No Delonte West (still recovering from his broken wrist).
No Ben Wallace (who suffered a laceration to his arm while throwing a football around; maybe it wasn't a Jeff Kent on the list of off-the-field injuries, but something just isn't quite right).
Displaying the suffocating defense that has earned them so many victories this season, the Cavs cruised to a 93-76 victory over the Toronto Raptors last night at the Air Canada Centre.
Cleveland fell behind by as many as nine points in the first quarter, but took the lead by the end of the first quarter, and never looked back. Runs of 12-4 and 10-2 in the third quarter essentially ended the game, and it officially ended with about four and a half minutes to go, when Coach Mike Brown inserted the Human Victory Cigars (formerly known as the Tarence Kinsey Brigade).
The victory improved the Cavs' record to 41-11 and extended their lead over Detroit in the Central Division to 14 games ... you know what, I am going to stop putting the divisional stuff into these recaps. There ain't no divisional race. The larger issue is the conference race, with its prize of home court advantage in the playoffs; in that regard, the Cavs still trail the Celtics (44-11).
For the second game in a row, somebody not named LeBron James led the Cavs in scoring - this time, it was Zydrunas Ilgauskas with 22 points. James, for his part, just missed a triple-double, as he notched 20 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. The Raptors, who were without superstar Chris Bosh due to an injured knee, were paced by Joey Graham's 15 points.
It's the NBA. Where paying more attention to the ESPN Trade Machine than the action on the court happens.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
Spirit of 76: The 76 points surrendered by the Cavs last night were the lowest total by an opponent since December 17th, when they held Minnesota to 70. They challenged Toronto's shots with an intensity not seen in several weeks. (There's that All-Star Break for you.) The numbers reveal it: the Raptors were held to 36.5% shooting from the field (31 of 85) and 27% from three-point range (4 of 15). That's suffocating defense, and it's great to see it again.
Suffocating Offense?: The Cavs shot an amazing 58% (40 of 69) from the field themselves. Why? Because they moved the ball around. (There's that All-Star Break for you.) There was very little of LeBron And Four Guys Waiting For A Bus - no, this Cavs team cut to the hoop, worked the ball into the interior, and set themselves up for about as many easy shots as we could expect. Speaking of which ...
There's That All-Star ... You Get The Idea: Ilgauskas in particular seemed to benefit from a week away from the grind. His game-high 22 points came from both the inside (several low-post moves) and outside (his nearly-automatic 18-foot jumper).
Paging YouTube: LeBron had his 12th "chasedown" block of the season, smashing a layup attempt by Toronto's Jose Calderon in the first quarter.
Incidentally, when did the word chasedown appear?
Fortunately, YouTube Can Hold A Lot Of Videos: LeBron was not done with the highlights. In the third quarter, Ilgauskas had the ball in the low post, almost to the left baseline. He spotted James cutting to the hoop, and tossed a perfect alley-oop pass, which James dunked with rim-rattling fury.
Okay, They Can Just Rename The Site "BronTube": Later in the third quarter, LeBron posted up the Raptors' Shawn Marion, playing in his first game for Toronto since he was traded from Miami last week. LeBron spun to the left, blew by Marion (remember the days when he was a tough defender? Those days appear to be in the past), and crushed home another dunk.
But His Most Impressive Play Was Not One For The Highlight Films: Still in the third quarter, James received the ball on the left side of the lane, in the post. Dribble, dribble, turnaround jumper, swish. Some guy named Jordan made a lot of money with that shot. That 15-foot turnaround isn't sexy, will never find its way onto a "Plays of the Day" recap, and will barely be remembered by most fans watching the game ... but add that to your game, and you suddenly have a weapon. Post up a defender, and he can no longer cheat back a step to guard against the drive.
It is too soon to tell if that was a one-time thing or the start of a trend, but I am definitely liking it.
Speaking Of Basic Moves That Will Make You A Lot Of Money: In the first quarter, J.J. Hickson (who has about 16 hours left of being the Cavs' second most desirable trade asset, behind Wally Expiring Contract) caught the ball in the low post. (Have you noticed how many times the words "low post" have appeared in this recap?) Spin, drop step, and a nice up-and-under layup.
