Saturday, May 30


Wow is this ever a big fucking day in sports. Looking back on it, I'm a little surprised I put May 5th in my ranking of sports months, though two factors bump up this year's edition: my winter teams making extended playoff runs and the fact that football is currently somewhat removed from my sporting conscience. I love the game, but I've only got limited brain focus capacity. "Brain focus capacity" - listen to me. Damn, I need to learn how to write. Anyway, tonight is epic (in chronological order):

- Tribe/Yankees, 7 pm. I will be attending this game along with some assorted cronies and FCF'ers. Given the night's other sporting delights, I kinda wish I hadn't bought these tickets like two months ago, but the weather is excellent, Progressive Field is just a short walk away, and Yankee-hating is always in season. I've already seen too many of these idiot fans roaming the streets yesterday and today. One guy I ran by remarked that there were more Yankee fans than Indians fans here. No, you damn fool, it's just you're all roaming around outside because you're dirty street people and we actually have residences here, plus we don't wear our garb 24/7 because we have other clothes and the game doesn't start for 7 fucking hours. Oh, I'm ready for this. Welcome to Cleveland, Yankee fans. Now leave.

- Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, 8 pm. This features my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins , out to avenge last year's Finals loss to the hated Detroit Red Army. I despise them nearly as much as I do the Yankees. Same big money, same rampant success and fan base, same antagonizing of my favorite club. Three of ESPN's six "experts" picked the Pens - all six of them correctly picked both Conference Finals winners, so maybe Pittsburgh has a good chance. That wasn't the case last year when Detroit totally outclassed them. Let's steal the first one in Michigan (I refuse to call the city by the obnoxiously pretentious hockey-related nickname they've bestowed on themselves) and take it from there.

- Game 6 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals, Cavaliers at Magic. Obviously, I'm far more invested and concerned in this one than the other two. Any time your club faces elimination you're on pins and needles, but this year was supposed to be special for the Cavaliers. I estimate our odds in this one at roughly 1 in 3, but I like our chances if we can get it back to C-town for the deciding Game 7.

If one were to put this evening on a 1 to 10 scale, I'd assign the following relative points for victories:

Cavs 6
Pens 3
Tribe 1

Sorry, Indians, but it's regular-season, and frankly, you're not even that good right now. Check back with me in a month when I'm trying to figure out how to simultaneously wear my NBA and NHL Champions t-shirts.

Speaking of which, how am I supposed to wear a Penguins jersey, Cavs t-shirt and hat, Tribe jersey and hat all at once tonight? :)

Not over yet

Down 3-1 to the underdog Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers extended their season at least one more game with a 112-102 home win. There's still work to be done if Cleveland is to advance to the NBA Finals, but this stay of execution allows fans to breathe easy for another couple of days.

Naturally, the Cavs did it the hard way, following their familiar pattern in this series of building a giant lead in the first half at home, and then giving it all away. In Game 5, they did so to the tune of a 34-12 1st quarter lead that shrunk to 56-55 by half and was quickly 64-56 in the 3rd quarter. Way to keep up the intensity, guys.

The box score isn't particularly interesting from this game, though it reveals a few things. Orlando squeezed out wins in Games 1 and 4 mostly because they shot the ball better: 55% to 49% in Game 1 and 50% to 48% in Game 4. Orlando also had the marksman's edge in their narrow Game 2 loss and relatively comfortable Game 3 win. In Game 5, the Cavaliers finally turned the tables, hitting 50% of their shots to the Magic's 46%. Cleveland also enjoyed advantages from three-point land (9-18, 50% vs Orlando's 8-25, 25%) and the foul line (27-34, 79% to Orlando's 28-41, 68%). Simply put: Cleveland shot the ball a bit better and won this time. Much of the credit goes to Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson, whose three-point accuracies made a real difference in this one.

Everything else was pretty close: turnovers, rebounds, fouls, though Cleveland had better ball movement with 21 assists (12 from LeBron) to just 12 for the Magic. This is a good sign as the series shifts back to Orlando for Game 6, Saturday night at 8:30. I see three keys to the game for Cleveland, and these aren't generic TV announcer keys like "limit turnovers" and "get off to a fast start." Not that I don't recommend that the Cavaliers do both of those things, it's just that they're things that apply to every game and thus don't merit special recognition. Anyway, I have three specific recommendations:

1) Don't let the Magic shoot threes
I've never seen a team cut defecits more quickly than Orlando, and their prowess behind the arc has a lot to do with that. Priority #1 needs to be making absolutely sure that when Orlando does get their points, they do so in 2-point increments.

2) Foul Dwight Howard
Or one-point increments, as the case may be. We've kind of been doing this since Game 2, but the more the better. Use the big men's fouls - where has Joe Smith been? Ben Wallace was a team-low -19 last night and is a liability in late-and-close situations. Play him at the beginning of quarters for defensive purposes and play Beast at the end to give you more fouls to use on Dwight "What's 'goaltending'?" Howard, and take advantage of Smith's free-throw shooting ability when the Magic get in the penalty, like they do every quarter.

Howard's due for a really bad game at the line, and I hope it's Game 6. I can't believe he got away with that elbow he swung at Wally Szczerbiak; that thing connects, and we're seeing a whole lot more Marcin Gortat in Game 6. Howard is so dirty with those elbows. I can't stand this guy.

3) Use the 1st quarter offense in the other three quarters
For whatever reason, as games go on, the Cavs abandon the team offensive concepts that have helped them build these early leads. They panic when the Magic hit a few shots and get back into the game, and revert to the 2007 "stand around and watch LeBron" offense. Yes, getting LeBron the ball at the key was effective last night, as he made consistently good decisions and got scoring from teammates, but the Cavs overall are at their best when LeBron can move away from the ball. I'm not sure why they don't stick with this.

We can do this, but will we? Right now, using my best estimation skills, I believe Cleveland has a roughly 1 in 3 chance to win Game 6 in Orlando. Provided that happens, I then give the Cavs a 3 in 5 shot to win Game 7 and advance. Multiplying the two, I'm saying 1 in 5, or 20%, that LeBron and company hoist the Eastern Conference championship trophy. Not great odds, but they're something, and whether you agree with my figures or not, they're better than they were before Thursday.

Thursday, May 28

We're going streaking!

Are you kidding me? This series at home was incredible, mainly because the Indians won. Yes, they won every single game. Four games in a row. All wins. And Tampa Bay now has not won in Cleveland since 2005. Like 17 games in a row have been losses. To our Cleveland Indians, no less. Go Tribe indeed.

Talk about a series I should have written up as the games went along! This was an exhaustive series for any fan. A ten-run deficit comeback win, check. A two-hour rain delay before a game starts that then doesn't end before midnight, check. A mid-game rain delay that lasted for over two hours, check. So excuse me if these are slightly abbreviated summaries of really awesome games.

Game one of this series was a classic for the ages. If you didn't watch it or listen to it you missed the largest comeback against the Rays ever in their history, and the largest comeback by an Indians team since 2001, a game in which they were twice down by 12 runs. Monday's game only saw the Indians down by 10 runs, which ain't so bad. Starter Fausto Carmona only went 1.1 innings, giving up five runs, and was followed by Jensen Lewis, who also gave up five runs in 1.2 innings of work. Luckily the Rays bullpen is about as good as the Indians' pen circa early May 2009. The Indians scored nine runs in the final two frames, and with two outs Victor Martinez hit a two-run single. Ryan Garko also had two home runs and five RBI. Tribe (18-28) win 10-11.

Game two was less exciting, to say the least. Carl Pavano turned in his best performance of the year, and while I once touted Pavano as the best pitcher in the majors with a 6+ ERA, I now have to start comparing him to other actual good pitchers. Pavano went seven innings, giving up just one run on a solo shot to Carlos Pena in the seventh. Otherwise, Pavano only gave up three hits, walked two, and struck out six while lowering his ERA to 5.50. Offensively, the Indians got it done with the long ball. Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mark DeRosa, and Kelly Shoppach all went yard (Garko was on board for DeRosa's shot), which was easily enough offense for Pavano. Amazingly, with a starter going seven innings, all the bullpen needs to do is go two, which doesn't happen often with this rotation. Rafael Betancourt and Kerry Wood pitched scoreless innings and the Indians (19-28) won 1-5 to make it two in a row.

Wednesday's game was delayed two hours by the rain, which means I didn't listen to the whole thing. Zach Jackson got the start and with seven runs allowed in four innings I suspect you won't be seeing him again soon, unless he's sporting a Columbus Clippers uniform. Somehow, the Indians offense kept the team in this one. Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine gave up eight runs in three innings of work, so I guess it was up to the Indians bullpen to wrap this one up. You know what, I would definitely not have guessed that the likes of Greg Aquino and Luis Vizcaino would go on to pitch five scoreless innings. Talk about relief work! After the Jackson implosion, to have two guys hold the Rays scoreless is no short feat. Ben Francisco had four RBI, and loves hitting against Sonnanstine. Tribe (20-28) win 7-12. Three in a row for the first time this year!

