Preview & Chat: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Kurt —  February 8, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
Lakers: 40-9 (1st in West), Cleveland 39-9 (1st in East)
Offensive Rating: Lakers: 114.5 (1st in league), Cleveland: 113.2 (3rd in league)
Defensive Rating: Lakers: 105.7 (7th in league), Cleveland: 101.6 (2nd in league)
Projected Lineups: Lakers Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Cavaliers Mo Williams, Wally Szczerbiak, Lebron, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Episode VI: Return of the Odom: Bill Bridges thinks we have have seen the start of a different Lamar Odom:

In the 1984 finals, his team was bullied, his power forward literally clotheslined. The Lakers were Intimidated and then finally beaten by the Boston Celtics, a team the Lakers had never beaten since their move out west.

Fast forward a year. Pat Riley heard a year of talk about how his team was soft, good enough for show time but not tough enough to win. It was then. prior to the rematch that he told his team what his father had told him. “Just remember what I always taught you. Somewhere, someplace, sometime, you’re going to have to plant your feet, make a stand and kick some ass. And when that time comes, you do it.”

It was the spirit of Lee Riley that Lamar Odom channeled on February 5th 2008. “Sometimes you’ve just got to make a stand. Tonight, we made a stand.”

If history repeats itself it must do so on 24 year cycles. The finesse team from Los Angeles goes into Boston and kicked sand into the bully’s face. As it was in 1985, so it shall be in 2009.

“Cathartic? I don’t know what cathartic means. I didn’t go to college” Kobe Bryant may not know what cathartic means but Lamar Odom embodied it.

We might have witnessed the transformation of LO. For so long he has tantalized us with a unique combination of size, speed, and skills. Always disappointing instead with inconsistency and lack of focus and fortitude. Can a moment be so cathartic for an individual? Can transformation happen in an instant?

Stephen Jay Gould amended Darwin by showing that evolution happens in an instant (geologically speaking). Punctuated Equilibrium rather than a gradual crawl. Evolution is Revolution.

What are the traits keeping LO back from greatness. Not skills. Not size. Not athleticism. But focus, determination, concentration, will. Maybe he finally got it. Finally realized he has to let go to move forward. Phil started the process by having LO come off the bench for the first time in his life. Humility shatters the illusions of the ego that prevent growth. By letting go, maybe LO now can play in the moment. Present, focused, determined.

“Basketball is a humiliating sport, it can humble you right in the middle of the game,” Odom said. “But tonight I just left all that behind.”

Character is shaped not by success but reaction to failure. Evolution only occurs change in environmental stress favours a new variant of the species. Without stress no growth. Andrew Bynum’s injury, especially due to the deja vu nature, created cruel and violent stress. But also an opportunity for growth and evolution. How this team, on this trip, reprising the character of 1985 has responded to this stress been gratifying to us all. How LO, in this game matched the passion of KG, looked the bullies in the eye and, in the end, won the game, might be the true blessing arising from the misfortune in Memphis.

We sensed the change even during the game. Any other game, you would despair at seeing LO at the line with one free throw to tie and two the win. But for the first time since he became a Laker, somehow I knew he would sink both. And he did.

The last week in Lakers Land: From kwame a.:

Sat, Jan. 31: Humming along on the roadie, Drew goes down and is left screaming in pain. Can’t help but think the worst, even while drinking at a wedding reception, can’t stop thinking about Drew being out for the year.

Sun, Feb. 1: Super Bowl Sunday is a subdued affair, waiting for the word on Drew, only to hear the damn doctor couldn’t look at the MRI. Even while enjoying some delicious fat tire ale, and watching a great football game, I’m nervous as hell bad news is looming.

Mon, Feb. 2: Kobe comes out firing early at MSG and you knew he was in that mode. After a virtuoso performance, he ends up with 61, which tempers the earlier news that Drew is out for 8-12 weeks.

Tue, Feb. 3: A day to re-think just how amazing Kobe really is, the fact he has done it for a decade straight, all with the same cold-blooded determination. We are all lucky to be able to have seen his career.

Wed, Feb. 4: The team buckles down in the 4th after some rag-tag play, and led by Pau and Kobe beat the Raptors, 4-0 on the trip, but Gasol goes 45 minutes, how in the hell do we win in Boston tomorrow without AB?!?

Thurs, Feb. 5: Against all odds, and sometimes 3 zebras, the Lakers prevail in OT, showing the requisite “machismo” the mainstream media has lusted for all year. Fans and players know its only a regular season game, but the win felt like it could have important psychological ramifications for the team going forward.

Fri, Feb. 6: Talking heads and typing bloggers argue and debate the BOS/LA classic, arguing over whether the refs were at fault for the C’s loss, what the win meant for the Lakers and what the loss meant for the C’s. Such reaction to a regular season game is rare, even forcing Kurt to reaffirm FBG’s commitment to civil dialogue.

Sat, Feb. 7: While thinking this would be a slow day, I get a text message that we made a trade. I immediately doubt it, but then, there it, confirmed on FBG, Vlad for Morrison and Shanny.

For many teams this type of week would be the most memorable in franchise history. For the Lakers, it’s just another week. With a chance to break the Cavs perfect home record, I can’t wait to see what this next week brings.

Cleveland Coming In: Everyone talks about LeBron and what Mo Williams has brought to the table, but the reason Cleveland is one of the top teams in the NBA is defense.

They are second overall in defensive efficiency (lowest PPG because they play at a slow pace). They do it by limiting shooting percentages with solid perimeter defense and some long arms and big bodies in the paint that can block and alter shots.

Part of that is Ilgauskas, he is quietly the key to this team. They need his scoring as a big, his presence and length inside. With him in the lineup they score fore more points a game. With him they are 28-4, without him 11-5.

Last Time They Met: The Lakers handed the Cavs their worst start of the season back in January. We can take nothing much from that game, the Cavs were without Big Z. and Delonte West. As stated above, with Z in the lineup they are a different team.

Keys to the Game: One of the things that has been a problem for the Lakers this season is teams with a center who can step out and hit the jumper, pulling the help defender away from the basket. That is a basic tenent of the Cavs offense — Big Z lives in the corner as a spot-up guy on the three. The Lakers are going to have to defend the P&R without a simple backstop, they need to be smart about it.

On the other end, we seem to always talk about getting Gasol involved, and the Lakers need to because he is hot — in the last four games he is shooting 69.4%, scoring 27 per and adding 13 boards.

In the last meeting Kobe did a good job denying LeBron and making him work for his points. I expect to see that again, the goal is to force the other Cavs to beat you, the problem is that they can in this meeting far better than they did in the last meeting

Kobe Bryant has to play with his team, he cannot get sucked into a one-on-one deal with LeBron. It’s one thing to do that against the Knicks (and shooting 60% while doing it) but in this game it is not a winning strategy.

Where to watch: 12:30 on ABC, after a pretty interesting Spurc/Celtics game.