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Cavs Western Swing Continues

January 14, 2010

Tonight the Cavs visit old backstabber Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz. Hopefully the Shaq slams the most honest man East of Lane Kiffin to the ground a few or a dozen times tonight. I expect the Cavs to win the game, something like 101-94. Tonight's game also marks the halfway point of the season. What better time than right now to look at what the 30-10 Cavs have done so far this year and what the second half may bring. Let's do this player-by-player, alphabetically:

Daniel Gibson: (5.8 ppg, .477 3pt%, 54 minutes since Christmas) Major Boobage has shot the ball well enough this season, but his playing time has dropped off a cliff. Initially, Mike Brown said it was too hard to juggle 10 players in the rotation and Boobie lost out to Jamario Moon. After Jamario was injured, 6'9" seldom used Jawad Williams got first crack at Jamario's minutes and ran with it. It's not that Boobie hasn't played well, it's more that this team may just have too many versatile players and taller athletic wings to find time for a 6'2" 3-point specialist. Maybe calling Boobie a specialist is too harsh, but on this roster there is always going to be a better ball handler, passer, penetrator, and perimeter defender on the floor. It's not that Boobie is awful at those things, it's just that there is always someone you would rather have doing them. Gibson is a darkhorse to be traded, particularly in a package with Z, and the only argument for keeping him if a good deal was offered is Delonte's looming suspension.

Daniel Green: (7 g, 1.7 ppg) Green didn't play much in the first half. He will almost certainly continue to not play much. If you saw him on the street, you would probably think he is tall.

J.J. Hickson: (6.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 34/40 games started) J.J. has been up and down this year. He moved into the starting lineup in game number 7 and started pumping in double figures. Now he seems to play as a rotational place holder who happens to start the 1st and 3rd quarters. Part of the reason J.J. isn't playing 30 minutes is Andy, Shaq, and Z have all been very productive and LeBron often plays the 4. Still, I'd like to see Mike play J.J. for more extensively to see if we can get back to those 10-14 point nights and help J.J. continue to develop. Realistically, it seems unlikely. In fact, a Jamison trade followed by a Z resigning will almost certainly knock J.J. out of the rotation all together.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas: (7.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, $11.5 mil expiring contract) It seems more and more likely that Z will be traded of Antawn Jamison. The Wizards would almost certainly then give Z his walking papers. Z would almost certainly then get a nice 30 day rest, which has to help when you are 34 years old and have had like 96 foot operations, and rejoin the Cavs for a Title push. This can all be accomplished without Z leaving his house, which is probably how he would prefer it. The Big Lithuanian has had a historic first half of the season, moving to number one in all time games played and number two in scoring on the Cavs career lists. He also seems to want a championship and knows bringing in Jamison would help. Mike Brown and Danny Ferry know that Z helps with that championship goal too as Z has been very productive off the bench and a force in the middle on defense, sometimes surprisingly so. I'm fine with Z getting traded as long as he comes right back and never plays a game in another jersey. That'd just be too weird.

Darnell Jackson: (1 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 18 g) Darnell continues to be the extra big body. That's fine because he knows how to win and keeps himself ready. That's about all there is to say about that.

LeBron James: (Like numbers can quantify LeBron James) Freak of nature. M-V-P! M-V-P! I look forward to collecting on the various friendly bets I have made when LeBron resigns with Cleveland this summer.

Jamario Moon: (5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6'8") His height is important because his size may be the biggest reason the Cavs brought him in. Jamario was to provide athletic length on the perimeter and has done just that. Moon played very well and understood his role prior to his recent injury. Jamario has been everything we hoped he would be, a defensive minded swing man who can finish at the rim and shoot a little and fit with the team first concept. A great signing that looks better all the time, Cleveland needs Jamario to get healthy. The Cavs should be cautious with his injury knowing that the real season begins in late April.

Shaquille O'Neal: (10.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 22.7 mpg) The Big Cuyahoga/Freeze/Witness has had his minutes limited to keep him fresh for the playoffs and has ended up with the worst statistical season of his career. None of that is too surprising. The question was how Shaq would respond to being a true role player. The answer is awesomely. Shaq has had nary a bad word to say or even poor body language on display. The 4-time champ knows what needs to be done to win a title and sees where he fits on this team. His value to Cleveland was on full display in 2009 dismantlings of Dwight Howard and Orlando (102-93) and Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and the Lakers (102-87) both on the road. O'Neal may not be the 26-12 Shaq we are used to, but he is as key to the Cavaliers title hopes as anyone not named LeBron.

