The Cavaliers franchise record for victories in a season is 57, set twice, the first time by the 1988-89 Shot victims, the second by the 1991-92 Eastern Conference finalists. The 1992-93 team won 54 games, the '05-06 and '06-07 teams won 50, and that's been it. The Cavaliers have fewer 50-win seasons in their history than San Antonio has this decade, and they've never had a 60-win season. So I'm not exactly sure what a 60-win team looks like, having not seen one up-close and personal. No Cavaliers fan has. We know what a 60-loss team looks like, but not a 60-win team.
I'm thinking a 60-win team might look quite a bit like the Cavaliers, who steamrolled the Bobcats 94-74 in Charlotte on Saturday night for their eighth straight win, their second eight-game streak of the season, and their 16th win in the last 17 games. Cleveland is now 17-3, their lead over Detroit in the Central swollen to five games (four in the loss column.) Every one of the eight games in this new winning streak have come by at least 12 points, as the Cavaliers are now tops in the NBA in point differential (the last two point differential leaders won the title, by the way), and they're on pace to win 68 games, which means they'd actually have to cool off a little bit to reach a "mere" 60 at season's end.
There's no reason to think, barring injury, they will cool off, at least not that much. Granted, the Cavaliers have done a lot of light work among the lesser entities of the Association, but they haven't been doing it with mirrors either- they've been doing it with good tough defense, rebounding strength, ball movement for open shots by guys with proven ability, and the best player in the game making sure the administrative side of the business runs harmoniously. You don't blow out team after team after team, like the Cavaliers did to Charlotte on Saturday night, and have it be a fluke. Cleveland is 0-3 against good-to-elite teams on the road, but there are a lot of mediocre-to-crappy teams in this league to pummel between now and when the questions raised by those losses to the C's, Hornets and Pistons are answered in permanent ink.
How you start: In the first four minutes and forty seconds of play, Zydrunas Ilgauskas blocked four Charlotte shots while the Cavaliers bore out to 7-0 and 14-3 leads. Cleveland held the Bobcats to 19 percent from the field while building as large as an 18-point lead on the way to a 30-14 advantage at the end of one. From there it was pretty much academic.
This is dominance: Cleveland held Charlotte to 36.2 percent shooting, out-rebounded the Bobcats 39-34, forced 19 turnovers, and blocked ten Charlotte shots. For the second night in a row the Cavaliers shut down an opponent's leading scorer. This time the victim was Jason Richardson, who was held to nine points, ten below his season average. Charlotte's two leading scorers, Richardson and Gerald Wallace, combined for ten points on 3-of-15 shooting, and Wallace didn't hit a shot all night, committing four turnovers, going 0-of-6 and scoring one point, or as they say, "one point more than a dead man."
This is dominance, Part II: After the 8:18 mark of the first quarter, Charlotte's smallest deficit in this game was nine. Cleveland led by double digits for all of the final thirty minutes, and never trailed.
A little sloppy: The other virtues of their overall performance notwithstanding, the Cavaliers were a little bit free-handed with the basketball, committing 17 turnovers to 16 assists. I guess you can find a quibble with a 20-point road dousing on the second night of a back-to-back without looking too hard.
Play of the Night, Part I: Late first quarter, Andy misses an 18-foot jumper, LeBron flags down the rebound, goes down the lane, and punches it for a 24-9 Cleveland lead.
Play of the Night, Part II: Clock winding down in the third quarter, Boobie passes it off to LeBron, who sends it over to Wally Szczerbiak on the left wing, and Wally drains the three at 0.4 to send the Cavaliers off the floor with a 74-48 lead after three. The outcome wasn't exactly in doubt at that point, but it's always nice to see solid execution in end-of-quarter and end-of-game situations. We'll see if Wally hits that shot in May, or if he's even around to take it.
LeBron's line: 25 points, five rebounds, four assists on 8-of-17 with two steals and two more spectacular blocked shots, with the usual cornucopia of offensive moves that left the Charlotte crowd gasping audibly at times. He was a little jumper-happy at times, but when he's bringing the above line plus the smothering defense that kept Gerald Wallace in harried misery all night, jumper-happy is okay. LBJ is becoming a positively freaky defender, which I guess was kind of inevitable given his physical attributes and his mental maturation. Best part of LeBron's line: Minutes Played: 27:40.
Daniel is spending tonight bringing rain: The late renaissance of Daniel "Boobie" Gibson continued apace on Saturday night. Mixing his new array of drives and floaters with his staple three-pointers and Reggie Miller leg-kicks for cheap fouls, Boobie poured in 22 on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown, and played more minutes (31) than any other Cavalier on the night. No Cavalier has gotten healthier at the expense of the Bobcats than Boobie, who has notched his top two scoring nights of the season against the Carolinians. The kid looks to be coming around, which he was bound to at some point.
Screw scoring balance (for tonight): Only two Cavaliers finished in double figures, with 25 from LeBron and 22 from Boobie. Third men on the scoring totem pole were Delonte West, who had a team-best +31 and Andy with eight. With LeBron out to a 20-point first half and the Cavaliers suffocating the Bobcats defensively and on the boards, offensive balance was free to take Saturday night off.
Not to say others didn't play well: Z scored just seven points, but grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. Ben Wallace finished with eight boards, two blocks (it seemed more like five to me) and countless alterations, and Brazilian dreamboat Anderson Varejao logged eight points and five boards in 22 active minutes off the bench. Basically, the night belonged to LeBron, Boobie, Cavalier team defense, and the Cavalier frontcourt, which cowed, whipped, and generally pantsed the Bobcat front line of Sean May and Emeka Okafor.
Everyone scores! Well, almost everyone: The Kinsey Report was the only active Cavalier not to break into the scoring column, although he did "stuff the stat sheet" with a missed shot, a foul, an assist, and three turnovers in 3:39. Darnell Jackson also set a career-high with six points. Even if I were a badass, which I'm not, I still wouldn't start static with any guy named "Darnell Jackson."
The Wisdom of Mr. Cavalier, Part V- AC's theory on why Daniel Gibson performs so well against Charlotte: "The color of their uniforms gets him going!"
The Wisdom of Mr. Cavalier, Part VI- AC on Larry Brown, caught by the FSN camera with sweat beading on his forehead as his team fell further behind: "The Cavaliers continue to give coaches Excedrin headaches."
Records Await: LeBron James finished the night tied with Mark Price's team record of 734 steals, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas finished four short of Brad Daugherty's team record of 5,227 rebounds. Barring some weird happenstance, both players will break the respective records Tuesday night at the Q, which seems right for this feel-good season.
Next Up: Tuesday night at the Q, 7:00 start, against Toronto. Nine in a row? Why not?