Szczerbiak to rest sore Knee

The Cavs will be without Wally Szczerbiak for both games against the Heat. Szczerbiak banged his right knee several times over the last few games and it has been bothering him, prompting the Cavs to perform an MRI on Friday. It revealed a contusion and Szczerbiak is going to be shut down for about a week to let it get some rest.

Szczerbiak has had minor knee issues during his career, getting his left knee scoped when he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves and missing time with the Boston Celtics due to right knee inflammation. So the Cavs are attempting to be cautious so he will be in good shape for the playoffs.

He is averaging 6.6 points but has been a key reserve. The Cavs lost the only game Szczerbiak didn’t play this season when the bench didn’t perform well in Detroit. Sasha Pavlovic will get his minutes and the Cavs may switch up their rotations a little, giving Daniel Gibson some more time as well.


Cavs defeat Wizards

Cavaliers hang on to defeat Wizards

The NBA likes to put its best foot forward on Christmas Day so you knew LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t be getting the holiday off.

The Cavs will aim to remain perfect at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday when they welcome the woeful Washington Wizards to town.

Cleveland won its fourth straight game and improved to 14-0 as the host on Tuesday when James dropped 27 points with nine rebounds and five assists to lift the Cavaliers to a 99-90 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Mo Williams went for 23 points and added four assists for the Cavs, who are the only unbeaten team at home this season and have won 23 of 25 overall since a 1-2 start to the campaign.

Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas chipped in 11 points apiece for Cleveland, which will finish a three-game homestand against Miami on Sunday.

The Wizards, meanwhile, dropped their seventh straight contest in Charlotte on Tuesday when Emeka Okafor led the way for the Bobcats with 29 points and 18 rebounds, as Charlotte pulled away late to beat Washington, 80-72.

Caron Butler poured in a game-high 31 points for the Wizards, who fell to a dismal 1-10 on the road. Antawn Jamison gave 14 points in defeat. Andray Blatche, who left late in the fourth quarter after Okafor came down on his right arm following a botched dunk, had five points and eight boards.

The Cavs, who beat the Wizards in the first round of last year’s playoffs, won both regular season games between the two clubs played in Cleveland last season.


Cavs late run too much for Wizards

As if the 2008-09 season hasn’t already been a long series of nightmares for the Washington Wizards and their fans, Thursday night in Cleveland just added to the misery.  The Cleveland Cavaliers snatched away a 93-89 victory in the final minute of regulation leaving the Wizards feeling like a child that had candy taken from his grasp.  

Washington outscored Cleveland in the first quarter and trailed by only two at the halftime break.  Recently acquired guard Mike James exploded for 26 points with pinpoint accuracy from beyond the arc (5-8) while Antawn Jamison chipped in 28 points and Caron Butler added ten rebounds.  Taking the lead in the third quarter and putting together a late 7-0 run in the fourth quarter didn’t turn out to be enough for the reeling Wizards.  

After a three point bucket with 1:39 from Antawn Jamison gave Washington a commanding 89-82 lead, they would fail to score another point.  LeBron James cut the lead to four by hitting three free throws, courtesy of a very questionable foul call on the attempt by Caron Butler.  On the following possession, Jamison was called for an offensive foul on James, giving Cleveland the possession with 1:15 to play.  The Cavaliers did not hesitate to take advantage.

Mo Williams buried a 24 foot three point jumper off of a James assist, narrowing the deficit to a single point, 89-88 with 1:01 to play.  After a pair of missed shots by both teams, Anderson Varejao drew a loose ball foul on none other than Antawn Jamison, his sixth and final foul of the game, sending the forward to the bench while Varejao calmly put the Cavaliers up for good with two free throws.  

Following a Butler turnover, Mo Williams sunk two more free throws giving the Cavaliers a three point lead with less than ten seconds remaining.  Though Mike James had been hot all night, his errant three point attempt fell short.  The Cavaliers came away with the rebound and a Delonte West free throw ended the contest, sending the Wizards home with a 93-89 loss.

The loss was undoubtebly one of the most frustrating of the season, especially given the circumstances and questionable officiating at the end.  LeBron James scored a bucket and got the foul call on Jamison, despite replays showing very little contact on the part of the Wizards’ forward.  Further damage was caused when James attempted a three point shot, and was again given the benefit of the foul call despite minor contact – after the shot was attempted – by the defending Caron Butler.  Both calls came back to haunt Washington as Jamison’s presence was missed in the final minute of the game on offense and the easy three points with the clock stopped seemed to kill any momentum that Washington had gathered.  

