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Paying-Back, Staying-Home, and Stepping-Up

Week 18 for the Cavs and Week 5 for the Cavs Optimist. After our longest road trip of the season (5 games), this week was about settling back in at home and doing the things needed to win. The Cavs have played great on the road and I think it's mainly due to playing more of an underdog role despite always being favored to win. We have played outstanding on the road and have a better road record at this point than we did last year. At the same time, we haven't been as solid or blown teams away like we did last year at home. Let's be honest, losing 2 home games all last year was something we'll probably never see again. It shows how absolutely special the effort of our team was last year. Teams always get-up for the Cavaliers especially in Cleveland and these bounce-back games on our home court are crucial for building confidence. Throw in the defending champions in a pay-back type game and it made for a tough week. The Cavs responded and responded well by winning all 3 games! Let's see how they did it:

Cavs (31-11) vs. Toronto Raptors

Key Points:

  • Toronto is 5th in the league in scoring
  • Can the Cavs defend the perimeter?
  • 54 Consecutive HOME sell-outs.
  • Important opening game off long road-trip.
  • Payback for first week of season.

Key Player:

  • Shaq - Shaq has been especially dominate as of late. This game he was a pyschical presence and got his money's worth on fouls. The Cavs attacked them down low and tried to take advantage of undersized Raptors. He did just that in drawing fouls, committing hard fouls, and threw in a few intimidating blocks. Mike Brown showed some trust in the 4th quarter and he was effective on offense and on D. We ran 2 key 4th quarter possessions through him and he responded with 2 key assists to Moe and LeBron. Batman and the "Big" Robin, you pick who's who but all I can say is "no one touches the Shaqtus!"
  • Special mention to JJ Hickson for his aggressiveness. Shaq, Z, and Andy all got into foul trouble. He finished with dunks and that's crucial for him to be effective. He also showed some poise and a couple post moves as he maturing and learning from this game's player of the game - Shaq. Hopefully he can continue it throughout the week..

Theme:

  • Blocks/wearing the opponent down - This game's theme started with Delonte, LBJ, and Andy getting punishing blocks and a couple at the end of quarter's. It's so important to finish quarters strong in the NBA and LBJ sure did that stuffing Bosh and Nesterovic. The Raptors ended up shooting over 50% in the first half as they spread us out much like Orlando last year. However, we wore them down, took them out of their offense, and held them to 40 second half points.

Summary:

Austin said it, football is about over and it's bball time. All games are going to be tough. It was a game of runs and we had one right at end of 3rd Qtr highlighted by a massive LBJ dunk. Delonte West overall has been huge. He's been so aggressive, cutting, scoring, defending and converting coast to coast steals. Mike Brown went small in 4th quarter with Andy and Jawad. I liked that decision. We put Shaq back in early in the 4th and we responded with a big run. The energy of Moe, Andy, and LBJ was critical in getting the fans into it. Despite a bad call by a rookie official, the Cavs finished this game through unselfishness and pressure defense. It is very important to finally finish a game and beat a good team late. We proved we're a different team than game 2 of the season, paid them back, and hopefully this will transition into Thursday's big, big game.

Cavs (32-11) vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Points:

Big games deserve a different format. See the Pros and Cons of this playoff type game below -

Pros:

  • Staying at home and waiting for the defending champs.
  • Cavs wearing the Wine and Gold Uniforms.
  • Cavs coming out with good energy to start 1st and 3rd this game. Helped keep it close.
  • We got the Lakers into foul trouble, mainly on Bynum and Gasol.
  • Hickson played with great energy.
  • Lakers missing free throws when they got the chance.
  • Cavaliers attacking the hoop and got points in the paint through Shaq and LBJ.
  • Needed clutch spot-up shooting - 2 big 3s by Anthony Parker spurred it!

Cons:

  • Lakers motivated by Pay-Back.
  • No Moe Williams. Who will step up and be the second scorer? Delonte, Parker, Shaq?
  • TNT Announcers - Reggie Miller, enough said.
  • Lakers Fans in Cleveland - Why are we not dawg pounding the idiot holding the Witness 25000 sign.
  • Kobe getting off to a look-out start. We must make someone other than Kobe beat us.
  • Ticky tack fouls being called.

This game came down to the 4th!!!

