace, maybe the Cavs are a bit weary, but it's something to be mildly concerned about. I am now complaining about a 5-game win streak from a team playing better than .800 ball - that's how good this team is.

The next night took the Cavs up to northern California to Arco Arena (cue up the Cake song of that name) to take on the crummy (14-50) Kings, a team who entered the game 0-24 against the Eastern Conference. The Cavs extended that particular NBA record for futility, but it wasn't easy, as Cleveland needed an overtime session to prevail 126-123. Again, Cleveland's defense was not good: Kevin Martin (34), Jason Thompson (19), and Bobby Jackson (19) got pretty much whatever they wanted on the offensive end. Not a good sign for the Cavs. Thompson, an impressive young player, ended with a ridiculous +27, offset somewhat by the -20 of teammate Donte Greene. Sacramento hit for 59 points in the first half and ended up shooting over 48% for the game, including 41% from long range. That is not championship-caliber defensive play.

Luckily, the Cavs also have some guys who can put the ball in the hoop. Pundits and announcers always talk about how the Cavs really don't want to get in scoring contests with teams like the Kings and Knicks, but you know what? The Cavs always win those kinds of games too. Yes, they're good defensively, but that doesn't mean they don't prevail by trading baskets with run-n-shoot clubs as well. You don't go 52-13 by being one-dimensional. These guys can score! In particular, LeBron James can score, as he showed to the tune of 51 points (plus 4 boards and 9 assists). Varejao chipped in 18 points on perfect 8-8 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, Szczerbiak came off the bench for 12 more (and a +12), and Boobie added 9 points and a team-high +24 (!) The two lowest-rated Cavs in +/- on the night were Z (-25, ouch) and Mo Williams (-16; these things happen when you shoot 3-14).

As with the Clippers game, the Cavs found themselves in serious trouble near the end of the game, but once again out-executed an inferior opponent, outscoring the Kings 32-18 in the final period to force overtime, where LeBron took control from the beginning and made sure not to let Sacramento off the mat. Tired but happy, the Cavs finally headed home.

The Cavaliers have since celebrated their return by posting a win over the Knicks (can you believe we might play these turkeys in the first round?) and extending their Eastern Conference lead to 3.5 games over Boston and 4.5 over Orlando. The Cavs now have more remaining home games than any club in the NBA, with 12 of their last 16 at the Q. In case you missed it: the Cavs win games at the Q. Granted, they've got some strong opponents aiming to hang a 2nd loss on the Cavs' 29-1 home ledger, including Orlando, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio, and Boston. But the Cavs benefit by having just one back-to-back in the next 4 weeks, which should allow them go get some much needed rest. 65 wins, the #1 seed, even the NBA's best record - it's all there for the taking. Go CaVs!

Monday, March 16

Akron Zips: 2009 MAC Champions!

Congratulations to the Akron Zips, who defeated Buffalo on Saturday night 65-53 to claim the Mid-American Conference title and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Like Cleveland State, the Zips are making just their second appearance in the Field of 64/65 and their first since 1986.

Coming in as the 5th-seed (the top 4 received opening-round byes), Akron survived a scare in their opening-round game against 12th-seeded Toledo, needing a late comeback and overtime to advance to the quarterfinals. Whew!

The Zips then toppled 4th-seeded Miami University on Thursday night, avenging their heartbreaking loss in the MAC Final two years ago when the Redhawks won via a lucky banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer. Despite early struggles, Akron turned on the juice and claimed a 73-63 victory to advance to the semis.

There the Zips faced top-seeded Bowling Green, whom they dispatched 63-55 courtesy of a strong defensive effort that got them out front early with a lead they would not relinquish. The win over BGSU put Akron in their third straight final, a game that had not treated them well the previous two years. In addition to the ridiculous loss to Miami, Akron was destroyed last year by the Kent State Golden Flashes in a game attended by this blogger. Oddly, KSU's fans outnumbered Akron's about 2-1 despite a similar drive up I-77 to the Q for both schools' fans.

The final saw the Zips and their fans, the AK-Rowdies, exorcise those demons with a solid 65-53 victory over #3-seeded Buffalo and claim the MAC Championship. Onto the NCAA's!

