Wednesday, April 27

Cleveland Cavaliers 2010-11 Season in Review

At this point, there is absolutely no point detailing what went on with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2010 off-season, so let's just start this recap of the Cavs' recent, bizarrely entertaining 19-63 campaign in October, right before the season started. The new-look Cavaliers were widely expected to drop precipitously in the standings - as I've Twittered throughout the year and written about here,'s Kelly Dwyer picked the comically-low win total of 12 for the Cavs (only 58% too low), while a lot of prognosticators had the Cavs winning around 30. No matter where in the lower reaches one saw Cleveland finishing, it was pretty obvious that they were going to fall sharply from the 60-win heights of the previous two campaigns and could even see an end to their five-year streak of reaching the playoffs. Yet I'm not sure anyone saw a campaign this weird unfolding.

Beating Boston
Things started off pretty damn well for the new-look Cavaliers, as they notched a 95-87 Opening Night home victory over the hated Boston Celtics, who when we last saw them were once again dispatching Cleveland from the playoffs, largely thanks to the anti-heroics of a certain former Cavalier. None of that residue was present on this night, just a solid, exciting victory that showed the Cavs still had some talent left.

The First-Place Cavaliers
It's true, they were all alone in first place in the Central at 4-3 early on! Those were good times. Looking back, I see that their season-high three-game win streak was built by wins over the East's dregs: Washington, New Jersey, and Philly (who hadn't started clicking yet). Ah, hindsight.

Holding Their Own Early On
Despite facing some superior opponents, the Cavs remained competitive, improving to 7-9 after a Nov. 27 win over the Memphis Grizzlies (attended by this blogger). The highlight of this stretch, other than the Boston win, was an 83-81 win over Milwaukee punctuated by Mo Williams' buzzer-beating J over Brandon Jennings. The 7-9 mark might sound like a fairly modest first fifth of the season, but that extrapolates to 36 wins over a full season. The Indiana Pacers claimed the East's 8th seed with a 35-47 mark on the year. Just think: we could be getting hammered by the Bulls right now!

December 2, 2010
Anytime the national media is spinning a 28-point home loss as a positive because no spectators tried to physically assault a member of the opposing team, well...your team might not be in the healthiest position.

Everything about this game was awful - the negative energy, the dominant play by the Heat and their major free-agent acquisition, and especially the utterly supine play by the home Cavaliers. That lack of effort, coupled with the club's talent gap, portended stormy times on the horizon. And boy, were those times ever fucking stormy. I saw Tornado Alley yesterday at the Great Lakes Science Center, and in the scene where the guy in the Killdozer finally gets a shot from inside a tornado, I think I saw Manny Harris and Alonzo Gee flying at the screen.

Falling to Pieces
Following the humiliating beatdown at the hands of Miami and the Three DB-gos (h/t to former FCF columnist Nick for the name), the Cavaliers started to unravel. The effort of the early-season games vanished. Defensive cohesion and intensity were non-existent. The Cavaliers stopped believing they could win, and made sure that self-defeating view came to pass. They were out of a lot of games within moments of the opening tip. It was getting hard to watch - I never gave up, but certainly entertained the thought, and made sure I had a backup activity planned for myself for those nights where Cleveland dug themselves a giant early hole, which was a lot of those nights. I mean, how do you lose by 34 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves? (Look it up yourself - this really happened, though an evening in the Great Lakes brewery with JHH eased the pain considerably.)

Cleveland finally snapped a 10-game skid with a thrilling overtime Dec. 18 victory over the New York Knicks (which I watched at Nick's Sports Cafe after a very pleasant evening at Snow Days), but the worst was yet to come. Not against New York, though - we owned them to the tune of 3-1 this season. Thanks for coming out, Knicks. Speaking of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony valiantly and singlehandedly keeping them in Game 2 with the Celtics was the best playoff performance I've seen so far, albeit a losing one. Yeah, Brandon Roy was tough on Saturday, but at least he had LaMarcus Aldridge around.

The Day the Season Died
When Anderson Varejao injured a part of ankle that no one had ever even heard of in practice on January 6, 2011, it effectively ended any chance the already-shorthanded Cavaliers had to remain competitive for the rest of the year. With the Cavs already missing Mo Williams and having lost eight straight since the win over New York, burying them in a brutal stretch of 18 L's in 19 games, the timing couldn't have been worse to lose their best defensive player, a cat with a steadily improving offensive arsenal and a real feel for winning basketball. Things looked really bad for Byron Scott and his Cavalier squad: turns out that they really, really were.