To add to the disappointment and frustration was the fact that Cleveland always seems to get the benefit of officiating in contests with Washington, dating back over the three years the two teams have squared off in the playoffs.  Thursday night was no different as Cleveland attempted 26 free throws to just seven by Washington; more than triple the count.  

The Wizards dropped to 4-23, but hope to have an easier time on Saturday with the 3-26 Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the Nation’s Capital.  Despite the loss, Washington came away knowing that they were a few bad calls away from knocking off one of the best teams in the league, on the road, on national television.  To add to the glass half full mentality, Mike James had a breakout game as the starting point guard and showed that he is still capable of scoring bursts that he displayed in Toronto when he averaged over 20 points per game.  

Christmas came and went for the Wizards with nothing but overall disappointment and an empty feeling – quite fitting for the way things have gone in a year the team would love to forget.     


Cavs Wear Down Rockets for 14th Straight Home Victory

In a matchup of two defensive minded teams with legitimate championship aspirations, Cleveland defeated Houston, 99-90. LeBron James bounced back from a sluggish first half (eight points, two rebounds, two assists, five turnovers) to finish with game-high totals in points (27) and rebounds (nine). He also had five assists, three steals and one very impressive block. Mo Williams once again ably filled the role of James’ trusty sidekick, contributing 23 points, four assists and four rebounds. Rafer Alston led Houston with 20 points on 8-11 field goal shooting in his first game back after missing four games due to a strained left groin. Yao Ming had 19 points and five rebounds but he shot just 3-10 from the field. Tracy McGrady, hobbled by various injuries throughout this season, was completely worn down as the Rockets played their fourth game in five nights; Houston Coach Rick Adelman rested him for nearly half of the fourth quarter and then put him in the game for less than two minutes before shutting him down the rest of the way. McGrady ended up with just four points on 2-7 shooting, later admitting that he did not have the legs to shoot over the shorter defenders that the Cavs used against him. McGrady still managed to drive, draw double teams and dish off a game-high six assists.

The score was tied at 47 at halftime, with both teams shooting well over .500 from the field; the Cavs clamped down defensively in the second half, holding Houston to .333 shooting while shooting a respectable .463. The flow of the game was marred by several questionable calls by the officials; partisans for both teams probably felt that their squad was singled out but the total number of fouls and free throws ended up being pretty close: I thought that it was a poorly officiated game, as opposed to a game with biased officiating favoring one side or the other.

LeBron James and Ron Artest guarded each other for significant portions of the game. Both players are used to pushing around whoever is matched up with them but the strength factor seemed to be canceled out in this encounter; each player did his share of bumping, pushing, slapping down the other guy’s arm and other tactics to gain a physical or psychological advantage. Neither player seemed to crack until the last minute, when it was clear that Cleveland would win. Artest grabbed an offensive rebound and tried to score but Anderson Varejao fouled him. James was involved in the play defensively as well and Artest gave him a shove after the play was over, prompting an immediate technical foul call against Artest. Officials stepped in between Artest and James but James is far too smart to do anything that would get him suspended. After Mo Williams made the technical free throw and Artest split his pair of free throws, James grabbed the rebound with the Cavs up nine points and just :17.9 remaining. Artest hounded James defensively all the way up the court and James eventually stepped out of bounds. Artest missed a long jumper as time expired. He walked over to greet James after the game and James responded much the way Bill Belichick does when he encounters Eric Mangini at midfield; James is not going to go off half cocked because of Artest’s antics but he is not going to share hugs and kisses after the game with him, either.

Ben Wallace finished with six points and six rebounds in 29 minutes, while Anderson Varejao had six points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. It is easy to look at those numbers and conclude that neither player contributed much–but that would be a serious mistake. Along with Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11 points, three rebounds in 27 minutes before fouling out), they comprise a three headed power forward/center monster that anchors Cleveland’s formidable defense; the Lakers may have a frontcourt stocked with players who are better known and/or more highly regarded at this stage of their careers, but Cleveland’s bigs play an integral role in the team’s success. When the Cavs began to build a working margin late in the third quarter, Varejao was in the middle of one of the key plays. Artest was hounding James all over the court, so Varejao set a solid back pick near the top of the key, freeing James to score a layup. That play is not recorded in any fashion in the boxscore but it is much more valuable than just two points:

1) Varejao turned the tables on Artest by delivering some punishment to him instead of letting Artest deal out punishment without response; this is something that the Laker bigs never did in last year’s Finals. Pau Gasol set strong screens and rolled aggressively to the hoop in playoff series versus San Antonio and Utah but versus Boston he treated the paint like he was one of those dogs being chained by an invisible electric fence. Ilgauskas, Varejao and Wallace are not afraid to set screens and get “dirty” (in the best sense of the word, meaning to play with mental and physical toughness, an edge that shows they will not be pushed around).