Although Ohio State was unable to complete the hat trick, falling in the Big Ten title game to Purdue after upset wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, Ohio will be very well-represented in the NCAA Tournament this year. In addition to Cleveland State, Akron, and OSU, Atlantic 10 squads Dayton and Xavier will also be participating, giving Ohio five schools participating this year. Should be exciting!

Wednesday, March 11

Cleveland State Vikings: 2009 Horizon League Champions

Now that's excitement! The CSU Vikings won a closely-fought 57-54 decision over 17th-ranked Butler on Tuesday night to secure their first visit to the NCAA Tournament since 1986. Congratulations to Coach Waters and the Vikings!

Cleveland State showed a lot of character in this game - Butler had already beaten them twice this year (by 2 points each time) and the very prospect of facing the Bulldogs in their own gym had to be a daunting one for Cleveland State. What's more, Butler knocked CSU out of tourney contention last year in the exact same scenario, so the Vikings had to be anxious at the chance to defeat their nemesis. The Vikings trailed most of the first half, usually anywhere from 2-8 points, but never let the lead balloon. They finally gained the upper hand in the second half thanks to stellar play from Tournament MVP Cedric Jackson, who finished the game with 19 points (on 7-12 shooting, 4-8 for three), 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Jeremy Montgomery chipped in 11 points thanks to some long-distance accuracy.

The end of the game was thrilling and, accoring to the melodramatic (though generally insightful) broadcasters, excruciating. Cleveland state managed to go out front by a score of 56-50 with three minutes to play, and pretty much failed to do anything offensively from that point on. Butler slowly whittled the lead to 54-50 with a pair of 1-2's from the line and a basket. CSU finally connected on the front end of a 1 and 1 (a rule I do not like), putting them up 57-54 with about 15 seconds to play. Butler got off a couple of contested threes before time expired and Cleveland State celebrated a satisfying victory and their first NCAA appearance in 23 years.

Butler, for their part, is a solid, classy team - I never once found myself even close to hating them like I typically do with my teams' rivals. They will almost certainly earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament despite not receiving the Horizon's automatic bid. Good luck to the Bulldogs, and Go Vikes!

Tuesday, March 10

Despite my best attempts to ignore it, Spring Training continues unabated.

While baseball players are busy working out the kinks and brushing off the rust, I too have struggled this spring to be so interested in Spring Training baseball as to want to write up the occasional blog post. It might have to do with the time zone of Arizona not exactly lining up with when I have time to listen to a game. That hasn't stopped me from continuing to read almost every drop of Indians news but still. Well let's get to the bullet list so we can get out of here. How's that sound?

- Indians getting the most spring AB's so far include Barfield, Francisco, Garko, Carroll, Peralta, and the AAA outfield of Mills, LaPorta, Crowe, and Brantley. Obviously Barfield is working his way to utility bench guy so he needs time in the field at various positions. As for hitting, his OPS is around .600 in 23 at bats. As a small sample size spring comparison, in 20 AB Peralta has an OPS of 1.650

- Wood was on the mound for a nine pitch spring training debut. Three up, three down with a strike out. Kerry is expected to pitch about a dozen or so more times this spring.

- Kobayashi has looked horrible this spring but lucky for him he's in the same camp as Mujica and Rich Rundles.

- Both Jenny Lew and flat-billed Tony Reyes are sitting on perfect five inning records right now, neither having surrendering a run.

- The real exciting thing so far has to be the way Carmona has handled himself in his seven innings. I can't believe I'm writing about a measly seven innings.

- The WBC isn't too bad if you've got nothing else to do. You can explain to your parents that the Netherlands still controls a number of Caribbean islands and that is why they have a baseball team.

- Speaking of the WBC, I was excited to see the US putting a beat down on Venezuela, with our own Mark DeRosa accounting for four RBI.

- Despite his late start The Dellucci DFA watch is looking glum with his two hits in six at bats, one of those being a home run. Yes, eagle-eyed reader, that picture at the top of this article is him.

- Still 26 days to Opening Day.