It remains to be seen whether Hickson will be working on those moves in Cleveland or elsewhere (more about the trade deadline in a moment), but his offensive game is developing nicely.
About Time!: The Cavs have been getting out-rebounded in many (dare I say most?) of their recent games. Not last night. They grabbed 48 boards (led by 14 by Anderson Varejao, who started for the injured Wallace) to Toronto's 32.
You Really Didn't Think I'd Miss This, Did You?: As the self-appointed #1 fan of Tarence Kinsey, I appreciated that Kinsey (who returned to action after missing three weeks with a sprained ankle) started at shooting guard. I appreciated his hustle even more. The play that best demonstrated that hustle: after he missed a shot (no, that's not the representative part), he stole the ball from Toronto's Anthony Parker, then (while falling out of bounds) alertly threw the ball off Parker's leg, so that the Cavs retained the ball. He may be back to being the leader of the Tarence Kinsey Brigade once all of the Cavs' injured players have returned, but for now, Kinsey is becoming a worthwhile player in the rotation.
The Boobie Meter: I have to apologize to you, the readers of this column. Maybe not all of you, but certainly the male and alternatively-lifestyled female ones. In my last game recap, I rated Boobie's performance as an April Scott. Unfortunately, the link did not work properly because of technical difficulties (a fancy way of saying "I goofed when I posted the link"). So even though Boobie had a game last night that was pedestrian at best - 3 points, 1-of-6 shooting from the field - let's give April another try.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT THE GAME:
So They Started At 7:30 Instead Of 7:00: I sure did not start out thinking that I was going to laud the Cavs for their defense. The Raptors made nine of their first 14 shots and stormed to a 19-10 lead. But how can we crack on them too much for it? As much as anything, the Raptors had a lucky streak out of the gate. When it ended (see earlier point about the Cavs' defense), so did the Raptors' hopes.
Well, The Mona Lisa Could Have Smiled A Bit More: The one sore point from last night's game: the Cavs turned the ball over 20 times. (Anecdotally, I don't think I have ever seen so many traveling calls in one game.) But again, although that may not have been what we wanted to see, it is not like it hurt them. Not last night, at least.
NOT THAT YOU ASKED, BUT...:
Relax. And We're Not Talking About Frankie Goes To Hollywood: In a few hours, the NBA trading deadline will pass. The odds are very good that the Cavs will have the same roster after the deadline as they do before it.
As fans - heck, as humans - we are conditioned to want exactly what we do not have. It all started back in childhood, when we were bombarded by approximately 18,000 commercials per hour for various toys, games, globs of sugar masquerading as cereal, and other goodies. As adults, not much has changed. We want to date new people, buy new homes, find new jobs. And life continues happening to us, as John Lennon once observed, while we are busy making other plans.
The same principle is true as sports fans. We tend to want what we do not already have. Certainly a trade has to improve the team, simply because it is something new! And different! We can't stand pat, because we already know what we have, and it can't compete with all those new and different players out there!
What we need to do is take a deep breath, and remember that this team has been playing .800 basketball for more than half a season. That's not just good - that's elite. That's a legitimate title contender. And bear in mind that when this team is healthy - meaning that Z and Delonte West are in the starting lineup - they are 24-4.
Perhaps most importantly, the Cavs always make an important acquisition just before the playoffs. It's called ten more minutes per night of LeBron James. LeBron currently sits for about ten minutes per night ... in the playoffs, that will not be the case.
So if the trade deadline passes with no activity from the Cavs, don't jump from a tall building. Don't take a razor blade to your wrists. Don't panic that the Cavs will be bounced from the playoffs because they didn't do anything. Realize that this team as currently constituted is one of the NBA's best ... and that no acquisition is guaranteed to bring a title.
(That all said, if the Clippers decide to trade Marcus Camby, I would not be upset.)
Attention Whore Alert!: Just a reminder that the GBS Facebook group is out there, just waiting for you to join it. I'm still not sure what (if anything) we are going to do with that group, but please feel free to join and become a part of Facebook's most vibrant and active group! (Among all groups named "The Good, The Bad, And The Summary", that is.)
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
The Cavs travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks tomorrow night, then come home for games against Detroit on Sunday evening and Memphis on Tuesday. And then the fun begins: seven games in 10 days, with five of those games on the road.