Thursday's day game was also rain-delayed as the Indians went for the sweep and to bring their record against the Rays at home in the last 17 games to 17-0. Yeah, the last time the Indians won four in a row against a team it was against the Rays at home last season. While perhaps not as exciting as the Memorial Day Miracle, this game was close the entire time. David Huff pitched four scoreless innings. Yes, coming in with a 17+ ERA and having never pitched in a Major League-level fourth inning, Huff looked good. He was really fooling the Rays hitters with his off-speed stuff, and probably could have gotten the win if it wasn't for the Cleveland weather everyone loves getting in the way. The Indians were only 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position, but that was enough today thanks to strong pitching. Offensively, the Indians had seven hits, but Martinez collected two RBI with only one hit, plating the other run with a ground ball. Offensively, it was just one of those days, but the bullpen again came through. Lewis, Matt Herges, Betancourt, and Wood kept the Rays combined for the final five frames, with Lewis allowing the sole Rays run off a solo shot by Willy Aybar (I hate that last name). Herges picked up the win, going 1.2 innings striking out three and only allowing one hit. His ERA is also 1.35 if you were wondering. Tribe(21-28) win 1-2, while Wood gets save number eight.

A four-game winning streak/sweep will make almost any team look good. The Indians still have plenty of question marks, mainly with their starting rotation, but having swept the Rays without a Cliff Lee start is amazing. Monday's come from behind win is hopefully the start of a turnaround for this team. The bullpen only allowed one run over the last three games while pitching 12 innings. Are Herges, Aquino, and Vizcaino for real? I don't know. I suspect they're all getting lucky, but isn't it about time?

This weekend is a wraparound series with the Yankees. I was originally slated to be at a couple of these games in observance of Tribe Weekend. However I will instead placate my baseball urges with a Rockies-Padres match up that guarantees to be a game I care very little about.

Game 1: Andy Pettitte, LHP (4-1, 4.30) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (2-5, 3.04)
Game 2: C.C. Sabathia, LHP (4-3, 3.42) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (2-4, 6.42)
Game 3: Phil Hughes, RHP (3-2, 5.16) vs. Carl Pavano, RHP (5-4, 5.50)
Game 4: To be announced vs. Jeremy Sowers, LHP (1-2, 7.71)

The fact that the Yankees have a 27-20 record is amazing to me. This team has been pretty hot in May. Did you know Pavano has more wins in May (5) than any Yankee pitcher has all this season? Did you know no other pitcher has five wins in May? The game two matchup of Carmona and C.C. is the obvious weak pairing on this series. I still think we can win this one.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Things I hate about the Orlando Magic

There are a lot, believe me:

- The way every single player and coach on the team has an annoying smirk of disbelief every single time any call, no matter how obvious, goes against them.

- Rashard Lewis' ridiculous chin beard.

- Rafer Alston...well, Rafer Alston.

- Mickael "Michael" Pietrus' smug post-three-pointer trot to the defensive end, made even more annoying by the fact that he's shooting like 89% on threes.

- Fans calling Dwight Howard "Superman." Really, that's all the better you have? You know that name's been taken for some time, right? Even for Florida sports fans, this is shockingly unoriginal.

- Stan Van Jeremy, the leader of the smirk brigade, calling out the refs for giving LeBron calls, even though his team does nothing but shoot threes and still ends up at the line more than us.

- Hedo Turkoglu pushing off the defender every single time he makes a move and never being called for it.

- Dwight Howard's almost complete lack of knowledge of the rules of basketball. Here are four I believe that he has not been made aware of:
1) Goaltending
2) Defensive three seconds
3) Moving screens (in Howard's defense, the refs never call him on this, so how could he know?)
4) The fact that elbowing someone in the head is a technical foul. BTW, I like the NBA rescinding his tech - they realized he was getting too close to a 1-game suspension and didn't want to risk him missing a critical game.

I wonder if maybe the coaching staff has kept him in the dark on these nuances of the game so as to keep him aggressive and not burden him too much with worrying about complying with so many regulations.

Go Cavs - beat these idiots.

Sunday, May 24

Tribe lose two, pitchers and games.

With the extended weekend, I'm making this a short one. Any arguments against that? No? I didn't think so.

The series opener saw not only the loss of Anthony Reyes but also Aaron Laffey. This now means that we have Scott Lewis, Joe Smith, Reyes and Laffey on the DL, not to mention Jake Westbrook. Obviously any depth we had at "people who can throw a baseball" is gone. Game-wise the Indians stayed in it until the eighth, but lost this one 1-3 to fall to 16-27.

Saturday's game was unfortunately started by recently called-up David Huff, who has yet to see action in a major league inning past the third. After two starts, Huff's ERA of 17.55 is not the kind of effort you would like to see from a guy about to become our fourth starter. Offensively, the Indians held up their end against Cincinnati pitching prospect Homer Bailey. Mark DeRosa had a homerun and four RBI's on the night, and Kerry Wood picked up save number seven. Tribe (17-27) win 7-6. Oh and this game lasted three hours and forty nine minutes.

Today's game was another long one at three and a half hours, but going eleven innings probably didn't help. Cliff Lee struggled, by Cliff Lee standards, but still went six innings, only surrendering three runs. If memory serves me right one of Cliff's few losses last year came at Cincinnati. The bullpen did another excellent job (something that may be a trend), pitching four scoreless, but Luis Vizcaino gave up the winning run in the bottom of the eleventh. You might hear something about a controversial obstruction call the third base umpire made on the tying run (see picture) - don't worry about it, we lost anyway 3-4 to drop to 17-28.

Finally this road trip is over and it is back to Cleveland to lick our wounds. The loss of Laffey is the big blow here. Reyes has probably been having issues for a few starts now, so it appears like Jeremy Sowers will see a few more starts. After seeing what Huff was capable of Sowers looks almost like big league material. The reason Huff wasn't brought up sooner was because he struggled early at AAA and no one wanted to rush him - looks like they were right.

Up next is a four-game series against the fighting Rays of Tampa.

Game 1: David Price, LHP (0-0, -.--) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (2-4, 5.74)
Game 2: Matt Garza, RHP (4-2, 3.41) vs. Carl Pavano, RHP (4-4, 6.10)
Game 3: Andy Sonnanstine, RHP (3-4, 6.60) vs. To be announced (Sowers)
Game 4: Jeff Niemann, RHP (4-3, 4.53) vs. David Huff, LHP (0-1, 17.55)

Hey we get to see the season debut of David Price. Carl Pavano tries to become the only Indians starter still starting with a winning record. Sowers gets yet another last chance. And finally, can David Huff pitch into the fourth inning on his third try? All this and more at Progressive Field starting tomorrow.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

The Downtown report

Hours away from the Cavaliers retaking the court, this time in Orlando, following their amazing Game 2 victory on Friday night, I thought I'd check in with a few observations about the scene from here on the Free Republic of East 12th Street.

Finally - finally - they took down that 2008 schedule that served only to mock me when I was running around the stadium. No one needs to be reminded of that debacle anymore, and I'm glad they got the 2009 schedule up ASAP. Not that I expect to be 2009 to be all that great, but it can at least inspire some optimism while 2008 inspires only depression.

Vote the Tribe for the 2009 All-Star Game!

That head-in-the-sand invitation greets visitors to Progressive Field, completely oblivious to what's been happening on the field this year to the poor Tribe. Of course, I think fan voting is stupid to begin with, especially this early in the season, but it's no secret the Indians haven't exactly had a whole lot of All-Star-worthy performances. Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, maybe Asdrubal Cabrera, and that's it.

In other Progressive Field news, they finally took down those comically-dated photos they had above the concession stand of fans from when the park opened in 1994 wearing gear that makes you appreciate ballpark fashion has advanced in 15 years. I always found those pictures to be charmingly dorky, but maybe we'll look that way to 2025 Tribe fans as well.

Not surprisingly, Downtown is a big Cavs-fest right now. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting some Cavaliers merch, and posters and banners supporting the club are all over the city. I like it.

I went out into the city for Game 2, which was suitably crazy. I stopped at Panini's to watch the game, inasmuch as one can drink beer and enjoy the nice weather on the patio while checking out the game. Panini's should be a gold mine - it's amazing they can't do any more with that location.

The chief drawback of the outdoor locale is the prevalence of smokers, whose continued existence puzzles me. Haven't you people read the news? It's bad for you! And me! It's gross. I'm taking a stand - if you smoke in an area where other people are, you're being a jerk. I left Best Buy the other day and the only exit was basically being blocked by this girl smoking. I waited, took a deep breath, exited and walked past her while glaring with my most menacing stare, and loudly exhaled after passing her death cloud. Anyway, back to Friday - one guy was sharing table space with us (there were limited places to rest beer cans) and asked if I could give him some money for some pizza or something because he hadn't eaten in a while...and he was smoking! If you don't have enough cash for cigs and food, you need to pick food, my friend. Plus, you're sitting there next to me being disgusting and worsening my health and then you think I want to do you a favor? Um, no.

Anyway, the climactic end of the game at Panini's was crazy. It was so loud (I had moved indoors, mostly because I forgot to bring a gas mask) I can't even describe it. Like someone set off a bomb in there. Just a total madhouse, people jumping around clubbing each other on the back - I issued so many random high-fives and man-hugs it was absurd. Like Ricky Bobby once said: "That just happened!" I sat there stunned for a few minutes before I could gather myself enough to walk home. OK, I didn't go home, I went to Scorchers, where more celebration and high-fiving awaited. What a crazy night.

I've seen the LeBron shot about 100 times now, and it's not even close to getting old. I'll tell you what is getting old, though: Michael Jordan. America, it's time we got over this guy. Look, I know all about how good he was and what he accomplished. Really, I do, considering how much of it was at my favorite team's expense. Reminding me of his talents will not change the point I am making here, so please don't.