2) Doug Collins often mentions that when a scorer is struggling one layup or a couple free throws can get him off; just seeing the ball go through the hoop works wonders. In this particular instance, James had already gotten himself going after his quiet first half, but Varejao’s willingness and ability to set these kinds of screens means that on occasions when James is struggling there will always be a simple way to get him an easy hoop or a trip to the free throw line.

Cleveland led 73-66 after the third quarter and pushed that margin to 82-68 early in the fourth quarter but the resilient Rockets made a run to cut the deficit to 86-85 by the 5:34 mark. They did this by making Yao the centerpiece–literally and figuratively–of their offense. Yao shot 1-7 from the field in the fourth quarter but he made all 12 of his free throws, scoring 14 of Houston’s 24 points in the final stanza. Cleveland answered with a couple of three pointers by Daniel Gibson, both of which were assisted by James. The Rockets never got closer than five points the rest of the way. Cleveland led 96-89 at the 1:05 mark of the fourth quarter when James made the most spectacular play of the game. James timed Yao’s move perfectly (a la Michael Jordan versus Patrick Ewing back in the day) and came over from the weak side to pin his shot to the backboard. Houston retained possession but Alston missed a three pointer after the inbounds pass and then Cleveland sealed the victory by making free throws.

Cleveland Coach Mike Brown’s postgame comments are always well prepared and well thought out (see Notes From Courtside): “I thought that was a tough-played ball game. Both teams showed toughness. I like that down the stretch we defended. I think that in the fourth quarter one of my coaches told me that they ended up shooting 21% from the field and obviously they missed some looks, they had a couple of looks but I thought that our guys hung in there and kept trying to rotate and protect one another throughout the course of the ballgame and even in the fourth quarter when both teams were fighting through the physicalness of the game. I thought that the energy that Ben (Wallace) gave in the beginning of the game was huge; he played terrific for us, in the beginning especially. I thought that Daniel Gibson played big for us; he hit a couple of big shots for us late (in the game) but at his size to come up with six rebounds in this ballgame is phenomenal. He boxed out guys that are twice his size, basically, to stop them from getting rebounds, so he played a terrific floor game for us. Mo (Williams) was big for us down the stretch to increase the lead. We went to him in pick and roll situations and he created good shot opportunities for himself and his teammates. The last guy I’d like to mention, obviously, is LeBron. LeBron showed a lot of toughness tonight. He had to guard a lot of different types of players from Tracy McGrady to Shane Battier to Ron Artest to sometimes Luis Scola. His ability to be versatile at the defensive end of the floor was huge. I’ve said it time and time again: people need to start looking at him for the All-Defensive Team because he’s having a heck of a year at that end of the floor and he’s not getting enough credit for it.”

Coach Brown also talked about two in game strategic adjustments but he did not take credit for either one; he said that when Cleveland’s offense went stagnant against Houston’s zone defense, assistant coach Mel Hunt suggested that the Cavs run one of their man to man plays versus the zone; this resulted in a wide open three pointer that Gibson made and that success discouraged the Rockets from continuing to play the zone. Late in the game, LeBron James suggested that the Cavs not double team Yao, thereby forcing him to score or draw fouls instead of simply kicking the ball back out to wide open three point shooters. Brown followed James’ advice and the Cavs extended their lead. Not every coach is so open to receiving input from his coaching staff and players, much less to publicly give them credit when their advice works. Like all successful people, Coach Brown surely has a healthy ego but he does not allow that ego to get in the way of doing what is right for the team, both in terms of listening to other people and in terms of making those people feel appreciated by publicly acknowledging the input that they had in tweaking the game plan.

James explained his thinking about how Cleveland should defend Yao late in the game: “It didn’t really seem that Yao was in the flow of the game offensively. He was baiting us to come down on the double team and he would throw it back out for them to make threes. We were up 14 and they hit a couple threes, which hurt us. We wanted to try and dig in and if Yao gets going we could double team him but we wanted him to make tough shots.”