Key Player(s)

  • LBJ - The Closer. I must give it to LeBron after this performance. He really finished this game. What a huge drive with 40 seconds left 1 on 5. His leadership was unquestionable. Kobe got off to a great start but LeBron finished. This performance cemented LeBron passing Kobe Bryant. He ended with better stats than Kobe, has won 7 out of 9 against him, and should win his 2nd straight MVP. I wasn't even the first to say this, read Bill Simmon's Page 2 column on it from http://www.espn.com/.
  • Special Mention - Delonte West - With no Moe Williams he stepped up on defense and came up with some crucial rebounds (little did we know he's sacrafice his finger for them) but still what an effort.

Theme:

  • Tempo - The Cavs will gladly play a low scoring Eastern Conference playoff type game. We stayed true to ourselves and continued to develop a 4th quarter willingness to win. We played lockdown, pressure defense, and made the Lakers offense play through OUR defense.

Summary:

Boy it was nice to get a nice win on Tuesday, stay home, and bring the motivated defending champs into our building after embarrassing them on Christmas. Lakers started strong but the Cavs hung in there especially with different rotations without Moe Williams. You must attack the Lakers inside and Shaq/JJ did exactly that. It was great to see Shaq playing hard, making free throws, coaching LeBron, and drawing fouls on the prissy Bynum/Gasol frontcourt. That must happen for the Cavs to win the championship - Shaq must give us either positive points or create foul trouble when he's out there. Guess what it also does - opens the lane for LBJ!

This was a team effort. As I said above, Delonte was huge in stepping-up and hit a big late 3 for us. Andy's hustle again was spectacular. He UNQUESTIONABLY got fouled and finished it by hitting the free throws. Phil Jackson - I respect you, think you're a great coach and you're record proves that but really? Barking at the officials for a Techical when a mini Cavs ball rolls onto the court with 2 minutes. Were you in a Zen-like state when the Lakers fans caused the game to be stopped on Christmas and no Technicals were called? You're a joke.

We played tough and I'm not going to say Mike Brown's a better coach than Phil, but what a great decision to double Kobe late and get the ball out of his hands. The MVP took us home and sent the gutless Lakers to New York with those same foam fingers stuck somewhere they shouldn't. See you boys in the finals, in case you didn't notice - It's Our Time Now...

Cavs ( 33 - 11 ) vs. Oklahoma/KC Thunder

Key Points:

  • Moe and Delonte down. Can Gibson step up as a point guard and leader?
  • Improved OKC team that gave us trouble on the road and was up for this game.
  • Will the Cavs let-down after the big win Thursday?
  • Must dominate inside and play through Shaq against this undersized, athletic team.

Key Player:

  • Bobbie Gibson - Boy this was tough because, as I have said numerous time, LeBron is always the player of the game, but Boobie really stepped up. He played solid defense although he was slowed by foul trouble and hit a big 3 late in the game. He stepped up into Moe's "Robin" role and was key in helping the Cavs beat the Thunder.

Theme:

  • Stepping-Up - This one was EZ. From Boobie Gibson to Cedric Jackson, the Cavs got contributions from a number of players on both offense and defense to pull this one out. How can you not mention LBJ stepping up, being a leader, handling the ball most of the game, and defending a very tough one-on-one player at the end of the game in Kevin Durant. And, wait there’s more - He made an incredible, unhuman block, to seal the game. The shot by Durant was going in and LeBron had the presence to stop it and collect it himself for the victory. You deserve to be the leading vote-getter in the All-Star Game and the chants of MVP! Any guess who will be Eastern Conference Player of the Week? Stepping-Up!

Summary:

As I've mentioned throughout this week's column, it was about doing the things needed to win at home this week. This game was about bouncing back from the huge win and finding a way to win despite the new lineups and injuries. We did what we needed to do, play through the big Shaqtus and let LBJ close it out. Our third quarter's this year have been a problem as they have in the past and it sure didn't help in this game. We played well enough to take a nice halftime lead and would've been nice to play to a nice lead in the 4th and take the life out of the young road team. Unfortunately, we didn't do that in the 3rd but as we have all year played a great defensive 4th and came up with big shots to put us over the top. Overall, we'll done and let's get ready for next week!

Cavs Optimist Summary:

The next week for the Cavs is an in-between week filled with 2 home and 2 road games. The Cavs will be finishing the week heading into a much needed homestand (1/31-2/18 = total of 7 games). This homestand is crucial for the Cavs in getting their players healthy and building into the All-Star break. The Cavs will be the favorites, at home, and need to build back that home dominance that made them so successful last year.

On a side note, the trade deadline is also fast approaching. I will be addressing the latest trade rumors in a special edition column coming shortly. Here's a clue - We're playing well together, swept the defending champions, and have the best record in the league at 34-11. But, I digress..

Thank you again for reading and see you soon!

Cavs Optimist

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