But he hasn't played in over six years, and is over a decade removed from his championship-winning years. Isn't it time we moved on? Isn't it time we stopped talking about him every single time a current player does anything spectacular? There was no need to see that stupid shot he made 20 years ago against the Cavs, while we were trying to enjoy LeBron's moment. No need. There's no need for all this silly "Jumpman" merchandise. There's no need for all of Nike's headbands to feature his dunking silhouette anymore. That time has passed. I don't want Jordan's likeness on my headband any more than I want Bird's, Magic's, anybody's. Except my own - that would be awesome. You'd have to draw a little hoop way the hell above my head.

More than anything, I'm tired of Jordan getting a free pass from everyone just because of how good he was. He was, by all accounts, a totally psychotic teammate, and caused enough people's favorite teams heartache that he should be universally blah to NBA fans, but somehow people are perfectly willing to look past all that. Sure, if you're a Bulls fan, he's your man, but why do fans from the other 29 still adore him so much? Part of having a favorite team is having a villain, and, especially for Cavs fans, no one in history fits the bill better. Yet oddly, even Cavs fans seem to have this Stockholm Syndrome-like affinity for Jordan just because of his transcendent talents. Not me, and I'm tired of people telling me how good he was when I balk at old video of him beating my team.

So, Michael Jordan, it's been real, but we're done.

Saturday, May 23

The greatest thing ever

Thursday, May 21

A Cleveland Team (not the Cavs) keeps playing too

I will freely admit that nothing the Indians do over the coming weeks will rival the Cavs, but I still have to follow them and I get the opportunity to write about them at least once a series. Remember the last series wrap up, where I mused here's hoping our next series loss is just plain tragic and less Greek tragic? Well that hasn't happened, yet. The good news? The Tribe won two in a row and took a series from the Royals and got to Greinke. The bad news? This is probably more a correction after four straight losses than a beginning of a turnaround. The good news? I don't know what I'm talking about, so it could be the beginning of a winning trend, who knows.

A Cliff Lee start is about as close as this team can get to a guaranteed win right now. Unfortunately Lee can't be asked to pitch a complete game every time out there. So here is everything you need to know about the first game in this series (if you don't already know): The Indians led five to two in the bottom of the ninth, Wedge went to Wood for the save, and the Tribe lose five to six. Yes, we've discovered a new way to lose. Wood was rocked on back to back home runs to Mike Jacobs and Mark Teahen, then surrendered a triple to David DeJesus. Needless to say, I was shocked. Tribe (14-26) lose 5-6.

Fausto Carmona started game two, and he's been anything but a number two starter this year. With this game included, Carmona has 30 walks and 30 strikeouts in 53.1 innings of work, leading to a 83 ERA+. Not the improvement we had hoped for over last year - in fact, it's actually pretty much the same as last year. Only Carmona's age, 25, allows for any real hope of future success. Maybe a failed move to the bullpen will re-re-invigorate his pitching. Yesterday Carmona's contribution was six innings and four runs allowed on six hits, four walks, and three strikeouts. Offensively, the Tribe pitchers were bailed out once again, with the Indians scoring two runs each in the fourth, seventh and eighth. Mark DeRosa had a three hits/two runs scored day that was the standout on the day. Just to make things interesting, Wedge once again went to Wood in the bottom of the ninth with the Indians up by a run. Wood did his best to make it exciting by walking three and then amazingly finding the strike zone and striking out Teahen and DeJesus (those names familiar?) to end the inning. Tribe (15-26) win 6-5.

Today's game was against Zach Geinke, the proud owner of a 0.6 ERA or something against Carl Pavano, the best pitcher in the AL with an ERA over six. However, only Pavano figured into this decision. Greinke only pitched six innings after giving up two runs. Pavano also went six and gave up three; however, he got the win thanks to a two-run top of the seventh which was followed by a four-run eighth. This pattern of the offense bailing out the pitching staff has become an obvious theme. Asdrubal Cabrera had four hits, scored two runs, knocked in two, and stole a base while leading off. Victor Martinez continues to hit exactly .400. To make it exciting, Matt Herges, who pitched a hitless eighth, was called on to pitch the ninth. After pitching to three batters, Herges left with the bases loaded and no outs. Luckily Betancourt came in to record a flyout in foul territory, then got a game ending double play. Tribe (16-26) win 8-3.

The obvious good news here is that the Indians won two in a row, won a series on the road, and snapped a four-game losing streak and continue to play even if they are still ten games under .500. The bad news is the offense has had to rescue the pitching almost every night Lee isn't pitching. On top of that, here are the at-bats with runners in scoring position for the three games; 1 for 6, 4 for 11, and 5 for 17. Not horrible but not impressive either. Another series note was Grady Sizemore batting second and DH-ing all three games. Sizemore went 0 for 4, 0 for 5, and 1 for 1. It was revealed by Wedge that Sizemore has been slowed by a sore elbow in May. Look, if he's hurt and the best he can do is go 1 for 10 in a series, then put him on the DL until he gets better. Batting .213 in the two hole isn't helping. Stop trying to get better while playing poorly. Did Victor or Hafner really help this team last year before hitting the DL? Why not give Sizemore two weeks off to get better? No one is going to accuse Sizemore of being soft or injury prone.

I have to mention Indians prospect Gomez pitching a perfect game for the AA Aeros. Our franchise's first perfect game since Len Barker's 1981 gem. I was pretty moved by the article so I guess I'm really missing good baseball.

The amazing modern baseball invention that is interleague play is back and that can only mean that I once again can be reminded the Brandon Phillips once played for the Indians and now plays for the Cincinnati Reds.

Game 1: Anthony Reyes, RHP (1-1, 6.88) vs. Bronson Arroyo, RHP (5-3, 6.56)
Game 2: David Huff, LHP (0-1, 17.18) vs. Homer Bailey, RHP (0-0, -.--)
Game 3: Cliff Lee, LHP (2-5, 2.90) vs. Johnny Cueto, RHP (4-2, 2.35)

At 21-19 the Reds are four games back of the Brewers. Here's hoping David Huff is over his debut jitters. This is a series we can win, and can just as easily get swept. You can't make predictions with this team, except that whatever happens it will probably be impressive, be it in a bad or good way.

Go Tribe!

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Cavs pull disappearing act, fall to Magic

So, this is what a loss feels like. Through a combination of dominating their postseason opponents and the layoffs while waiting for each successive round rounds to begin, the Cavs hadn't lost a game in over a month. Even their last loss (April 15th against the Sixers) didn't feel too bad, as it was a "meaningless" game that had no effects on playoff seeding. This loss to the Magic, reminiscent of the Browns' 2003 playoff loss to the Steelers (the highest of highs, and ultimately, the lowest of lows), feels like a sucker punch to the collective gut of the fan base. Yeah, this one hurt.

The game began with so much promise. Well-rested and clearly excited to be back in action, Cleveland burst out of the gate and outpaced Orlando 33-19 in the opening quarter. An impressive Mo Williams buzzer-beater from beyond half court even helped the Cavs increase their lead to 15 at the half.

But the second quarter was where things began to turn. Although the Cavs outscored the Magic 30-29 in the second stanza, their defensive intensity began to wane and the Magic started making shots. The Cavs would allow an unnacceptable 89 points over the final three quarters.

Although scoring proved an arduous task during the second half, it wasn't scoring that lost the game for the Cavs; it was letting their guard down on defense. The Cavs yielded a league-best 91.4 points per game during the regular season. When this club scores 106 points, they should win.

Orlando is a dangerous team, and they can definitely shoot the rock, but allowing over 55-percent (45 percent from deep) shooting to any squad just won't get it done. Despite their struggles down the stretch, the Cavs actually shot well from the field (48.9 percent), although they struggled from beyond the arc (8-of-25, 32 percent). Defense is what got the Cavs this far, and defense is what they're going to need if they're going to fight their way back. Mike Brown is not a happy camper right now.

Final: Orlando 107, Cleveland 106
Box score

Quick Hits

It's good to be the King. LeBron James did everything in his power to earn the Cavs a win. But even 49 points (postseason career-high on just 30 shots), 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 blocks, and a pair of steals weren't enough. This was the first time in these playoffs when it felt like James was truly carrying the Cavs. The only two players besides James who shot 50-percent or higher were Anderson Varejao and Joe Smith. Unfortunately that duo only attempted 12 shots, combined. What a waste of a great performance.

About those open dunks. Entering this series, I thought that if the Cavs could just contain Dwight Howard and keep him from totally dictating what went on in the paint, they'd win easily. Howard got just about anything he wanted in game one.

Here's the biggest thing the Cavs need to have drilled into their heads defensively: NO OPEN DUNKS FOR HOWARD! If Howard's getting those easy dunks, the Cavs aren't doing their jobs right. Instead of giving up dunks, you have to foul this guy hard and make him earn those points at the charity stripe, where he shoots under 60-percent.

In fact, you could argue that the Cavs should aim to increase Howard's free throw attempts, and that his free throw attempts might be a good indicator of whether or not the Cavs are executing the defensive game plan. Howard only took two free throws in game one. That's about 10 fewer than I'd like to see.

Team defense needs to improve. The Cavs' defensive energy really decreased after the first quarter, and it showed. Rotations got sloppy, and the Orlando made Cleveland pay. But a big part of the problem was that the Cavs never seemed to figure out how to adjust their team defense to Dwight Howard. Hopefully as the series continues, they can make the proper adjustments.

