The Cavs Bandwagon has officially left the ... where do bandwagons leave from, anyway? Trains leave the station, but do bandwagons leave from anywhere in particular?
Wherever it is, the Cavs Bandwagon has left it. Three games, three wins, all of them by double digits (a 107-90 pasting against Phoenix last Wednesday, a 101-87 drubbing of the Bulls on Friday, and then a trip to Milwaukee to dismantle the Bucks, 101-86). The Cavs now sit atop the Central Division by 5.5 games over the Bucks. (The guess here is that 5.5 games is as small as that lead is going to be for the rest of the season.) Their 15-5 record is still only third best in the conference, as both Boston and Orlando (who each have 16-4 marks) are red-hot as well.
For the third straight week, I have not had as much time to watch Cavs games as I would like. In the middle of November, I closed on a home, and the weeks since then have been consumed with painting, packing, unpacking, painting, furniture, appliances, painting, putting things away, painting, hanging junk on the walls, painting, hosting friends at the new place, painting, dropping F-bombs as a result of my painting, and painting. And all of that busy-ness has been compounded by technical difficulties (nice way of saying that I fubared setting the DVR to record the Bucks game, and as a result saw only part of that contest).
Fortunately, the worst has passed, and I will be back to more in-depth Cavs reports in the future. Besides, the new couch needs to get broken in with the ass-print, and there's no better way to do that than with TV sports.
That being said, I did see enough to make a few observations:
12, 23, 14: Those are LeBron James's point totals from the three games this week. And yes, those numbers are a good thing.
Over the past year and a half, something has happened to the Cavs. They have become a team, with other guys who can score. Mo Williams was the most important acquisition - he gave the team a second legitimate scoring option, a guy who opposing defenses have to respect. Shaquille O'Neal (this season's largest addition, in more ways than one) provides an interior scoring dimension that teams have to respect.
As a result, LeBron does not have to put on his Superman cape every night. He can focus more on setting up teammates (which he is doing - he was in double figures in assists in all three of this week's games). He can play fewer minutes during this part of the season, and be that much better rested for the playoffs next spring. (In that spirit, maybe the title of this section should have been 34, 34, 32, as those were the number of minutes that James played in the three games last week.)
49, 40, 45: Those are the point totals of the Cavs' bench from the three games this week. If you can find me three higher point totals from the Cavs' bench in recent memory, I'd like to see it. (I am not the Elias Sports Bureau, and hence cannot rattle off that trivia.)
Not only is the bench contributing - it is the entire bench that is stepping up. In the Phoenix game, all five of the key reserves (Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, and Jamario Moon) had at least eight points each. Against Chicago, it was Gibson (15 points) and Ilgauskas (10) who really stepped up. And then you have Delonte's 21 point outburst against Milwaukee.
A common misconception is that you can build an NBA team with two or three star players. The thinking seems to be: if we can just put LeBron and Dwyane Wade together, they will rule the universe as father and - wait, this isn't Star Wars! But they'll win title after title. Not really. Yes, you need star power at the top to win ... but you also need to have eight or nine guys you can count on. Guys who are not going to be zeroes on offense and turnstiles on defense. Guys who can be put into a game and be counted upon to hold (or even extend) a lead.
That is why this year's Cavs team should have us truly excited. They have ten guys - James, Williams, Shaq, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Parker, Varejao, Ilgauskas, Moon, Gibson, and West - who are all legitimate players. (That list may expand to eleven when Leon Powe returns from his knee injury. If he can get playing time, that is.) This year, the second unit can help run off 29 points in a row, as the Cavs did against the Bucks. There are no (WARNING: obligatory negative reference) Sasha Pavlovics, no Ben Wallaces with zero offensive game (although I always liked him and am glad to see him reviving his career in Detroit), nobody who makes us wince when his number is called.
And in all candor, they still are not firing on all cylinders. When they do, the rest of the league should be afraid. Very afraid.
3, 7, 3: Those are the number of shots Gibson took from two-point range in the three games this week. I would venture to guess (see earlier comment about not being the Elias Sports Bureau) that Daniel (see comments from last year's columns about not calling a grown man "Boobie") has never taken so many shots from inside the arc. Sure, he is one of the league's better long-range shooters; but if that's ALL that he has, then he can be neutralized pretty easily.
If he can show a drive to the hoop every so often, or pulling up for a 15 foot jumper, or sneaking inside the big men to grab a rebound and put it back (all parts of his game that he has displayed this past week), then he will be a lot more valuable. (He'll also get more opportunities for those three-pointers, as opposing defenses will now need to respect those other things he can do.)
Bill, Just Admit It...: ESPN's Bill Simmons is one of the best NBA writers out there, and one of the best sportswriters period. He knows the game, and he can write about the game in a very engaging way.
And he can also say things that are just plain wrong, in trying to make one of his points.
He did so recently about LeBron. Heck, it wasn't even in a basketball piece; he was writing about the NFL. While discussing the Browns, he made the following offhanded remark:
... LeBron's body language occasionally lapsing into "I can't wait to find a new team; I am tired of playing with crap teammates" mode.
My response is: Bill, just admit it. You want LeBron out of Cleveland. Even thought your beloved Clippers have an exactly zero point zero percent (0.0%) chance of landing King James.
