Monday, November 30

Hey, one of our teams is good

Among all the difficulties that the 1-10 Browns have faced so far this season and the still-lingering disappointment of the Indians' 2009 campaign, it seems the Cavaliers haven't gotten a lot of press. They certainly haven't here at FCF. I think this is at least kind-of ironic, considering that the Cavaliers have a fairly reasonable shot at the NBA title, whereas neither the Browns nor Tribe appear headed anywhere.

As I suggested earlier, I think this Cavalier apathy is at least partially a byproduct of the sky-high expectations placed on the club for the 2009-10 campaign. Anything less than an NBA Championship is a disappointment for this team and its fans, and everyone knows this and is comfortable. Last season, the whole dominant-regular-season thing was new, and it was exciting to watch LeBron and company roll to 66 regular-season victories. This year, it's a lot more like: wake me up when the Playoffs start.

To some extent, the Cavaliers' play so far has reflected this shift in mentality. Part of it is that it's taking a while for the new players like Shaq, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon to get fully integrated, but I think their regular-season objective is just to get a Top-4 seed and be as ready as possible for the postseason. It's no secret that the Cavs' organizational philosophy is: be as much like the San Antonio Spurs as possible, and the Spurs are the absolute masters of playing it cool during the regular season and being perfectly fine-tuned for April, May, and June. One hopes that the Cavs will be able to pull the same trick this season.

Of course, it's not like they're not doing well - far from it. They're 12-5, just one game off the pace set by conference-leading Orlando and three up on the Bucks in what promises to be a completely noncompetitive Central Division race. May as well order that banner now. Yes, they've had a couple of lapses, most notably bad road losses to Washington and Charlotte, but they're still looking fairly good, enjoying a point differential of +4.5 through 17 contests. They're on a 58-win pace - I figured 57 when the season started and see no reason to deviate at the moment. What's more, I'll take it. That many W's will certainly land them in the top half of the East - home-court would be fun, but it's not essential. It's pretty obvious that Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, and Atlanta are the best four clubs in the East, while the rest is nothing to write home about. It really looks like the East's final four will be identical to last year's. The West is similar, with five squads (Phoenix, LA, Denver, Dallas, Portland) that look like contenders and the rest just so-so.

I've been pleased with the new guys, at least the less-heralded additions of Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker. I've been a Moon fan since seeing him play for the CBA's Albany Patroons a few years back, and I think he's a good fit with the club. He plays tough defense, rebounds well, plays smart, and is shooting 51% from the floor and 39% from beyond the arc. Really a solid acquisition. Parker has also played well, particularly his 52% accuracy from long-distance. Throw in Mo Williams' 49% and Daniel Gibson's 47%, and you see why the Cavs lead the NBA in three-point accuracy. Good ball movement, good shooting, good offense, and a unit that has shown significant improvement since the season opened.

What about the other fellows? LeBron is LeBron. Let's not spend a lot of time here: 29.2/6.7/8.0 on 52.3% shooting. OK, that was fun. JJ Hickson has been a nice surprise, chipping in 8 points and 3 boards per game on 57% shooting from the floor. Yes, please. Add 7 apiece from your two second-unit big guys (Z and Varejao), 18 from Mo Williams, and you've got nicely balanced scoring from the Cavs.

As I see it, the two question marks for the Cavaliers going forward are Delonte West and Shaquille O'Neal. There isn't much to say about Delonte - his basketball abilities are really beyond question, so it will be his legal and emotional issues that determine how successful he'll be this year. We just need to sit and wait.

Shaq, on the other hand: who knows? I've watched a few games with him in the lineup, and I can't figure out if he helps us or hurts us at times. It wasn't a good sign that his return from a shoulder injury coincided with the Cavs playing probably their lousiest game of the season in Charlotte on Friday night, nor is it favorable that he missed the time in the first place. I want to believe that he'll be ready to roll come playoff time and can really be a valuable member of the team. I mentioned earlier the San Antonio Spurs pre-playoff-sandbagging approach; Shaq's ability to execute such a plan may be the key to Cleveland's title hopes this season.

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