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Thursday, March 5

Cavs cruise past Bucks, clinch playoffs

Nobody knows how this season's going to end for the Cavaliers, but with 22 games left on the schedule, the playoffs are now a certainty. Let the comparisons to the ’95 Tribe continue, because these Cavaliers just wrapped up a playoff spot ridiculously early. Less than two weeks after the Varejao/Villanueva/Ilgauskas skirmish at the Bradley Center, the Cavaliers took care of business against the Bucks in a game that felt fairly garden-variety, winning 91-73.

The Cavs took the lead in the first quarter, built on it in the second, survived an early third-quarter run by the Bucks, and then stretched that lead out into what ultimately became a blowout. The team defense looked very solid, holding the Bucks, who are without Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, to just 37-percent shooting.

Richard Jefferson was the only guy getting anything done for the Bucks, as he poured in 29 points on a solid 10-for-20 shooting night. LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 23 points, shooting a very efficient 7-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. After setting a career-high with five steals on Monday night, Delonte West set a new career-high with eight tonight. Stay tuned to see if West goes for a points/steals double-double Friday night in Boston.

Overall, this felt like a tuneup game for Friday's trip to Boston, and you have to feel really good about how the Cavs looked. It's games like these, against an inferior - albeit hardworking - opponent, that the Cavs would have played close and maybe dropped in years past, but the focus of this Cavs squad is singular and steady. This team is going after the championship, and they're taking care of business against the lousy teams that they should beat.

Quick Hits

Delonte West, catalyst
You didn't appreciate it until he was on the shelf with that wrist injury, but Delonte West makes so much happen for this team. He's the scrappy overachiever; a guy who plays tough defense despite being a little undersized at the two guard position, makes open shots, handles the ball like a decent point guard, and can create his own shot when need be. Like Mo Williams, he plays a great floor game that doesn't always show up in the box score. Remember over the summer, when he was thinking about playing ball in Europe? Yeah, we're glad that didn't happen.

The Jerk Store called, and they're running out of Charlie Villanuevas
Charlie Villanueva has dethroned Rasheed Wallace as my least favorite NBA player. He's goofy looking, frequently appears to be angry, and his strangling of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really didn't get much air time, and it's mostly because he doesn't play ball in Boston or Los Angeles, but it was one of the most inexcusable acts we've seen in the NBA this year. How he wasn't suspended for that, I have no idea. Do you really think that if Ron Artest, for instance, pulls the same stunt, he's not getting hit with a sizeable fine/suspension? If the rules aren't universally enforced, their validity erodes.

Yeah, those jumpers are nice, but you're 7' 3"
As great as it is to watch Z work his silky-smooth 18-footer, I think the Cavs might want to re-commit to setting him up in the post a little more often. For Ilgauskas, the pick 'n pop should be the second option, not the first. Z isn't exactly Shaq banging down low, but he's still a solid post player, and with the general dearth of big men in the NBA, he can own the post more often than not. I'm all for opening up the lane for LeBron and Mo Williams to drive, but the Cavs have fallen in love with the jump shot a little too much from time to time this year, and feeding Z in the post is an easy way to rack up high-percentage points in the paint.

My new pet project: Pavlovic v. Gibson
Daniel Gibson has made huge contributions to this team in the last three years, but for whatever reason, the guy just doesn't have it this year. Gibson is shooting an ugly 37.8-percent from the field and 36.1-percent from downtown this season, compared to 43.2 and 44.0 last season, respectively. That's not good enough to merit nearly 25 minutes of playing time per game, particularly when Gibson's size (he's listed at 6'2" -- he must have been wearing platforms when they measured him) makes him a defensive liability.

On the other hand, Sasha Pavlovic is healthy again, and although his minutes are down this year (about 15 per game), he's shooting 46.6-percent (45.7 from deep), a terrific mark for a guard. Pavlovic is also the team's best perimeter defender who isn't named LeBron James, and he'll likely be called upon for some tough defensive assignments in the playoffs. Coach Brown, I implore you, give Boobie's minutes to Sasha and vice-versa. Sure, Gibson could get hot at any time, but until he does, there's no reason for him to be on the floor that much. Wally Szczerbiak doesn't play defense either, but he makes baskets.

Just what the doctor ordered
So if you haven't heard, Joe Smith is back in Cleveland after being released from basketball purgatory in Oklahoma City. It reminds me a little bit of when we thought Gandalf died in the first Lord of the Rings, and then he came back with some new duds in the second movie. This is the exact same thing, except Joe didn't have to fight a demon who had a whip made out of fire. (Can you tell I was all over the TNT's LOTR marathon this weekend?)