Howard is such a challenge for the Cavs because they naturally match him up with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who isn't exactly known for his man-to-man defensive prowess. When there's too much space between Ilgauskas and the defenders off to his sides, Howard can spin off of him and score an easy layup or dunk. The trick for the Cavs will be to have help for Ilgauskas in the vicinity, but not to bring it immediately so that one of Orlando's shooters isn't freed up too soon. Whether or not the Cavs can achieve that balance may in fact decide the series.

Let's get physical. The Cavs need to bang with Howard down low a little more. Kendrick Perkins did so with some success in the Boston/Orlando series. Unfortunately, the Cavs don't really have any physical low post defenders except Ben Wallace and to a lesser degree, LeBron James.

Although he's basically a designated pick-setter on offense, I think we need to see Wallace on Howard more in game two. Wallace was fairly effective against Howard in his limited minutes, and he craftily induced Wallace's second offensive foul by waiting for Howard to lower his shoulder and falling back, making it appear that Howard was guilty of charging. (He wasn't.)

Also, the Cavs need to run their offense at Dwight Howard early. I know, The odds of successfully surviving an attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are approximately 3,722 to 1, but if you can get a couple of early fouls on Howard and force him to ride the pine, you totally change what the Magic do on defense. Take that 275 pound man-child out of the middle, and you can slice and dice the Magic in the paint. The Cavs had several opportunities to pick up early third and fourth fouls on Howard, and they failed to do so. Hopefully they can capitalize as the series progresses.

The Dead Zone. For much of the second half, the Cavs' ball movement ground to a halt and the offense regressed to horrifying shades of yesteryear. That's right, I'm talking about the "watch LeBron" offense.

We've hardly seen it this season, but the Watch LeBron offense has haunted the Cavs in the past. When LeBron plays point guard, takes the air out of the ball, the movement stops, and LeBron stops trusting his teammates, bad things happen. (The Cavs getting tired collectively may have played a role, as well.) In the past, LeBron didn't have any teammates who could make shots. Now that he does, the Watch LeBron offense shouldn't be in this team's repertoire. It can't happen again.

Nope, it's not a new rule. Dwight Howard is apparently unfamiliar with the concept of goaltending, and gave the officials some grief as he was called for goaltending no less than three times. Superman must be under the impression that this is a new rule instituted by David Stern to ensure a LeBron/Kobe Finals. Conspiracy theories, go!

Bench scoring. This has to change. Of the Cavs' 106 points, 101 came from the starters. All five of the bench points were scored by Joe Smith, of whom we should see more in the games to come. Orlando got 28 points from their bench.

And in spite of the bench's overall impotence, we didn't even get a glimpse of Sasha Pavlovic, who can get hot once in awhile? That doesn't make sense to me. Sasha's maddeningly inconsistent, but why wouldn't Mike Brown at least see if he had a shot at catching lightning in a bottle?

Three Amigos. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu are Orlando's three top scorers. If all three of those guys aren't clicking, it's tough for the Magic to win. The flip side of that is that if all three are playing well, the Magic become a very tough defensive match up.

Howard obviously had a huge game with 30 points, but in addition to hitting what ultimately proved to be the game-winner, Rashard Lewis killed the Cavs as he got hot down the stretch. Hedo Turkoglu also found his stroke late in the game after struggling for much of the first half. The fact that Lewis and Turkoglu caught fire late, paired with the Cavs' offensive struggles, is what allowed the Magic to take the lead (for the first time) in the fourth quarter.

In game two, LeBron James needs to be assigned to either Turkoglu or Lewis. Putting LeBron on Rafer Alston early made no sense, and was a waste of LeBron's abilities as a defender. If the Magic beat you, it won't be because of Rafer Alston. It makes more sense to pair LeBron with either Turkoglu or Lewis (more likely Turkoglu) and let him use his skills to take one of them out of the game.

Saving grace. Considering that the Magic outshot the Cavs by about six percent, had more rebounds, threes, and made an equal amount of foul shots, how did the Cavs stay in the game? Turnovers and blocks were the keys. Orlando had 13 turnovers to Cleveland's 5, and the two clubs had 1 and 7 blocks, respectively. Those two categories helped create 10 more shot attempts for the Cavs, and without them, they may have lost by double-digits.

Up next: 5/22, Game 2, Quicken Loans Arena, 8:30
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and If I'm Mike Brown, I'm channeling this speech during pre-game. "Let's get back into this inch at a time."

Wednesday, May 20

So sad

Steelers jersey worn to Pirates game.

I don't think they ever take them off.

Tuesday, May 19

NBA Playoffs Quasi-Analysis: Conference Finals

8 up, 8 down.

Like we did with the opening round, let's go through the Conference Semis and see how (in)accurate I was.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1)CaVs vs. (4)Hawks

My prediction: CaVs in 5
Actual result: CaVs in 4

I didn't even have to retype this section from the 1st round! Seriously, though, if I keep picking the Cavaliers in 5, will they keep winning in 4? Because I'm willing to be off a game for two more rounds.

(2)Celtics vs (3)Magic
My prediction: Magic in 6
Actual result: Magic in 7

The Magic should have taken this in 6, had they not tanked games 4 and 5, so I feel like this was a pretty good pick.

Western Conference Semifinals

(1)Lakers vs (4)Rockets

My prediction: Lakers in 5
Actual result: Lakers in 7

Frankly, this was one of the worst playoff basketball series in recent memory. I can't think of one thing I enjoyed from this series.
It's amazing to me how frequently the presumptive Western Conference nominee came out completely flat against the Rockets. They're taking nights off in the Conference Semis, just another reason why they won't beat the Cavs in a potential Finals matchup.

(2)Nuggets vs (6)Mavericks
My prediction: Nuggets in 7
Actual result: Nuggets in 5

That's two rounds now I've gone with Denver and seen them exceed my expectations. These guys are playing some very good ball.

Right team, off a game: 2 (East)
Right team, off two games: 2 (West)

OK - at least I picked all four winners. The overall numbers:
Exactly right: 3
Right team, off a game: 5
Right team, off two games: 3
Totally and utterly wrong: 1

I know it's generally easy to pick NBA winners, but I have gotten 11 of 12 correct, 8 of those within a game, which I think is good. Now, on to the next round of predictions.

Eastern Conference Finals

(1)CaVs vs. (3)Magic

Come on, like there's any chance in hell I'm not going to pick the Cavaliers to win this series! Compared to last year, though, I am more confident that Cleveland is going to advance. Too bad I spent that time the other day writing a preview of the now-nonexistent Celtics-Cavs rematch. It was both a better story and a better matchup for Los Caballeros.

It's no secret that Orlando presents matchup problems for the Cavaliers, starting with big Dwight Howard in the middle. Before the series starts, let me say I'm not a huge Dwight Howard fan. Between the contrived Superman schtick and all the god-loving, he's not a guy I'm really excited to watch play. Around Howard, the Magic have an array of three-point shooters in Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and Mickael Pietrus that seems designed to beat Cleveland. People are definitely worried about the Magic, seeing them as one team who might be able to derail the Cavaliers.

Of course, those people forget Cleveland's league-leading team defense and the fact that they present a matchup problem or two of their own thanks to this guy named LeBron James. I know he hasn't taken the court in a while, but let's not forget that he's led the Cavs to a 74-16 record thus far. Some have pointed out that the Magic are 2-1 against the Cavs this season; the Cavs were 2-0 against the Spurs in 2007 and we all know how that turned out.

No, I'm tired of underestimating the 2008-2009 Cleveland Cavaliers. As much as what I read about the series provides me with doubt, the Cavs have responded in a big way every time I've questioned them this year. They will win this series to claim their second Eastern Conference title in three years.

On that note, remember how happy they were to win that trophy in '07? I can see LeBron and company shunning this year's hardware like it's covered in H1N1 virus. They've got bigger fish to fry.
CaVs in 5

Western Conference Finals

(1)Lakers vs (2)Nuggets

This one's hard to pick because: which Laker team is going to show up? The one that drubbed the Rockets by 40 points in Game 5, or the one who fell behind 17-1 in the subsequent game? They still have talent, but they don't have the look of a champion by any stretch. Furthermore, they're surprisingly weak at guard, other than Kobe Bryant. (By the way, if I never see Kobe Doin' Work as long as I live, it'll be too soon.) Anyway, in Fisher, Farmar, Brown, and Ariza, this is not a good backcourt. With good team defensive help, I can very much see Mo and Delonte owning the Lakers on the perimeter. Even down low they don't look great; Gasol and Odom are tough, but they lack the depth of Ben Wallace and Joe Smith. The frontcourt matchup may depend on what Tracy Morgan contributes.

I'm sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself; they're playing the Nuggets, not the Cavs. But it's not so different - the Lakers will find it hard to match up with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and the Nuggets are playing a fast, loose style that's making them hard to beat at home. It's very, very tempting to pick the Nuggets here. But for whatever reason - Kobe, Phil Jackson, home court - I'm not.
Lakers in 7

Monday, May 18

Oh boy

Well, let's see what I can salvage from this series. Hey the Indians made the history books this weekend, and not in a good way either. We are now the answer to the trivia question "What team did the Tampa Bay Rays defeat after being down seven runs to win 7-8, their biggest comeback ever?" On top of that, yesterday's first starting pitcher to bat in the AL since I was born also played against us and even got a hit. The hilarious part is the Indians still lost. So here's hoping our next series loss is just plain tragic and less Greek tragic.

