Dealing with adversity and injuries is a requisite part of playing winning basketball in the NBA. But rain delays typically are not part of the deal.
The Cavs survived both a 14-minute rain-delay and the loss of Anderson Varejao on Sunday in beating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers 98-95 in front of a national television audience.
LeBron James led all scorers with 41 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and LBJ also played some outstanding one-on-one defense on Bryant late in the game to lead the Cavs to their 8th win in the past 10 games, 10th in their last 12 and run their overall record to 24-19.
The Cavs also got key contributions on the offensive side from Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes who each scored 16 points. Daniel Gibson also chipped in 10 points.
Bryant led the Lakers with 33 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists while Lamar Odom added 14 points for Los Angeles. No other Lakers reached double figures in scoring.
The game started with both teams trading baskets but the back and forth action came to a grinding halt early in the first quarter when the game had to be stopped due to water falling on the floor. The Los Angeles area has seen steady rains for a few days and the first thoughts were that the Staples Center had a badly leaking roof. While the players were trying to stay loose it was discovered that the cause of the water wasn’t the roof itself. Rather, workers who had worked on the roof used a catwalk a few hundred feet above the playing floor as a hamper for their soaked clothing. The soaked, dripping clothes were removed, the floor was dried and the game resumed. I’m assuming a few members of the roofers union will have some explaining to do Monday morning. They should be easily recognizable when they show up nude to work.
After trailing by a bucket at the end of the first quarter the Cavs outscored the Lakers 25-14 in the 2nd quarter to take a 9-point halftime lead.
But alas, these are the Cavs and this was the 3rd quarter and the Lakers took advantage of both in erasing that 9-point lead and taking a lead of their own just 4 minutes into the 2nd half.
Making matters worse for Cleveland was Varejao going up for a rebound and coming down on the foot of Laker’s guard Sasha Vujacic. Varejao’s ankle buckled and the big Brazilian crumpled to the floor at the 3:12 mark of the 3rd quarter. AV was unable to put much, if any, pressure, on the ankle, was helped off the floor by the Cavs training staff and did not return. The diagnosis was a sprained left ankle. The severity of the injury and the prognosis for AV’s availability on the rest of this trip are unknown.
As long as the Cavs continue to see James play at an otherworldly level they’ll get by. But losing AV for any extended period of time would cripple the Cavs as they get ready for the stretch run.
What’d We Like?
Always first and foremost with the Cavs, you have to like the burden of responsibility that James has accepted for this team. LBJ took over the final quarter again (again), assumed the scoring burden (again), set up teammates with good looks at the hoop (again) and guarded the opponent’s best player (again). James not only made sure the Cavs had enough points in the bank to win the game but he also made Bryant work for each of his shots and forced the Lakers star into some awful attempts. And he did all of this while running the Cavs offense and initiating nearly offensive set.
You also have to be pleased with the effort Larry Hughes gave on Sunday. Oft-maligned (and fairly so), Hughes hit some big shots when LeBron was either out of the game or hounded by two or three Lakers defenders. Hughes was 7-13 for the game from the field, including a couple of big 3-point field goals that kept the Cavs within striking distance all afternoon.
Damon Jones and Gibson are also giving the Cavs just enough of an outside threat to keep defenses from completely collapsing in the paint or on James. Neither shot the ball particularly well Sunday, but they were accurate and active enough to score some points and give James, Hughes and Ilgauskas some help.
That was an outstanding defensive team effort on the Lakers last possession. The Lakers in-bounded the ball with 9 seconds remaining in the game, in their forecourt, and never got off a shot. Bryant and Luke Walton were hounded by James, Hughes and a host of Cavalier defenders and never got a decent shot opportunity. Credit Mike Brown and his players for understanding the situation and playing directly into what the Lakers were trying to do.
What’d We Hate?
The starting lineup is vile.
The options are limited with Sasha Pavlovic recovering from injury, AV soon to join him in the trainer’s room and Eric Snow and Donyell basically useless. But good grief. Ira Newble? Newble followed up his zero point performance against Phoenix on Friday with 4 points against the Lakers on Sunday (both on dunks) in 16 minutes. The ‘defensive stopper’ was beaten routinely by Bryant who either scored directly on Newble or dished off to wide-open teammates when the other Cavs were forced to help on defense. When 40% of your starting lineup is held scoreless on Friday night and to 5 points on Sunday, that lineup is failing miserably.
Does Mike Brown break out the little mats and pillows at halftime? How else do you explain the seemingly endless parade of sluggish 3rd quarter starts with this squad? This team does not exactly have a huge margin for error as it is with injuries and guys under performing. Giving away hard-earned leads and forcing more pressure upon James to take over and bring some semblance of order to the floor is a recipe for disaster.
Here’s another question: can Brown assign some member of his staff to gently remind Drew Gooden that his presence at scheduled games would be appreciated? Fans point to Hughes when they discuss bad contracts, but Gooden at $6million per year is just as bad if you consider that he’s taking about 40 games off per year and simply not showing up to play. It’d be one thing if Gooden left the court with floor burns and bruises from an energetic style of play. But Sunday in LA he stumbled around on the court like he was in some medical marijuana based stupor.
Against the Lakers Gooden played 32 minutes (2/3 of the basketball game) and scored one point. That’s hard to swallow when you watch a decidedly less talented offensive player like Varejao routinely reach double figures on put backs or on a wide open looks created by James.
In fact, its inexcusable.