At any rate, Joe's back, giving us a boost in the front court that was desperately needed after Ben Wallace was injured last Thursday in Houston. After playing with the Cavs last season, Smith shouldn't have much of a learning curve, and he gives the team another solid veteran presence in the locker room. Unlike Drew Gooden, the other guy the Cavs were rumored to be pursuing, Smith is a model of consistency. Smith's going to knock down some jumpers, shoot in the mid/high 40s, and grab some rebounds while playing sound fundamental basketball. He will give the Cavs a big man off the bench who can score, and he's exactly what this team needed.

DiGiorno Pizza® Austin Carr Quote of the Game
In response to JJ Hickson's dunk in the first half, "If at first you don't succeed, throw the hammer down!"

The most politically incorrect comment of this post...
Speaking of our favorite color commentator, I received a text message from a friend the other day wondering, "Do you think that AC was involved in the cocaine era of the NBA?" Eh, any speculation on such a sensitive subject is nothing more than that: speculation. However, one can't help but notice that the time lines do appear to sync up. The end of Carr's career was about the time when the nose candy was starting to hit its stride in the league. Is it possible that AC partook in such things? I suppose, but given his character, it's more likely that he told his teammates to 'get that weak stuff outta here!'

Up Next: 3/6, at Boston, TD Banknorth Garden, 8:00
To say this is a big game is a complete understatement. Boston has struggled a little bit while Kevin Garnett has been out on his Quest for G, and it's unlikely that the Big Ticket will be back in the lineup on Friday. This game will be a huge factor in who gets home court in the Eastern Conference, no doubt. I'll take it one step farther; if the Cavs win this game, they'll eventually win the one seed.

Wednesday, March 4

If I think Spring Training is a little slow, I can only imagine how you feel

Yes, these games don't count, and the guys have names like Mills, Brantley, and Head, but this is at the very least an interesting time where you get to see the kids that will make up the Indians in a few years going out there against major league level talent. Sure, pitchers may be working on their pitches and aren't too concerned about putting a complete outing together, but still.

Here are some quick hits before I go listen to Carl Pavano pitch for the second time this spring:

- Jhonny Peralta is easily the most overlooked Indian. What he does for this team offensively should not be taken for granted.

- Ed Mujica is doing everything he can to not make this team. Mujica is out of options literally and almost figuratively.

- Both Hafner and Grady look to get time as a DH Friday. Grady is nursing a sore groin and so pulled out of the World Baseball Classic (WBC)? Really, they call that thing a classic? Anyway, this will mark Hafner's return to possibly real baseball-like hitting.

- Those yet to see action are Joe Smith (still getting up to speed after missing time due to a virus), Adam Miller (perpetually cursed), and Cliff Lee. Lee pitched a career-high number of innings last year and with the extended spring training due to the aforementioned classic it has been determined to let Lee rest as long as possible.

- Ever wonder how much work a closer needs to do in spring training? I guess Kerry Wood is looking at only 12 - 14 innings worth.

- My jumping the gun comment of the week is that Asdrubal Cabrera has gotten off to a slow offensive start.

- Just to let you in on how much time position players get in spring training, Tony Graffanino has four hits in eight at bats so far. Too bad Morgan Ensberg isn't still around.

- My confidence in Anthony Reyes continues from last season unabated.

- Finally, word is that Choo's left (throwing hand) tricep has come up a little sore in South Korea's WBC camp. No word yet what this all means, but just thought you might be interested.

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Big babies

No matter how much I remind myself that professional athletes live in a bubble, millionaires isolated from the real world by money and fame, it's still hard to believe how childish they can be sometimes. Two recent cases in the NFL illustrate this point.

One involves the Browns' own Shaun Rogers, who reportedly wants out of his deal (which has 5 years remaining), over a non-incident where new coach Eric Mangini didn't say hi to him at a sports banquet. Wow, dude, get over yourself. Rogers is also apparently upset that the team gave him a directive on maintaining his weight around 360 pounds, but even that's not grounds for demanding a trade or release. You know, Shaun, it's kind of important to the team that you keep a reasonable weight. Doesn't seem like such a crazy demand to me.