Thursday's game one of this four-game series was started by Fausto Carmona, who pitched five innings of shutout ball then got rocked for five runs and only one out by the bottom of the sixth. Matt Herges followed that up with 1.2 innings, giving up one run himself. I've got two question before we get to the rest of the game. Has Herges yet made an appearance were he didn't allow all the inherited runners to score? And why do people point out that Wedge leaves our starters in too long? Look at this bullpen - you have to let your starters go as long as they can. This game was won by the offense who realized the only way we're going to win is if either Cliff Lee is pitching eight innings or they score 11 runs. Choo's two run home run and Cabrera's triple were the highlights. Tribe (14-22) win 11-7.

Game two of the series was the aforementioned comeback Rays win. The Tribe went up by seven early, thanks to Grady Sizemore's lead-off homer, making him the Indians' career leader in that category, and another Shin-Soo Choo home run. However, this is the Indians we're talking about. Even though Anthony Reyes was the starter and gave up five runs, I blame the bullpen 100% on this one. Tony Sipp goes 0.0, Jensen Lewis gives up a run, so does Rafael Betancourt, and newly added Luis Vizcaino is brought in to give up the walk off home run. Thanks for coming. Tribe (14-23) lose 7-8.

Game three is just a plain old Tribe loss. Pavano gave up three runs over five innings and Laffey pitched three innings of bullpen-saving one-run relief. However, the offense could only muster two runs off Rays starter Whogivesadamn. Their bullpen somehow held the Indians scoreless, which I wasn't sure was an option. Tribe (14-24) lose 2-4.

Game four the Indians showed that this losing stuff was getting to them. People got into fights, kind of. Rays manager Joe Maddon listed two third basemen on his lineup card, meaning that Evan Longoria had to start on the bench and pitcher Andy Sonnanstinte had to bat, but guess what? Sonnanstine hit a RBI double and now has a .333 average. Ben Francisco had two home runs, but David Huff, making his MLB debut, decided to post a 17.18 ERA. Tribe (14-25) lose 5-7.

Well what do you say to this series, really? After the Tribe won Thursday's game it marked only the second time this year this team has won two in a row. Going up by seven runs early Friday looked promising for win number three. The offense is not the problem here. The bullpen is amazingly bad. The starters aren't too bad. The really deflating loss was Friday's. You win that one and this series being a split might not look too bad. Well, on to a series in Kansas City.

Game 1: Cliff Lee, LHP (2-5, 3.00) vs. Brian Bannister, RHP (3-1, 1.80)
Game 2: Fausto Carmona, RHP (2-4, 5.70) vs. Gil Meche, RHP (2-4, 4.60)
Game 3: Anthony Reyes, RHP (1-1, 6.88) vs. Zack Greinke, RHP (7-1, 0.60)

Can the Indians win this series? No I don't think so. But let's pretend, shall we?

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

Sunday, May 17

Game 7

Just saw some C's-Magic pre-game facts:

Boston is 20-5 all-time in game 7's
Boston is 17-3 all-time in home game 7's
Boston is 32-0 all-time when leading a series 2-0

My question is: so what? Who cares what the Bird and Russell teams did decades ago? How does that have any relevance to the game today? (Admittedly, the third one is impressive, but still irrelevant). It is worthwhile to note that the Celtics have gone 3-0 in Game 7's over the past two postseasons, since it's mostly the same dudes and all, but this ancient history is silly. It almost makes Magic Johnson's nonsense ("it's not about 3-point shooting for the Magic") seem meaningful. Almost.

Saturday, May 16

A rare horse-racing post

If that female horse wins whatever horse race they're having today, that totally means that women are equally as good as men at all sports, all-time.

Luis Vizcaino's ERA...

It's the same as my Little League ERA. That's right folks: infinity. Luis and I have both allowed one run, while recording zero outs. In my defense, at least my run wasn't a walk-off scenario.

Then again, Luis was pitching to Major League hitters. Let's call it a wash.

Friday, May 15

I have seen the numbers, and they are not good

Let's be honest: it's been hard work following the Tribe so far this year. Their win over the White Socks on Wednesday (as I write this) leaves them still at a league-worst 13-22. To make matters worse, the championship aspirations of the Cavaliers (and for me, the Penguins) gives the Tribe pretty stiff competition for my sports attention span.

However, with the Cavaliers reprising their role as the NBA's Laziest Team and taking another week off, I figure I should weigh in on some baseball. I realized last year that I often use the convenient metrics of (park-adjusted) ERA+ and OPS+ to describe player performances, so I thought I'd see how well these actually correlate to wins.

Below (click graph to enlarge), you can see that, for '08, a metric I created and uncreatively called SUM+ (the sum of ERA+ and OPS+) is very well-correlated to teams' winning percentages, giving an R-squared over 0.8 for each league. Teams above the line were lucky to have won as many as they did - teams below couldn't catch a break. Notice how absurdly high the crazy-lucky Angels were last year.

So far in 2009 (see below), we see that Tampa Bay should expect an uptick in their winning percentage if they keep playing this well, while Boston and Toronto should fall off their paces. The NL is much less correlated to SUM+ than the AL. Consider Pittsburgh and Chicago - the Bucs and Cubs have the same letters in their team nicknames and the same SUM+, but the Cubbies are cruising along at .548 and the Pirates at .387. San Francisco has the biggest offense/defense split at 73/112, but with absolutely no ability to hit, they've carved out a .548 season so far. The lowly Nationals, in addition to being awful, have been the unluckiest club in the league as well.

And way at the bottom left of the AL chart, we see our poor Wahoos, sporting the league's lowest SUM+ and winning percentage. I thought I'd take a look in the numbers to see what's going on with these guys.

Hitting: Team OPS+ = 99
Overall, it seems hitting isn't a major problem; we're exactly league-average and exactly in the middle of the pack. The problem from a games-won standpoint, is that a lot of the hitting has been concentrated in routs like the 22-4 drubbing of the Yankees and not so much in, say, this past weekend versus Detroit. Bimodal run-scoring is not a formula for winning baseball. How are some of the individual players doing?

Victor Martinez is playing terrifically, on-basing a ridiculous .462 and posting an OPS+ of 174. He really is the team MVP at this point, without question. Travis Hafner had a very solid 133 before going down with injury. Shin-Soo Choo has continued his solid production of a season ago, posting a 117 thus far and getting on base at a .406 clip. Very nice. Asdrubal Cabrera has also been strong, with an excellent 114 and his usual sparkling defense. Such production from a middle infield spot is very valuable, especially considering his .397 OBP.

Every other Tribe regular is below league average. (Tony Graffanino, in 24 plate appearances, put up a negative 11; I didn't know OPS+ could be negative!) Garko and Shoppach have been so-so at 92 and 91, DeRosa is disappointing at 87, team superstar Grady Sizemore is, relatively speaking, having a disastrous season at 86 (.313 OBP?), Ben Francisco should be the 4th OF at 78), and Jhonny Peralta is, absolutely speaking, hitting awful so far, with a beyond-bad 63. That's embarrassing.

There are positives. Among AL teams, we're still 4th in runs, 2nd in BB, 3rd in team OBP, and a surprisingly spry 5th in SB, so expect more runs to come, especially once we stop playing David Dellucci. Based on their track records, we can expect DeRosa, Sizemore, and Peralta to pick it up as well. I'd be surprised if the Tribe doesn't crack the top 5 in runs scored for the season.

Pitching: Team ERA+ = 83
Dead last in the AL, and as anyone who follows the club can tell you, the reason the Wahoos occupy the basement as a team. The pitching staff has been utterly disastrous. First, the starters:

Lee 139
Laffey 142
Carmona 86
Pavano 74
Reyes 67

Who knew Cliff was pitching this well? He's been the ultimate hard-luck guy for this staff so far, posting a 2-5 record while being the team's most effective starter (Laffey was slightly better, but in fewer starts). The rest of the rotation has been flatly terrible. Carmona (1-4) walks far too many people and looks pretty mediocre, and Reyes has been very ineffective. The starts not made by these five men were picked up by Sowers and Lewis, and the less said about those outings, the better.

Pavano's number is misleading here: throw out his nightmarish first outing, and he's been consistently good, with a 4.45 ERA over his last 6 outings. Interestingly, baseball-reference's #1 best match for his career thus far is...Jake Westbrook.

The bullpen makes me want to hurt someone. Chulk, Sipp, and Lewis are the only ones to top the league average, and Betancourt is so-so at 92. But what a house of horrors below:

Jackson 83
Wood 73
Smith 67
Kobayashi 57
Perez 32

Yuck. We have a team WHIP of 1.6. Last in ERA (5.78). Last in BB. And last in wins. As much as people point to the lineup and the struggles we've had at times with the bats, if these turkeys keep giving up 6 runs a game, forget about 2009.

Wednesday, May 13

Tribe win second series of the year. Yeah it took this long.

I'm not going to tease you with facts like how we're only six games out of first in the AL Central. I'm not going to point out that Cliff Lee has been Cy Young-like his last few starts. I'm not going to even allude to the fact that Victor Martinez, Carl Pavano, and Asdrubal Cabrera are having their best seasons in a few years. This team is less than perfect but its my team and so let's just enjoy this series win over those horrible players who call Swirling Garbage Field home.