In the Rockets locker room after the game, Artest held court in front of a small group of reporters, at times barely speaking above a whisper while trying to put this defeat into context. I asked him, “From your perspective, what happened on the play at the end with LeBron where they gave you a technical?” Artest replied, “They just gave me a technical and that was it.” I thought that Artest might try to plead his case or say that James had been pushing him also but Artest apparently decided that the best route to take is to simply defuse the whole situation.

Someone asked Artest why he guarded James so closely right up to the very end, when the outcome of the game had long since been decided. Artest said, “Play hard. If you’re going to lose, lose with dignity. If you’re going to lose, just go hard. I’m happy when I’m winning and I’m emotional and I still play hard, so when I’m losing I try to be the same way.”

Artest relishes the opportunity to battle James one on one, though he laments that with Houston he does not have the same chances to go back at James on offense that he enjoyed when he played for Indiana and Sacramento (at every stop in his career, Artest has always craved a larger offensive role then the one that the coaching staff designates for him). Artest added that the challenge of guarding the young guys like James, Kevin Martin and Joe Johnson “keeps me going.”

The Rockets have lost their games versus the league’s three top teams: Boston, the L.A. Lakers and Cleveland. Asked what this says about the gap between those teams and the Rockets, Artest said, “That is not good. That is not good–but we have a lot of room to look for improvement and we have a lot of games left, so time will tell what those losses to the three top teams meant.”

I followed up by asking Artest what specific areas the Rockets needed to improve in order to compete with those teams and he said, “To me, I think tonight we were challenged. With Mac (McGrady) going out, with my new role coming off of the bench, four (games) in five nights, Yao’s fouls. We were challenged by many different means–Rafer’s first game back. Playing against a really good team with our whole team for the first time this year, we stepped up to the challenge and we came up short.”

Based on Artest’s prior conduct, I know that some people might expect him to be some kind of raving lunatic. This is the first time that I’ve interviewed him. He is pleasant, soft spoken to the point of almost being inaudible and not the least bit overbearing, intimidating or menacing. Some players make it very clear that they are not interested in being interviewed and cannot wait for the process to be over and, intentionally or not, they position themselves in ways to accentuate their height and size; Artest was very approachable and did not do any of those things. That said, I think that there are hints of trouble in two of his answers. When he wistfully talks of formerly being able to go at James offensively, I sense the seeds being planted for complaining about not having a bigger role in the offense; Artest attempted 14 shots–more than anyone on his team and more than anyone in the game other than James–and he only made five of them, shooting 0-7 in the second half after going 5-7 in the first half. When/if McGrady is fully healthy, there will be fewer shots for Artest and he is not likely to willingly accept that. The second hint of trouble is his answer to my question about what specific improvements the Rockets need to make. If I were to ask that question of Coach Brown or LeBron James after a Cleveland loss, the response would likely focus on getting more defensive stops and playing with greater energy; they both have repeatedly said that the Cavs are a “no excuse team” and they would never mention injuries, scheduling or anything else as factors in a defeat. Everything that Artest said is true, to a degree, but great players do not look for excuses for losses–even excuses that have some validity to them. It is easy to picture Artest giving a similar kind of answer after the Rockets have been eliminated from the playoffs. Houston has most if not all of the pieces in place–from a talent standpoint–to make a run at a title but the onus is on the players to prove that they are mentally and physically tough enough to withstand the long grind of the regular season and the pressure packed moments of a playoff series; in contrast, there is no reason to have similar doubts about Coach Brown, LeBron James or the rest of the Cavaliers.

Notes From Courtside:

By league rule, NBA coaches have a 10 minute grace period after the game’s final buzzer before they have to face the media for their postgame standup. This gives a coach an opportunity to briefly speak to his players in the privacy of a closed locker room, look at the boxscore and give some thought to what message he wants to deliver to the media (and thus, by extension, the team’s fans, opposing teams and, basically, anyone who follows his team for any reason). Some coaches almost always preface their postgame question and answer sessions with an opening statement about what they thought were the key factors in the game; other coaches show up in front of the media and basically say, “Fire away.”

Cleveland Coach Mike Brown has a very well organized and well thought out routine. When he emerges from the locker room after the game to answer questions from the media, he is always carrying a boxscore that has various notations scribbled on it, including key phrases. Coach Brown singles out which Cavs played well, often mentioning players whose contributions would not be immediately noticeable simply by looking at the boxscore. He will give the players credit for things that went well and only occasionally mention criticism of things that the players need to do better; generally, if something went wrong he will say that it was his fault (whether or not this is really the case).