Of course, Rogers and his agent have emphasized that the conflict is "not about money," which can mean one thing and one thing only: it's about money. Rogers undoubtedly saw that huge deal Albert Haynesworth got and wants him a piece of that as well. The good news for Browns fans is that the team is under no obligation to release Rogers, nor should they do so, considering his value to the team. The bad news is that Rogers has a reputation for not being the hardest-working guy in the league, and lingering unhappiness over his contract situation (again, for those of you in the real world, he has $15 million guaranteed for the next two seasons) might spill over into performance. Let's hope not.

The other case involves Denver QB Jay Cutler, and, I can't believe I'm saying this, may actually not be about money. The situation is this: new Denver coach Josh McDaniels was actively pursuing trade talks that would have sent Cutler to Tampa Bay and brought former New England QB Matt Cassel to Denver as his replacement. The trade didn't happen, but word got out and now Cutler is refusing to speak with team management, saying that he's "upset and shocked" at hearing his name come up in trade discussions.

Oh, come on, Jay Cutler. Player names come up in trade discussions all the time. Shaq very nearly got traded twice in two years. You're not Shaq. You're good, yes, but still 17-20 as a starter, not exactly untouchable material. I can understand you wanting to stay in Denver (well, not really, but hypothetically), but you're going to have to accept the fact that teams are always examining trade possibilities in an effort to improve their rosters. It's senseless to take these things personally. Plus, and I stress this, the trade didn't happen. Cassel went to the Chieves. You're still the Bronco QB! You haven't been fired and you didn't take a pay cut - nothing's changed. So try to be a man and maybe say hi to your boss on the telephone.

Tuesday, March 3

Road sweet road

For the second time in less than 50 days, the Cavaliers embarked on a four-game road trip, and just like the first time, they emerged with an excellent 3-1 record after being drubbed in the first game of the roadie. Here's a recap of the road trip that was for the Cavs, who are hopefully back in Northeast Ohio tired but satisfied.

To say that the trip didn't start off well is an understatement, as the Cavs were manhandled by the tough defense of the streaking 36-21 Houston Rockets in a 93-74 loss. The Cavs mustered just 11 points in the first quarter and 10 in the third in their most frustrating offensive showing of the campaign. From time to time, they'd sneak back in the game, but Houston always had an answer and the Cavs never sustained their momentum. Yes, we got outplayed by the Rockets, but by the same token it was just not the Cavs' night, as normally reliable shots were drawing iron and the Rockets had all the bounces going their way. When Ron Artest is hitting deep fall-away jumpers, well, maybe it's not your night.

The numbers from this one are as ugly as the game was, particularly on the offensive end: outshot by Houston 49% - 34% and notching just 10 assists to Houston's 25. The loss wasn't due to a lack of effort from Los Caballeros - they outboarded Houston 41-39 and had more steals, more blocks, fewer turnovers, and fewer fouls committed. This game simply came down to the Cavs' inability to get open shots and convert the few good looks they did get. Losing Ben Wallace to a fractured fibia didn't help matters wither, nor did Scorcher's' management senselessly telling me to take my Cavs hat off during the game. Ugh, what a mess.

But, to use two wildly overplayed NBA cliches, you have to have a short memory and you have to take it one game at a time. (Digression: can we please stop saying this? Let's just assume as a default that every team takes every game one at a time, and if a team if taking them two or three at a time, then just let us know.) The Cavs came out the next night against 39-17 San Antonio on a mission (no pun intended), and handled the shorthanded Spurs from the get-go in a 97-86 win. The Cavs established a 27-13 lead after one period and used a strong third quarter surge to put away the Spurs.

Perhaps realizing that he'll have to "play bigger" with Wallace out of the lineup (at least until Joe Smith's arrival), LeBron had a man's game of 30 points (on roughly 15 dunks, it seemed) and 14 rebounds, leading the Cavs to an impressive victory. The +/- numbers are staggering, and show plainly how this game was won by the starting five. The total +/- for LeBron, Z, Andy, Delonte, and Mo was a whopping 118; the remainder of the team posted a -63. Not much contribution from the bench, but with LeBron's heroics, plus 10 points and 10 boards from the big Lithuanian and a sparkling 17/7/5 line from Brother Redz, they didn't need it.