Monday's series opener saw Carl Pavano face off against Gavin Floyd. Pavano went out and pitched like he truly is the best pitcher in the majors with a 6.46 ERA. Floyd was in trouble early and often but stuck around for five innings of work, giving up eight runs. With offense like that, Pavano couldn't help but improve his record to three wins and three losses. Of course Pavano didn't actually pitch too badly, going 6.1 and scattering ten hits for four runs. Offensively it was a Indians hit parade, as Cleveland collected 13 hits and plated nine runs. Jhonny Peralta had a three-hit game with Mark DeRosa, Shin-Soo Choo, and Cabrera chipping in two hits each. Going six for 13 with runners in scoring position didn't hurt either. The big question here was: why use Laffey again in such a lower-pressure situation? I thought we moved him to the bullpen to win games, which is what the Tribe (12-21) did today by a score of 4-9.

Speaking of Laffey, his replacement "pitched" the second game of this three-game series at Progressive Field. Oh Jeremy Sowers, you are not long for this club. Sowers' line of five runs in four innings is tough to swallow. It did raise his ERA to 12.00, in case you were curious. Had Sowers pitched like an actual major league pitcher I thought we could have won this game - unfortunately, that did not occur Tuesday night. Offensively the Tribe mustered four runs on eight hits. Only Asdrubal had more than one hit, with two. Sizemore got caught stealing for the sixth time this season. And to top it off Tony Sipp, who looked so good when called up, gave up a run in 0.1 innings of work and now has the same ERA as Jensen Lewis. Tribe (12-22) lose 7-4.

There are only two things you need to know about today's game: 1) Cliff Lee pitched and 2) we scored more than one run. That can only mean one thing. Yes, the Indians won their second series of the season, but you already knew that. Lee went seven, blanking the White Sox on one hit through five before pitching out of bases loaded situations in the sixth and seventh. Ryan Garko, who needs to get more at bats, and Victor Martinez both homered. Heck Martinez had three hits. Jamey Carroll's return to the Indians saw him start at third and go zero for three at the plate, while Kelly Shoppach is somehow unable to hit ball with bat anymore. Tribe win (13-22) win 0-4.

A lot of ink and blog space this week was devoted to criticizing Wedge's continued loyalty to players like Dellucci, Ben Francisco, and whoever is blocking Luis Valbuena. Wedge's loyalties have been a discussion point since we all realized he only trusted certain pitchers in the bullpen back in ought five. However, one aspect I don't think anyone ran up the flag pole is Wedge's experience as a major league player and how that factors into these decisions. I wonder if Wedge felt and maybe still feels we was never given a fair shake at establishing himself. So in compensation he's slow to pull the trigger on a more experienced player for a hot new prospect that was forced on him.

I get a treat this weekend. A four game series (meaning I don't have to do a write up again soon) and after that four game series a day off.

Game 1: Fausto Carmona, RHP (1-4, 5.57) vs. James Shields, RHP (3-3, 4.02)
Game 2: Anthony Reyes, RHP (1-1, 7.20) vs. Scott Kazmir, LHP (4-3, 5.92)
Game 3: Carl Pavano, RHP (3-3, 6.45) vs. Matt Garza, RHP (3-2, 3.56)
Game 4: Jeremy Sowers, LHP (0-2, 12.00) vs. Andy Sonnanstine, RHP (1-4, 7.27)

Wow those starters of ours sure look poor lined up like that. Cliff Lee is tied with the league lead for losses at five by the way so he doesn't look too good unless you knew better. Anyway I'm beyond trying to predict Carmona's performance. Reyes is officially on my watch list, when does Scott Lewis or Westbrook get back? Pavano should be considered for an extension right now. I kid, I kid (kind of). If Sowers lays another egg I'm all for calling anyone from Columbus.

Go Tribe!

Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer

Monday, May 11

Game. Set. Match.

Check out the mid-90's Cavs logo I put up at right there. I thought it appropriate for two reasons, as I was reflecting on the Cavs' 84-74 win over the Atlanta Hawks that gave them their 8th straight double-digit win, another 4-0 series sweep, and advanced them to the Eastern Conference Finals. To be sure, the logo isn't appropriate because of the teams' quality; these Cavs are on another level, and the Pastel Cavs were so-so at best. No, I liked it because 1) Pastel-era Cavalier coach Mike Fratello called the game for TNT and 2) the stifling defense and slower pace of the game was reminiscient of the grind-em-out games the Cavs used to win back then.

First off, another big up to the Cavs' team defense. I simply can't overstate this. Atlanta shot 31.5% for the game, including 15% from deep. You're just not going to win professional basketball games shooting like that, and it continues to be encouraging to see the low percentages that Cleveland holds their opponents to. The Cavaliers were strong inside once again as well, outrebounding Atlanta by a commanding 48-33 margin and blocking 5 Hawk shots. I'm not going to belabor this point any further: the Cavs play great defense, and that's all there is to it.

Tonight's game was close throughout, though one never, ever got the sense the Cavaliers were in real danger. You know they'd pull away late like they always do, and you knew the charge would be led by LeBron James, and the Cavs indeed outscored Atlanta 22-17 in the final frame to win comfortably. There are two reasons why the game wasn't a total blowout: the Cavs turned the ball over far too much (15 times, including 11 in the first half), and shot horribly from the line (14-26). Without those miscues, they win by at least 20, but give the Hawks some credit for playing active defense. Nevertheless, the Cavs overcame those struggles with the aforementioned D and hot outside shooting; Cleveland's 10-18 (56%) from beyond the arc outpaced their accuracy on two-pointers (38%) or foul shots (54%). But hey, you move the ball well and get it to good shooters, and these things happen.

LeBron had another quality game, posting a typical 27/8/8 line but only earning a +1. Cavalier rebounders were paced by Varejao at 11 and Z with 10, while Joe Smith contributed 6 in 20 sturdy bench minutes. Mo Williams turned in a solid all-around game with 12/4/5 and a team-best +18, including some dagger threes down the stretch. Delonte West was superb as well, with an impressive 21/4/6 line highlighted by a monster baseline dunk. In contrast to the Game 3 win, where the starters totaly carrried the team, Cleveland had better balance this time out.

Poor Atlanta. They just never had a chance. They actually played a decent game as they faced elimination - they just couldn't get anything to go in the basket. Josh Smith led the Hawk charge with 26 points and 8 boards, and Joe Johnson had 18/6/7 on inefficient shooting (7-18). Mike Bibby (a team-low -16) was a total nonfactor, as was a less-than-100% Al Horford.

So, once again the Cavs face a long layoff, and they probably couldn't be happier about it. They await the winner of the Celtics-Magic series, currently tied at 2-2. Cleveland will be a heavy favorite to dispatch either squad, though one has to think this might be the round they finally drop a game. At this point, frankly, I don't have a preference who we play. Beating Boston would be more satisfying from a fan's standpoint, and watching Kevin Garnett yell "fuck" on the sidelines would provide some comedy, but in pure basketball terms I don't have a strong preference. Maybe Boston slightly, as they're minus Garnett and Orlando gives Cleveland matchup problems. We'll see how it goes - for now, let's congratulate the Cavs on earning another relaxing vacation, even if it means we have to watch the Tribe the rest of the week.

Laying the smack down

As you may recall, I picked the CaVs to win their opening-round series against Detroit in five games. The CaVs went out and won four straight by double-digits. Believing Atlanta to be a more worthy opponent, I stuck with my CaVs in 5 prediction for the second round. The CaVs have thus far totally destroyed the Hawks in each of the first three games of the series, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead and looking to make yet another of my predictions off by a game. Fine by me. Nick already recapped Game 1; let's look at some numbers from Games 2 and 3 and a few notes on the other series.

Game 2
Never even tested in this one, a 105-85 laugher. Atlanta made a few shots early to keep it close, but the CaVs opened a nine-point lead after one quarter that swelled to a 25-point edge after LeBron dropped a ridiculous fadeaway 35-footer at the buzzer. Everything is going right for these guys. The Cavs were up as many as 36 in the 2nd half, at which point I watched The Office while the bench squandered some of the Cavs' bloated Diff. Whatevah.

Though the result was the same as Game 1, the CaVs brought their defense all game this time instead of just the 2nd half, holding the Hawks to a paltry 35% from the field (which included a robust 47% on three-pointers).

Hubie Brown said "high percentage" at least 406 times during this broadcast. Hubie's awesome, but it was comical how much he used this phrase. He was not generally referring to the Atlanta Hawks when doing so. The CaVs, on the other hand, shot a very strong 53.5%, though at just 32% on threes, they made their money in the paint.

The CaVs dominated elswhere too, outrebounding the Hawks 43-34 and racking up 11 blocked shots. No wonder the Hawks shot such a low percentage, particularly on two-point shots.

The Hawk box score shows good performances from the bench bunch but lots of big fat negative numbers for the high-minute guys. Josh Smith contributed 22 minutes that featured exactly one rebound and some 2-13 masonry from the floor. That's horrible for a player of his athletic gifts. Zaza Pachulia, normally one of the Hawks' better interior players, was a -25 after Al Horford's injury forced him into a starting role. Flip Murray managed the same +/- as Zaza but only needed 27 minutes! Joe Johnson, one of the league's overrated players in my opinion, tossed up a 10/3/1 line on 5-15 shooting and a game-low 31 points. Mo Evans was probably Atlanta's best starter, scoring 16 and sort-of defending LeBron.

The CaVs starters, of course, looked strong. LeBron was businesslike with a modest 27/3/5 in just 31 minutes, the backcourt brothers combined for 29 points and 7 assists, and Wally Szczerbiak chipped in 17 off the bench. Mo Williams led the +/- brigade at +30; the Cavalier starting 5 were a combined +112 (thus outscoring their counterparts by 22 as a unit). The bench big men, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace, each found themselves on the plus side of the ledger as well. No sweat.

