I hope the Harlem Globetrotters are ready for a basketball game, because there was apparently a mix-up in the travel itineraries and the Cavaliers had the pleasure of playing the Washington Generals instead of the Wizards last night. At least that’s how it appeared as our boys toyed with Washington like they were Buzz Lightyear in a 127-89 victory.
They excelled the entire game offensively from ball movement (28 assists on 46 baskets) to ballhandling (only 10 turnovers) to three-point shooting (14-33, 42%). After missing their first two shots, they hit 10 of their next 11. They went cold again, making 4 of 14, then manufactured another run over the final minute of the first and first three and a half minutes of the fourth.
They outscored the Wizards 18-4 while making eight of ten shots, including 7 points by James and 8 points by Iman Shumpert. Since sitting out injured when he first came over from the Knicks, Shumpert has come on strong. He’s shooting 46% from 3, knocking down 1.5/gm, (same as the number of steals he’s averaging), extraordinary numbers for a guy only playing 20 minutes a night off the bench.
Shumpert dropped three-in-a-row during that second quarter run, the final three coming off a clever elbow play for Kevin Love. Love fed a cutting LeBron James who dished to a wide-open Shumpert behind the line. Shumpert finished with 12 points, 3 triples, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block in 22 minutes.
James looked particularly dialed in, and brought a ton of energy during the first 18 minutes, making sure the Cavs didn’t get down early. He had 15 of his 28 points and five of his six asssists in the first 1½ quarters, before shutting it down after logging only 25 minutes. Here’s an excellent compendium of LeBron’s highlights in that limited time.
The Cavs didn’t play a lot of defense in the first half, particularly the first quarter when the Wizards shot 55%. In the second half they shot 38.5% and scored only 38 points. Still the Cavs somehow managed to get outscored 54-50 in the paint in a game they won by 38 points.
Part of it was the fact that the Cavs were killing it from long distance while the Wiz were 1-16, that lone triple coming in the game’s final five minutes. Obviously the Wiz have some big physical guys in Marcin Gortat, Nene, DeJaun Blair and the ex- of Mrs. Kanye West. For all the positive things that went on in the game, that was the lone glaring defect.
Some ink will continue to spill on Kevin Love’s scoring issues. He only got 8 points and didn’t get a great many offensive touches during the game. But as has been his way the last couple months, he did a lot of little things. On a Kyrie fastbreak drive, he ran hard and occupied a defender’s attention making it easier for Irving to score. He had two steals in the first six minutes of the game, each leading to a fastbreak layup.
Kyrie didn’t do as good a job on John Wall as he has in past weeks on opposing point guards, allowing him to go 8-16 with nine assists and 18 points, while racking up 25 points, 7 assists and a rather uncharacteristic 4 turnovers. Nene (18 pts) was the Wizards only other consistent offensive threat, as the Cavs forced 18 turnovers, one of their better showings of the year. Irving also had his share of ridiculous dipsy-doo-manship.
“Our passing and our ball movement has been amazing the last couple games, everybody is getting open shots, we’re making right reads and trusting each other,” said Irving after the game. “Guys are getting easy baskets, finding a good rhythm and stepping out the 3 point line. We have a lot of great three point shooters on our team and we’re just utilizing our talents and taking it to teams.”
Despite another report this week from someone saying every executive he’s talked to has Love leaving at the end of the year, Love seems comfortable with his role. Who knows if he’s happy, though it’s questionable whether he’s really likely to find a better winning situation elsewhere. That, of course, is a Decision for another day. Last night Love sounded upbeat.
“This is a team where guys do the little things. I think tonight I was a part of that among many other players,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you just have to do the little things to help your team win. They won’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet… [but] anytime you win basketball games, especially in his fashion it’s always fun.”
The Cavaliers have gelled into a powerhouse, capable of knocking teams out as quickly as Mike Tyson in his prime. It’s no mistake this team has played the third fewest “clutch” moments in the league (behind the Sixers and Warriors). We’re witnessing a juggernaut that shows no sign of slowing down. The losses to the Pacers and Bulls (road games on the second night of back-to-backs) look like anomalies.
Despite a road-heavy stretch that will have the Cavs play 10 of their next 13 on the road, they look prepared for the test.
Some Thoughts on Ray Allen & Kendrick Perkins.
Both players are rumored to be coming to the Cavaliers at different levels of confidence. Allen is rumored to have been in town since the all-star break and could fill the team’s empty roster slot. The team could probably use a veteran point guard as there are concerns that Matthew Dellavedova’s offensive (poor shooter off the bounce) and defensive (slow, undersized) shortcomings that could get more exposed in the playoffs.
This of course offers no explanation for the desire to sign Allen, other than the fact that he’s a Hall of Fame shooter and you can presumably never have enough of those. JR Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving would presumably play alongside LeBron James and a big (Mozgov/Thompson) in any small ball lineup, and that’s disregarding designated 3-ballers James Jones and Mike Miller.
There just doesn’t seem to be a slot for Allen, though it’s hard to dismiss a pure drop-dead shooter like Allen. He’s certainly more offensively faceted than Jones at this stage, and perhaps even Miller. Plus he has plenty of Finals experience with the Celtics and Heat. Former Magic point guard Jameer Nelson would be a better fit, though it’s unclear whether Denver will buy him out.
Kendrick Perkins on the other hand really fills the Cavs lack of depth up front. This proved a glaring weakness against the Bulls when Kevin Love sat with an eye injury and Timofey Mozgov got into foul trouble. He’s only 30 but has worn through a lot of tread since joining the NBA out of college.
He’s a nice fit for the Cavs in that he doesn’t need the ball on offense, and is a terrific interior defender. Though no leaper, he’s allowing only 45.3 FG% at the rim, and reduces opponents’ FG% by 7% within 6’ and by 9.2% within 10’.
The main problem is he’s an offensive black hole that nobody needs to cover on defense. He’s a terrible pick & roll player (13th percentile according to synergy), doesn’t make putbacks (13th percentile) and he’s not much better at post-up (26th percentile). He’s shooting 51% from the free throw line and 44% from the field, extraordinarily low for a guy who gets two-thirds of his shots within 5’ of the basket.
He’s still gritty and physical and capable of grabbing 5.5 rebounds/game in less than 20 minutes a night. As the Cavaliers are only likely to spot him 6-10 minutes a night, his glaring offensive issues are less likely to cause a lot of problems, but it’s bound to gum up the offense and take away driving lanes.
It’s enough to wonder if Samuel Dalembert isn’t a better choice. He’s just as good a rim protector (45.4%), even better around the lane (-13.5% w/i 6’, -10.5% w/i 10’), and blocks twice as many shots (1.3/gm.). He’s even better at the pick & roll (39th percentile), if not post-up (5th percentile). Then again, in a league that always desperately needs length, one has to wonder if the fact that Dalembert’s still available a month after being waived is indications of a less public chemistry/attitude problem.
As the Cavs are competing for Perkins’ services with his old Coach, the Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Dalembert could wind up the default choice. He can’t possible show us less than Brendan Haywood has this season. Perhaps Perkins’ old teammate Ray Allen will encourage him to come back East.
The Cavs take on the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden. I’ll be following the game live and tweeting video. You can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne and read my take on the game Monday here.