Really. If you want to find reasons why LeBron will leave Cleveland, you'll have to do better than that. LeBron almost never looks frustrated on the court these days. If anything, he's having too much fun. (It's interesting that Simmons' piece came out the same week that LeBron was chastised for dancing too much during the Bulls game.) The "LeBron looks frustrated, so he must want out of Cleveland" line may have held some water when his passes were bouncing off Larry Hughes's hands or Drew Gooden's face, but Bron's supporting cast is quite a bit stronger now. It's not 2006 anymore, Bill. Get with the times.
And if you want to use on-court frustration as a barometer for a player's impending departure, then Michael Jordan would have left Chicago about a million times. Jordan was the ultimate chastiser of teammates. If Michael did not like what you were doing on the court, he let you know about it, and he wasn't going to wait. Sometimes superstars are going to show their frustrations with their mere-mortal teammates. That frustration doesn't necessarily mean "I'm outta here next summer."
As a Simmons fan, I am not just annoyed by this type of writing. It shows just how little he has been actually watching ... and it leads me to wonder how many of his other takes are similarly ill-informed. Go ahead, say that LeBron James will not be a Cavalier next year. But at least give a plausible reason for it, instead of making up reasons.
Hey, Speaking Of Larry Hughes: That piker has scored 25 and 21 points in his last two games, both Knicks' victories. Just had to mention it.
WHAT TIGER CAN TEACH US:
(Aside from "try to keep it in your pants ONCE in a while," that is.)
It looks like Tiger Woods's world is crashing around him. Contrary to his squeaky-clean image, he has apparently been carrying on with every big-chested blonde in the greater Orlando area. (And it looks like he has sent photos to at least one of them. The nature of the photos ... let's just say that the "TIGER'S WOOD" headlines are inevitable.)
And as somebody who is writing once per week, I say: damn you, Tiger, for having all this come out in the past couple of days. Because late last week, I was about to praise you (sort of) for the way you were handling this whole situation.
We (and by "we", I mean Americans in particular, although in reality I think it's true of the entire world) love a scandal. We love to build up heroes, then knock them down and drag them through the mud, and then build them back up again. Any scandal tends to go through three distinct phases:
1. The First Puffs of Smoke: In this stage, the scandal first sees the light of day. The moment that Tiger's Escalade struck the fire hydrant ... WAS FREAKING MEANINGLESS. PAY ATTENTION HERE. EVERY celebrity or famous figure has their share of public embarrassments. We ALL have them; but for most of us, nobody really cares about them. When we pretend our cars are the Dodgems at Cedar Point, we will get a few curious rubberneckers, and nothing more. And even if it is a celebrity, if the mess is cleaned up quickly and quietly, then nobody will ever know.The key here is that somebody else saw that embarrassment and reported on it. When the 911 call is made, the cat is out of the bag. When the neighbor runs from his house and snaps a few photos will his IPhone, that's pure tabloid gold. And when the celebrity's wife smashes out the window with a golf club (a golf club ... how perfect ... of all the tools available for smashing out a window, she chose the item that has made her husband a billionaire), then we are well into Scandal Land.2. The Digging for the Fire: As we know, when there's smoke, there's fire. Once the media knows about the smoke, they are damn well going to find that fire. This is the phase in which the celebrity issues denials, and their damage control team tries to defuse the situation, hoping it will blow over.It never does.Some celebrities know this, and pass through this stage pretty quickly. Others (think Roger Clemens) never get past it.3. The Confession: In this stage, the celebrity finally confesses. It may be a vague, "forgive me for I have sinned" confession from the Book of Jason Giambi. It may be more specific. (Obviously, Tiger took the first path, with his "I have let my family down" apology.) The point: the celebrity shifts from denial of wrongdoing to admitting it.And when the celebrity does this, the public perception turns 180 degrees. Until the celebrity owns up to what they have done, everybody is piling on. Once the fire has been discovered, so to speak ... then we can start building our hero again. It's very easy for a celebrity to be forgiven; and as soon as they admit (even vaguely) to any wrongdoing, then they are back in our good graces.
I was going to applaud Tiger for making stage two last a very short time, and getting to stage three rather quickly, so that he could get back in the public's good graces. When you tend to have a lot of Old Establishment sponsors (Tiger shills for Buick, fer Chrissake), you really need to get your name out of the National Enquirer as fast as you can.
Alas for Tiger, he let his putter play on way too many greens. So he's not out of the (groan) Woods yet.
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
It's not going to be an easy week for the Cavs. Tonight, the Cavs are in Memphis. Yes, my initial reaction too is that any week that begins in Memphis can't be too hard of a week ... but the Grizzlies (please, NBA, can we change their nickname to something that makes more sense now that they are out of Vancouver? And while we're at it, can we do something about the "Utah Jazz" as well?) are actually playing decent ball, having won six of their last ten.
Tomorrow night, the Cavs will be in Houston. It wouldn't matter if they play five guys from the Greater Houston YMCA; the second night of back-to-back roadies is always tough. And the Rockets are a decent team (and feature Shane Battier, who is always able to contain LeBron about as well as LeBron can be contained.
Friday, the Cavs return home to face Portland, who is now with Sam Bowie Greg Oden for the year because of a knee injury he suffered a few days ago. Portland lost to the Knicks (The. Freaking. KNICKS.) last night, so they are clearly reeling from the injury to Oden (not to mention injuries to about half of the rest of their team). And then next Sunday, the Cavs will be in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder, one of the NBA's up-and-coming young teams. Four games total, three on the road, three against teams with better than .500 records. If we're talking about another perfect Cavs week the next time we see each other, the Wine and Gold will have had a hell of a week.