Game 3
You knew playing in Atlanta was going to be a bit more difficult, and the CaVs indeed found themselves in a tight game after blowing a 12-point second-half lead before pulling away for a comfortable 97-82 win.

It's this simple: LeBron was ridiculous, posting a 47/12/8 line plus a block and a steal and just 1 turnover for a +26 rating, leading the Cavs in every one of those categories (save TO's). James' shot was dead-on this evening, as he went 15-25 from the floor, including 5-10 on three-pointers. He was amazing - I found myself just laughing at some of his more video-game plays as he completely owned the fourth quarter.

The Cav starters had another strong outing, posting a collective +97 (+19 as a unit). The bench was not as productive, especially Ben Wallace (-13) and Wally Szczerbiak (-10), but we had LeBron, so who cares. Z (14), Delonte (12), and Williams (10) joined LeBron as double-digit scorers on a night where only 6 Cavs cracked the scoresheet.

Atlanta's side of the balance sheet is, as usual, far less exciting. They were absolutely pounded on the glass by the Cavaliers, who held a stunning 46-23 edge on the boards. The Hawk big men were either semi-injured (Horford) or ejected (Pachulia), and the Cavaliers are a good rebounding team anyway. Cleveland shot 51% to the Hawks' 45% (a marked improvement over the games in Cleveland); both teams were erratic from long-distance (non-LeBron Cavaliers were 1-12). Importantly, the Cavaliers earned 14 more points from the foul line than their opponent.

Atlanta starters went a combined -90; all their reserves notched positive ratings for a modest +15. Not good math if you're a Hawk fan - nor is 3-0 for that matter.

The Hawks
These guys have some talent, but they have two major flaws: 1) They are not as good as Cleveland and 2) They are stupid.

The first is harder to correct; Atlanta simply can't get good looks or get anywhere near the basket against the Cavaliers' vaunted defense, and their own defense isn't strong enough to stop all the offensive weapons the Cavaliers have. From a pure talent standpoint, Cleveland has a significant advantage.

The second may just take time. Basketball guys like to talk about "Basketball IQ," or how smartly a player makes decisions on the court. The Cavaliers have a very high team IQ - LeBron's decision-making is incredible, and the rest of the team plays very smartly as a unit moving the ball on offense, getting proper rebounding position, and never being out of place on defense. Atlanta...not so much. Josh Smith has a basketball IQ of about 10 - in pure basketball terms, he might be the dumbest guy in the league, and it doesn't help that he lets everything get to him and affect his play. Joe Johnson can score, but he's nowhere near being a complete player. Zaza Pachulia's freak-out in Game 3 epitomized the Hawks' inexperience. That was a completely obvious block (that's why they have that little semicircle, dude), and he inexplicably flipped out, got tossed, and cost Atlanta's already-depleted frontcourt one of their best rebounders and defenders. Not smart, and, along with the talent gap, representative of why the Hawks' season is very likely to end tomorrow.

Also, every time they say "Zaza", I think of the part in Godfather III where Andy Garcia shoots Joey Zasa from atop the horse, smiles, and says "Zasa!"

Around the league
Maybe I have a Bulls-Celtics hangover, but this series is terribly uninteresting. I'm on record as saying Magic in 6, and they're on the right track for that, but this matchup seems lifeless for some reason as the Magic lead 2-1. Maybe tonight's game will be more fun.

Rafer Alston slapping Eddie House on the back of the head was completely absurd and totally merited a suspension. You know, if you're going to slap a guy in the head, you shouldn't even be in the league at all. I never liked Rafer Alston, and that certainly has not changed. I can't even fathom what makes a man think that's OK.

I expected Denver to look strong in this postseason, but not this good - wow. Up 3-0, they look to be well-rested and motivated going into the West Finals. As for the end of Game 3, I'm surprised at the NBA's actions. They put out a statement saying that the officials should have called a foul prior to Carmelo Anthony's game-winner, as Dallas had a foul to give and were actively (though ineptly) trying to do just that. The NBA is reluctant to throw their officials under the bus, and I didn't expect them to do so here. Frankly, I don't think the Dallas guy really fouled him. Really, you couldn't smack his arm or anything? I saw that shot three times before I learned that there was some controversy around it. Dallas's players and coaches are frustrated with the league, but their player failing to execute any reasonable foul is why they're down 3-0 instead of 2-1.

Magic Johnson, in ABC's pre-game show, called Game 4 a "must-win" for the Lakers, which is utterly and totally insane. LA leads the series 2-1, has home-court advantage, and Yao is out for the season. How in the hell can you possibly call that must-win? It's not even close. Someone please fire this guy.

As I write this, the Lakers are getting firebombed by Houston, 61-38, in an impressive performance from the Rockets. I guess this means the Lakers will be officially eliminated today. Seriously, though, this second round is lame compared to the first one.

And finally, a word on the violence in the Laker-Rocket series (and across the league). What the hell is wrong with these men? I expect some emotion, but I hear the word "flagrant" about every 5 seconds these days. The league has handled the fouls as well as they could have, but it's certainly not good for the game how busy Stu Jackson has been in the principal's office. Kobe deserved a flagrant-1 for his elbow to Artest and Ron-Ron deserved to be chucked for running around like a lunatic. It was hard and unfortunate, but it was during a rebound battle and not intentional. Likewise, good work by the NBA on Artest's fast-break foul, which the league correctly dropped down from f-2 to f-1.

Derek Fisher's elbow to Luis Scola was beyond dirty. No place for that in the NBA. He got a one-game suspension, but if they held him out of the rest of the playoffs, I wouldn't complain. What a jerk. I'm kinda glad the Cavs have been able to float above all that insanity with their noncompetitive games - it'll be interesting to see if they get dragged into the muck in later rounds.

For now: Go Cavs!

Sunday, May 10

Ladies and Gentlemen your 2009 Cleveland Indians

The Tribe got swept. Shut out twice. Not much of anything is going the Indians' way right now. I wonder if firing Shapiro has come up? Haven't the Cavs played a game or two recently?

I may revisit these games later but right now all I feel like doing is hoping for better things in the future, since at the moment only the lowly Nationals have a worse record.

Game 1: Gavin Floyd, RHP (2-2, 6.29) vs. Carl Pavano, RHP (2-3, 6.61)
Game 2: Clayton Richard, LHP (0-0, 4.32) vs. Jeremy Sowers, LHP (0-1, 12.60)
Game 3: Mark Buehrle, LHP (5-0, 2.61) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (1-5, 3.45)

This series at home against the White Sox is winnable.

Go Tribe!

A new arm for the Tribe at AAA

Now that's one good-looking hurler! How many pitchers do you know with a third hand that can hold a beer while on the mound? Expect this fellow to be in The Show before long.

As you can see, I paid my first visit to Huntington Park, the new home of Cleveland's triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. I was a bit underwhelmed by the park, and not because it was a rainy evening and the Clips endured a 2-hit shutout at the hands of the Pawtucket Red Socks and I had to see even more annoying Red Sock fans enjoying themselves. It's just not that great of a park compared to, say, Akron's Canal Park. Fortunately, our seats put us well within shouting distance of red sock left fielder Jeff Corsaletti, who's currently sitting on a .344 OPS and had a really rough game. Corsaletti's struggles (along with the plentiful Karate Kid jokes flying every time a player named Danielson came to the plate) pretty much salvaged what was otherwise an ugly, lifeless 4-0 loss. Thanks, Jeff and Daniel-Son!

Friday, May 8

Headline I stole: "Lee picks wrong night to allow a run"

Well now we've got three games to discuss. Before we get to the postmortems, let's cover the Tribe in general. The Indians currently sit at 11-19 and 7.5 games back of the Kansas Royals and are in last place by a solid 2.5 games. Yeah, things aren't going well. While the Tribe's current position is by no means insurmountable, does this team have life left in them?

Wednesday's game was an awesome win for the Tribe - heck any win is pretty awesome. But the Red Sox at Fenway have played pretty well. The big story of the night was Aaron Laffey in relief, but the real pitcher of note was Carl Pavano. Six innings, six hits, and two earned runs against the Red Sox at home is all you can ask of your starter, at least one like Carl Pavano. While Pavano was a little rough early, he settled in and pitched a quality start. Of course, from there Laffey came in for the old-school three-inning save. Offensively, the Tribe had a good night at the plate with 13 hits scoring nine runs. The bulk of the hits came from our two through five hitters Cabrera, Martinez, Choo, and DeRosa, with each collecting three hits. Actually ,after those four guys only a lone hit by Ben Francisco rounded out the Indians hits on the night. The hitting machine that is Victor Martinez recorded four RBI's on the night. Tribe (11-17) win 9-2.

Thursday night was a different story. Jeremy Sowers was called up to start the game with the original scheduled starter Laffey having gotten the save the night before and all. Sowers looked good through five innings, allowing only a run in the first. However, top of the order and third time around the Red Sox batting order meant that whatever Sowers and Martinez were doing out there stopped working. In the box score Sowers is credited with seven runs - six of those came in the sixth. Kobayashi was then called in and gave up five runs in 0.0 innings. Doing the math, that means that Sowers and Kobayashi allowed 12 straight runs to be scored without a single out. Newly called-up journeyman reliever Matt Herges gave up a run in two innings (and allowed all of Kobayashi's baserunners in), but ended the slaughter that was the sixth inning. Jensen Lewis pitched a scoreless eighth and I imagine the Red Sox were tired and just wanted to go home. Offensively, the Indians didn't have the ability to dig out of that hole they found themselves in in the seventh. No one had more than one hit and the Tribe scored three runs. Indians (11-18) lose 3-13.

