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Eight Game Progress Report

The Cavs have a 6-2 record after their 99-93 win versus Milwaukee on Tuesday night. The Cavs are in first place in the Central Division, a half game ahead of Detroit; the Cavs have the third best record in the East and are tied for the fifth best record in the league. Obviously, it is still early but the Cavs look a lot better than they did last year at this time when injuries and holdouts contributed to a 4-4 start and a 10-14 record after 24 games before the team’s performance improved down the stretch. With nearly 10% of their regular season schedule completed, here is how the Cavs measure up so far in several key areas:

Defense: The Cavs rank fifth in defensive field goal percentage (.419), fifth in point differential (6.6) and are tied for sixth in points allowed (93.0). Last year, the Cavs ranked 11th in defensive field goal percentage, 16th in point differential and ninth in points allowed; those rankings are deceptively low because by the end of the season when the team was at full strength the Cavs were playing much better defense than they did in the first couple months. Still, it seems safe to say that the Cavs are a better defensive team this season than last season.

Rebounding: The Cavs are fifth in rebounding differential (4.1). Last season, the Cavs ranked first in this category with roughly the same average (4.2). Despite the numerous personnel changes made in the past year, the Cavs remain one of the best rebounding teams in the league.

Offense: The Cavs rank fifth in field goal percentage (.467) and ninth in scoring (99.6 ppg). Last season, the Cavs ranked 28th in field goal percentage (.439) and 24th in scoring (96.4 ppg). Clearly, offense is the area in which the Cavs have made the most improvement. LeBron James (see below) is performing at a very high level. Newly acquired point guard Mo Williams is shooting poorly from the field (.408) but he ranks third on the team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and his speed and ballhandling skills have helped the Cavs play at a faster pace. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (15.5 ppg, .523 field goal percentage), Delonte West (10.3 ppg, .556 field goal percentage) and Anderson Varejao (8.8 ppg, .651 field goal percentage) round out the team’s top five scorers and are each shooting very well from the field. On the other hand, Daniel Gibson (8.3 ppg, .357 field goal percentage) and Wally Szczerbiak (6.4 ppg, .429 field goal percentage) are struggling to find their long distance shooting touch.

LeBron James: James is leading the league in scoring with a 29.8 ppg average, nearly identical to the 30.0 ppg he produced last year while winning his first scoring title. James’ field goal percentage (.485) is virtually identical with last year’s number, his rebounding and steals are up slightly, while his apg average is down slightly. He is shooting a career-high .776 from the free throw line, a welcome change—if he can maintain that number throughout the season. Unfortunately, he is shooting a career-low .200 (6-30) from three point range. So far, Coach Mike Brown has been true to his plan of reducing the wear and tear on James by limiting his minutes; James is averaging a career-low 36.9 mpg, down from 40.4 mpg last season. As even a casual observer realizes, James is a remarkably productive and consistent player. His final averages this season will likely be very similar to his current averages in most categories. The two areas that most bear watching are, as usual, free throw shooting and three point shooting. In the ideal scenario, James will maintain his current free throw shooting pace while moving his three point shooting percentage above the .300 mark.

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David Friedman is a freelance writer specializing in professional basketball. His work has been published in several magazines, including Hoop, Lindy's Pro Basketball, Basketball Times and Basketball Digest. He has also contributed to NBCSports.com, HoopsHype.com and ProBasketballNews.com and his articles are frequently reprinted at Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA). Friedman wrote the chapter about the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America (Haworth Press, 2005). Check out his basketball blog: 20 Second Timeout

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