The Losing Streak
Even the most pessimistic sports fan couldn't have foreseen what would happen next: an NBA-record 26-game losing streak. Things spiraled totally out of control (click link): a hilarious Onion article, a website called (usually featuring only the word "No" in giant Comic Sans font), and more. It's never a good sign when your team's losing streak is being compared to teams in different sports to gain perspective. There were really ugly nights in this stretch: a 112-57 obliteration at the hands of the Lakers; a 70-point first half yielded to Utah followed by an eighty-point first half surrendered to the Nuggets; and another 27-point loss to Miami.

I reviewed the results to look for games where the Cavaliers came close, and there were even fewer than I recalled. There was a last-second home loss to Minny (on a last-second shot by a possibly-stoned Michael Beasley, no less) and a two-point road defeat to the Nets (where Anthony Parker's last-second attempt fell short), and...that's about it. Lots of bad losses. I did, during this streak, develop a strange love for the crazy jumping and erratic-yet-occasionally-brilliant game of Christian Eyenga, but that was quickly becoming not enough to stay focused night after long night.

Snapping the Streak
FINALLY, on February 11, Cleveland's historic losing streak came to an end. I was at the game that finally ended it, a 126-119 overtime win over the LA Clippers, and I don't know if I've ever seen a more excited basketball crowd. A really weird kind of magical night at the Q, but a great experience. Among my crew was a coworker from Brazil who'd never attended an NBA game - I'm pretty sure I singlehandedly doubled his career total for high fives. I was psyched.

With that monkey off their back, and with the arrival of Baron Davis and rejuvenation of JJ Hickson, the Cavaliers would quietly go 10-18 to close out the season, winning at a clip of .357 that represented an improvement of .357 over their previous 26 contests.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Back to the Forum, Even Though They Now Play in the Staples Center, Referenced Awesomely in This One System of a Down Song Man Did Those Guys Rock
One of those wins was a shocking 104-99 victory over the LA Lakers, avenging the franchise-worst 55-point loss a month prior. People made all sorts of excuses: LA was at the end of a long road trip, the All-Star break was coming up, blah blah blah. You lost to the Cavs, deal with it. I watched this game in its entirety on NBA GameCast from my hotel in Norway, where the game ended at approximately 4 am while I was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to sleep through as much of the next day's transatlantic flight as possible. This worked, by the way.

Cleveland notched a few more wins over the next few weeks, including a home win over the Knicks (also with Francis, Nick, and the Fanuc brothers in the stands), ANOTHER win over New York (the Cavs' first roadie win in nearly a mind-boggling four months), and a couple more here and there.

But all of those paled in comparison to the Cavaliers exorcising all sorts of demons on March 29 with a fantastic 102-90 home win over the Miami Heat. I'd rewatch every single one of their 63 losses again if it meant I got to experience that win again. Easily the most exciting win of the season, a victory that made the traumatic off-season and the difficulties of enduring the whole epic losing streak all seem worth it. I felt really, really good that night - I even wandered downstairs with my Cavaliers sweatshirt on for a victory drink. too bad the bar didn't have Great Lakes' Quitness. Suck it, LeBron.

Sprinting to the Finish Line
The Cavaliers didn't let up after their triumphant victory over the NBA's most hated, collecting four more wins in their last nine to finish at 19-63. As I've written about extensively, Cavalier fans should embrace this late-season improved play instead of fretting about the zero value of "earning" slightly higher lottery odds. The Cavs' more consistent winning was sparked by the floor leadership and fearless play of Baron Davis, who led the club despite being in obvious pain. No way do we beat the Heat without Baron. JJ Hickson also figured things out late in the season. JJ finished the year with a solid 13.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but after the turn of the new year, he averaged 11.0 rpg and showed a new focus on defense. Very good sign for the future prospects of the Cavaliers, and if Erden, Hollins, and Varejao can lock down center and allow JJ to slide back to the 4, things will be even rosier.

A Look Ahead
I was going to consider the near- and long-term future of the Cavs at the end of this recap, but considering how much roster turnover we can expect with four draft picks, the impending "labor" negotiations, and the fact that the Indians are in first place, I think that can wait for another day.

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