Tonight's game was a repeat of last week's Lee/Verlander match up. Justin Verlander came into this game with a 2-2 record and 5.66 ERA. Still, he pitched a complete game shutout allowing only two hits. Lee allowed one run in eight innings. If it's not one thing it's another, the saying goes. Fittingly the two best hitters on the team right now had those hits. Martinez and Cabrera. Hey Valbuena walked twice so that's something. Tribe (11-19) lose 1-0.

You had to figure the Cavs would overshadow the Indians almost no matter what until the NBA playoffs are over, but this isn't helping the team at all. The attendance to Friday's game was 27,000+, but no one is going to be showing up mid-week to watch a team that can't keep a lead or hit. One criticism I may have said and I've heard is that the Indians strike out too much and they did that 11 times tonight. However it has mostly been situational hitting that has hindered the offense. Well, that and the likes of Jhonny Peralta and Sizemore dragging down the team's on-base percentage. Thank goodness Shoppach has already been hit by a pitch eight times this year (11 times all of 2008).

As I said in an earlier post the move of Laffey was your best option for the bullpen. However was it the best situation for the starting rotation? Sure Sowers is a downgrade and Laffey was our second or third best pitcher in terms on consistency. You could point to this team's inability to develop relievers in their system and relying too heavily on old retreads such as Betancourt (that turned out well) and Chulk (already DFA'ed). Yes, they're still trying to capture Bob Howry lighting in a bottle again, but Lewis is serviceable if unpredictable and Perez has been invaluable up until this year. You'll always need starters, but at what point do you take these guys and start building bullpen options in AA or AAA? Was this overlooked in the Indians' system or did a bunch of guys just not work out?

Finally, the one thing this team needs to find is consistency. The bullpen is a mess, the offense is day to day, the starters are finally starting to go enough innings, and the defense has been surprisingly weak. So what can we expect in the near-term? Peralta gets a few days off and Valbuena plays second. Hafner returns in a week or so I imagine. Jamey Carroll returns from his injury and maybe the Indians sign Luis Vizcaino, a 34 year-old RHP DFA'ed and later released by the Cubs on April 23rd. None of those are the big lift this team needs.

My quick recommendation is: don't fire Wedge this season. Look what he did the second half last year. He is a perfect fit for Shapiro and I don't see his firing as being the shake-up this team needs. Hitting coach Derek Shelton usually takes his share of blame but I'm not one for knee-jerk coaching firings to solve a team's problems, especially a baseball team. This is still a team playing beneath themselves and I'm sure those involved in the front office of this team are feeling these shortcomings more than most fans. At least I can turn off the radio and pay attention to something else for a while.

The Tribe still have two more games against the Tigers and I expect better things. How much better? I'll go out on a limb and say the Tribe gets three hits tomorrow.

Game 2: Edwin Jackson, RHP (1-2, 3.08) vs. Fausto Carmona, RHP (1-3, 6.11)
Game 3: Rick Porcello, RHP (2-3, 4.71) vs. Anthony Reyes, RHP (1-0, 6.84)

Edwin Jackson has the lowest run support in the AL. Porcello has also been good of late. On the surface I don't either of these match ups. If this turns into a four-game skid with a three game sweep at home I wonder what the front office would consider doing then.

Go Tribe!
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

In the interim

Look it's Friday, and I've got better things to do than write up this last Tribe series Here's my short list of thoughts.

- Why release Chulk instead of Kobayashi?
- Anyone who thinks the Indians will trade Cliff Lee this season is a moron. OK it could happen but it would have to be a huge trade.
- Jhonny Peralta is still killing me. Mr. Peralta's work ethic is now in question.
- Laffey to the bullpen makes sense. That's not to say it was the right move, but I get it.
- Sowers could be good, like Carl Pavano good, maybe.
- Those 12 runs last night suuuucccckkkked.
- I hate it when sportswriters contribute the Cavs success totally to the luck.
- This bullpen is more Mark Shapiro's fault than Eric Wedge's. But who you going to fire?
- Splitting the series with the Red Sox might be as good as this team can do.
- Yes this team is better than they're playing and have been playing, but that's how baseball goes sometimes.
- You should listen to Tom Hamilton every chance you get. His disgust with the play of this team sometimes makes me feel better.

Tonight we start a three-game home series with Detroit.

Game 1: Justin Verlander, RHP (2-2, 5.66) vs. Cliff Lee, LHP (1-4, 3.92)

Tuesday, May 5

Cavs de-claw Hawks as round two finally starts

Due to a combination of their dominance of the Pistons and the duration of the Miami/Atlanta series, the Cavs hadn't played a game since the second day of the NFL Draft. The players and fans were clearly anxious for round two to begin. But with the exceptions of the MVP ceremony at the start of game and the extraordinary and palpable energy level at The Q, this felt more like a regular season game than a playoff game.

After the Hawks led for much of the first quarter, the Cavs took the lead late in the first quarter and never lost it. The Cavaliers really stretched out their lead in the third quarter, and the final period was smooth sailing.

Before we get too excited, it should at least be noted that the Cavs were playing at home and were well-rested, whereas the Hawks finished off the Heat just two days earlier. But even with that in mind, it's tough to find fault with much of what the Cavaliers did.

It's a scary thought that the Cavs won by 27, and weren't even hitting on all cylinders for several stretches during the game. The Hawks have their work cut out for them if they want to make this a series.

Final: Cleveland 99, Atlanta 72
Box score

Quick Hits

It's good to be the King.
LeBron James cleaned up in the MVP voting, hauling in 109 of 121 first place votes, and 1,172 total points (Kobe Bryant, last year's MVP, was second with 698 points). As was well-publicized, James went back to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron to accept the award. We say it all the time, but it's still easy to take for granted how grounded, loyal, and humble James is; he gave his family, friends, and teammates more credit for the MVP award than himself.

On the court tonight, James set the tone with a dunk on the first possession after being freed by a Delonte West pick. LBJ dropped 22 in the first half and finished with 34. James' assist numbers were down (only 3), but he grabbed 10 boards and racked up 4 steals.

LeBron came out of the gate with great focus and such a scoring emphasis that it felt like he was going to deliver a signature playoff performance. That never really came to fruition, as the Cavs opened a big lead in the second half and James only played 34 minutes. It would have been nice to see LeBron go for 50 points, but we still have plenty of playoff games left for something like that to go down, and it's good that LeBron got some solid rest in the fourth quarter again.

Turning(over) point.
You might notice in the box score that the Cavs didn't shoot that much better than the Hawks (.468 and .438, respectively), and didn't take that many more trips to the free throw line. The two keys to the Cavs' blowout win were turnovers (17 to 7) and offensive rebounds (15 to 6).

There was some lousy ball handling and plenty of errant passes in this game, but fortunately the Cavs were the beneficiaries of the Hawks' mistakes more often than the opposite. Anderson Varejao also deserves extra points for being very active around the rim, and although he struggled to make baskets, he corralled five offensive rebounds.

Speaking of Varejao...
Zydrunas Ilgauskas struggled from the field, also. Ilgauskas and Varejao combined for just 11 points (4-of-17). Varejao is no great shakes offensively, but he couldn't even get his normal tips and layups to fall, and Ilgauskas' trademarked jumper was off the mark. Fortunately for the Cavs, the back court picked up the slack.

LeBron James' 34 points were matched by another 34 from Mo Williams and Delonte West, and the starting guards were able to cover the mistakes of the struggling bigs. West also quietly added nine assists. It's hard to believe that not too long ago, the starting back court was a combination of Larry Hughes, Daniel Gibson, and Sasha Pavlovic.

Hawkish strategy.
It was clear from the word "go" that the Hawks were hoping to run on the Cavs. It's not a bad concept; Zydrunas Ilgauskas isn't exactly fleet of foot, and although Anderson Varejao isn't slow, he crashes the offensive boards so frequently that you might be able to catch him out of position for a fast break.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, they didn't do a very good job executing their strategy, and they squandered several opportunities for easy points with careless (and often unforced) errors.

The real threats?
Entering the series, the two Hawks who scared me the most were Al Horford and Joe Johnson. Horford appeared to be dangerous because athletic bigs can take advantage of the Cavs' front court (and I maintain that the weakness of that defense is on the interior). Johnson, well, he just always seems to go off against the Cavaliers. Horford and Johnson didn't do much damage in game one, and the pair posted just 4 and 11 points, respectively.

The two guys who did most of the damage for Atlanta were Mike Bibby and Josh Smith. Bibby abused the Miami Heat in round one, and he poured in 19 while shooting an impressive 5-of-7 from deep. Josh Smith was getting to the rim way too easily early, and he finished with 22.

Smith is a genetic lottery winner like LeBron James (although to a slightly lesser degree), and he can create his own shot. Also like James, you want to defend Smith by forcing him to use his jumper, which is below average. It will be interesting to see how Mike Brown and the Cavs adjust to account for Bibby and Smith in game two.

Up Next: 5/7, Game 2, Quicken Loans Arena, 8:00
This is a pivotal game in the series. If the Cavs come out and take care of business, they have a good chance of making this a short series. However, if they lose the second game at home, they cede home court to the Hawks and considering that the Hawks were 31-10 at home this year, the series might turn into a dogfight.