Anthony Parker: (7.2 ppg .475 3pt%, 40 gs) Parker has played well in his role and had no problem draining open 3s. He's rightfully ceded crunch time minutes to Delonte West, but Parker is a veteran who has no ego. He plays hard every night, is effective, and helps the team win. He's another capable backcourt player in the rotation and will prove very valuable come playoff time.

Leon Powe: (Recovering) Powe is right on schedule with his rehab and can only help the Cavs upon returning. He is a big guy who can score and has a championship pedigree. Considering he has neither played this season nor been counted on to do anything, his return is pretty much a bonus. I look forward to seeing how the Cavs use him.

Anderson Varajao: (8.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, .516 fg%) You can make a strong case for Andy as the non-LeBron first half MVP. (For the record I'd go with Mo Williams, but the case can be made.) Andy comes off the bench to provide insta-energy and plays the crunch time minutes. He's more of a scoring threat then ever before and continues to rebound very well. He responded to signing a fat long-term contract by putting up a career first half, which isn't that surprising since that usually happens in the NBA (see Thomas, Tim; James, Jerome). He plays incredible defense and has been a +/- All-Star, which is one of the NBA's new favorite statistics. He will do anything necessary to help the team win and is probably more valuable to the Cavs than he would be on any other team. He just fits on this roster. I'd hate him if he played for Boston, but he doesn't so I continue to love him.

Delonte West: (7.2 ppg, 3 apg, 31 g) Delonte had some well documented early season troubles and probably faces a suspension coming up, but he should be available to the playoffs and has been very valuable to Cleveland this year. Delonte is sort of the backcourt version of Andy. He can score and facilitate (like Andy can score and rebound), plays both guard spots (like Andy plays the 4 and 5), plays great defense (like Andy), and will do whatever his team needs him to do to win (like Andy). Delonte has even started dunking with some degree of ferocity in the open court. Last year the Cavs went to the conference finals with Andy and Delonte starting every playoff game. This year Andy and Delonte will come off the bench in the playoffs, and not because either is slipping. In fact, Delonte (26 years old) and Andy (27) are both in their primes. That's a scary bench.

Jawad Williams: (2.1 ppg, 15 g, 8 ppg over last 4 games) Jawad could be the blessing in disguise to Jamario's injury. The Cavs may have found themselves a 6'9" guy who can score inside and outside with athleticism who was just buried on their own bench. It's true that after 4 games in the rotation it's far too early to count on Jawad but, at least he's showing us something. He's sort of like Leon Powe in that the Cavs counted on him for nothing so any production he gives the team is a bonus.

Mo Williams: (16.9 ppg, 5 apg, .438 3pt%) My choice for non-LeBron first half team MVP also had 3.3 boards and 1.3 steals per game. What I think is most important is that Mo fits in perfectly alongside LeBron with his outside shooting, quickness, and passing ability. In addition, when LeBron is resting Mo Williams is the straw that stirs the Cavaliers drink. His numbers may not say All-Star, but if you watch the Cavs night in and night out you know that Mo is a huge part of their 30 wins in 40 games. If you watched the Cavs every night for the past 5, 6, 7, 8 years you know that Mo Williams contribution to the team is enough that he should get his second All-Star nod. The point guards on the East All-Star team should be Rajon Rondo and Mo Williams. There are no two point guards in the East that do more to help their teams win and actually play for winning teams. The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are on the shortest of short lists for title contenders this season and their point guards are huge reasons why. Put them in the All-Star game please.

About the second half...

I think the Cavs finish with between 60-63 wins and the number 1 seed in the East. I give them a slightly better than 50 percent chance to get the number 1 overall seed. It will either be Cleveland or the Lakers. I think the Z for Jamison trade happens. I think Z is immediately set free and resigns with the Cavs after 30 days. I think Leon Powe takes J.J. Hickson's minutes. I think Jamison plays defense in Cleveland because everyone plays defense in Cleveland (LeBron makes you). I think the Cavs continue to handle their fellow elites in the second half. I think we see a lot of stupid stories about LeBron leaving even though it will never happen. I think the second half is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Jack Bacevice

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