Now, it's easy to downplay the significance of beating the Spurs in their own building because stars Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were out, but this is still a strong, defensive-minded, experienced team, playing at home in a tough building to take a victory out of, and the Cavs handled them on the second night of a road back-to-back. Injuries or no, I'm not going to shed any crocodile tears for San Antonio, except maybe Matt Bonner after posting a +/- of -31 for the game. Wow.

After a day of rest, the Cavs shifted their focus from Texas to the Southeast, where the 33-25 Atlanta Hawks lurked. The Cavaliers played a solid first half en route to a 53-43 halftime lead, gave it all back and more in the third and fourth, and needed a late rally and dramatic finish to secure an 88-87 win.

Tied at 87, LeBron was fouled by Al Horford on a drive to the basket, yet only converted 1 of 2 free throws. With just a couple of seconds on the clock, Atlanta's Joe Johnson got a reasonable look at the basket after the inbounds pass (thanks to a teammate holding LeBron) but misfired, and the Cavs escaped Philips Arena with a win. LeBron led the Cavs with a 26/6/11 performance, despite some errant shooting from the field and at the charity stripe, while Ilgauskas sharpshot his way to another double-double with 17/11 and Mo Williams added 20. Once again, the starters carried the club, as only three reserves saw action (Wally, Boobie, JJ), and none were effective.

My favorite part of this game was Josh Smith throwing down a huge dunk, Fred McLeod suggesting to AC that he could maybe say "throw the hammer down" to describe an opponent, and AC finding himself physically unable to do so. That's Mr. Cavalier to you.

The final game of the trip took the sleep-deprived Cavs to one of the league's American Airlines Arenas, specifically the one in Miami, to take on the 31-27 Heat. Given the mileage they'd already piled up and their recent performances in South Beach (1 win in their past 10 visits), one could be excused for thinking the Cavs might just end this trip at 2-2. When they trailed 91-80 in the fourth quarter, such an outcome seemed highly likely, but Cleveland rode an 18-2 run behind Mo and LeBron to a stirring 107-100 victory in a wildly entertaining basketball game.

It became apparent early on that this would be a duel between LeBron and D-Wade, and never disappointed in that respect. LeBron ended with an efficient 42/8/4 (including 6-7 from long range), while Wade countered with 41/7/9 (plus 7 steals). Both players seemed to constantly be dunking, with LeBron saving his last slam for a great individual drive to the basket late in the 4th that basically sealed the game for the Cavs.

Once again, poor production from the bench brigade (+71 from the starters, -36 from the reserves) was offset by a strong performance from the starting five, including LeBron's explosion, 30 points from Mo Williams, and a 12/15 double-double for Big Z. It seems that the second unit's effectiveness is hurt significantly by Varejao having joined the starting lineup. He was all over the place last night with 6 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 5799 loose balls collected. The Cavs won this one by outworking the Heat, shooting the lights out on three-point (11-17) and one-point (22-25) shots, and FINALLY deciding to double-team Wade late in the game. Facing the doubles, Wade was forced into turnovers or to pass to his teammates, who consistently found themselves stifled by the twin towers of Ilgauskas and Varejao down low.

An excellent win, and one of the more fun games of the year - the exciting comeback, the duel between LeBron and Wade, and those wild times during the second half where the game turned into a crazy pickup game. Awesome way to end a road trip.

As a Cavs fan, you should be pleased with the club posting a 3-1 record on this odyssey. Think about it: four games in five nights, all on the road, all against playoff teams? You'd take three wins every time, and for the Cavs to rally back after that horrible opening loss to the Rockets and to overcome significant deficits in the final two vicories speaks to how this team continues to show its mettle as a true championship contender.

The Cavs still are looking at some tough sledding ahead, though not quite the gauntlet they just ran. After a winnable home game against Milwaukee tomorrow, they have the showdown in Boston against the increasingly unlikeable Celtics on Friday, a home rematch with the Heat, and then a three-game swing out West to face the conference's two worst teams (the Clippers and Kings) sandwiched around a visit to Shaq and company in the desert. Go CaVs!