Preview and Chat: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Kurt —  February 11, 2007

4-4? At the start of this road trip Phil Jackson said 6-2 was feasible, I was hoping for 5-3, but in the end I can live with 4-4. However, the Lakers need to win today to reach that lowest of goals.

Missing Luke. For the last couple games, the Lakers have been very slow up the court, they are not getting the ball into the post (or the pinch-post at the corner of the free throw line) early, not really running the offense for long enough and the result ends up being desperations shots late in the shot clock. It’s been ugly

It’s frustrating because just three weeks ago the offense was humming. Maybe it would help if Kobe got a few early (within the flow off the offense), but the other key is for other guys to step up and hit the shots when Kobe gets doubled. Toronto got good defense from Anthony Parker, but at key moments they rand aggressive doubles at Kobe and he made passes and nobody else stepped up. They need to get back to the movement, passing and team ball we saw not long ago.

Radmanovic or Cook? When Lamar Odom went down, Phil gave Radmanovic the starting job but after a few games, Cook had stolen it with better play. Things are not much different now (despite Cook’s run-in with Phil). In his last three games Vlad is -25, including being -7 in the last Laker win. Meanwhile, Cook came off the bench to be +11 in Toronto. When you need a win, like the Lakers do, you give the minutes to the guy getting it done.

MVP candidates face off? Before the season started I thought Kobe and LeBron would be fighting it out for the MVP. Kobe is still in the mix (although I think Nowitzki and Nash lead for most voters), but LeBron has not lived up to expectations.

Not that he’s been bad — he’s got a PER of 23.92, which ranks 11th in the NBA (Kobe is 7th at 24.8). But he is struggling by his own standards — last season his PER was a crazy 28.1. At age 22, you’d have to expect an improvement not a decline.

David Thorpe, the best thing going at ESPN.com, broke down LeBron’s game and said that LeBron needs to improve his midrange game because teams have adjusted their defenses.

James likes to drive hard to the hole from the perimeter, and every James drive is an invitation for two or three defenders to rush and trail towards him. So at the very least he must beat his own defender and prepare for the “pinch” defender (the man guarding the teammate closest to James). On pick and rolls, which the Cavs run frequently, he must also deal with his screener’s defender, who often follows James to prevent him from changing directions.

And he sees other defenders as well. One Western Conference scout told me that his team fronts the post on the strong side when James has the ball on the wing, while the weak-side post defender rotates toward the ball and shows as well. In other words, a sound defensive team gives James the impression that all five guys are ready to pounce on anything he does.

This strategy is working for a couple of reasons.

First, James appears unwilling to take (and sometimes unable to make) the midrange shots that are available to him.

Second, he’s forcing the drive. He often seems locked in on getting to the rim, going up against three or four defenders in traffic. He is rushing his right hand drives and going right into the web that his opponents have spun for him, with no angle to the basket and several tall players to contest his shots.

The other Cavaliers. One of the other things Thorpe hints at is that LeBron isn’t getting enough help from his teammates – only two other Cavs have a PER above the league average of 15, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden. Both of them are crashing the boards hard (grabbing more than 17% of the available rebounds) and are scoring 11 points a game.

But only two other Cavs besides James are shooting over 50% — Daniel Gibson, who finally took the starting job away from the long pat his prime Eric Snow, and Donyell Marshall of the bench. The other guy to watch off the bench is Aleksandar “Sasha” Pavlovic, who is averaging 11 points per game the last 10 games, and is shooting 42.9% from three in those games.

Lakers schedule. Thanks to Maneesh for sending me a great link to a new Lakers schedule Web site. Bookmark this one, it’s maybe the cleanest one I’ve seen.

Off-Topic question: We’re about to bring a computer with Vista into our home. Anyone working with it? Love to hear thoughts and ideas, send me an email (at right) or put it in the comments.

Things to look for: The Cavs love to run James off of a high pick and roll. The Lakers need to aggressively hedge on that, not let James get momentum toward the hoop. Defending this has been the Lakers Achilles heel all season, they need to defend it better today.

Cleveland is not a deep team, the Laker bench need to come forward. In particular, Farmar and Sasha should be able to take advantage of the Cav guards off the bench, particularly Eric Snow. Smush should get his as well – the Cavs struggle to defend the point.

Kurt

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