Brown’s method is very intelligent for a number of reasons:

1) He writes down his thoughts beforehand to make sure that in the heat of the moment he does not forget to mention an important point.

2) Before anyone has asked a question, Brown frames the story of the game the way that he believes that it should be portrayed; that often leads to follow up questions about themes he has mentioned, enabling him to further elaborate about those subjects.

3) He establishes a climate of accountability for the team by immediately taking the blame for most things that went wrong; that increases his credibility with the players and makes them more likely to listen to and accept criticism when he delivers it to them privately.

I think that there are a lot of aspects of Coach Brown’s coaching style–from his successful implementation of a stifling defensive game plan to the positive relationship that he has developed with young superstar LeBron James to how well organized and professional he is–that are not sufficiently understood and appreciated by Cavs fans, let alone national NBA fans.

Cavaliers beat Rockets

LeBron, Cavaliers ground rockets 99-90

LeBron James scored 27 points — 18 in the second half_ and Mo Williams added 23 as the Cleveland Cavaliers remained the NBA’s only undefeated team at home with a 99-90 win Tuesday night over the Houston Rockets.

Daniel Gibson made two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers, who improved to 23-2 in their last 25 games and 14-0 at home. They did it against the Western Conference’s best road team — Houston had won 11 straight road games against Eastern Conference teams dating to last season.

James punctuated Cleveland’s 14th straight win at Quicken Loans Arena — and a heated game — by pinning Yao Ming’s layup attempt to the backboard in the final minute. James sneaked up behind the unsuspecting 7-foot-6 center and slammed his shot to the glass before screaming in the Chinese star’s direction.

The Cavs are the first team to win their first 14 home games since Chicago and Orlando did it in 1995-96.


Rockets Rally falls Short

With the Cavaliers’ win secure and the game about to reach its final minute, LeBron James sought an exclamation mark Tuesday night.


Yao Ming had turned to begin a drive to the rim when James charged from behind, timed his leap and sent Yao’s shot slamming off the backboard.


The Rockets’ latest effort to measure up to one of the NBA’s early-season “Big Three” had been similarly blocked, with the Cavaliers brushing aside a fourth-quarter rally to end the Rockets’ four-game winning streak with a 99-90 win before 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena.


Before it ended, however, Ron Artest left another message. With James ready to dribble out the game’s final seconds, Artest — who had just received a technical foul for shoving James to the floor — defended James as if the score were tied in the final seconds in June. The Cavaliers had dismissed the Rockets as had the Celtics and Lakers before them, but Artest said he was determined to demonstrate there would be no surrender.


“That is not good,” Artest said of those three losses. “But we have a lot of room for improvement, and we have a lot of games left. Time will tell if those three games we lost against those three top teams were a fluke or not.”


Ironically, in the first game this season in which the Rockets were completely healthy, their two top stars spent much of the night on the bench anyway.


Lebron James Considers Signing an extension with the Cavaliers

Before the team practice in Denver last Friday, Lebron James told reporters that he will consider signing an extension with the Cavaliers this summer(2009) and not wait until the 2010 season.

“You play out the season of course; I will consider it,” James said. “The direction we are headed is everything I expected and more.”

“I definitely want to keep an open mind, I will look at everything,” James said. “(The extension) is a good point. I think me and my group have pretty much made good decisions so far and we’ll look at the options and go from there.”

James signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cavaliers in 2006. The deal includes a player option for 2010-11 worth $17.4 million.

James was even joking this weekend with his teammates about his future. Especially Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who just took over the franchise rebounding mark. But maybe not long-term, James hinted.

“By the time I get done,” James said. “I’m going to hold all the records.”

Lebron’s Nike deal also ends in 2010. Many have assumed he’ll negotiate that new deal at about the same time according to the Plain Dealer.

“James has a three-year extension clause in the Nike deal he can activate if he so chooses. His yearly salary with Nike could actually be higher now than what he could get with a new deal, especially considering the state of the economy and the general downturn in athlete endorsements.

In addition there is no clause in James’ Nike contract that will pay him more if he plays in a major market like New York or Los Angeles, another fact that has been misreported at times. When James first signed with Nike, there were some incentives for being in New York, Chicago or L.A. but those have since expired.

There is still a good chance James will do a brand new deal with Nike.”

Carlos Boozer to Opt Out of his Contract

I guess the Cavaliers aren’t the only team that will have less than fond memories of Carlos Boozer.

In case you missed it, Boozer told ESPN he will opt out of his contract at the end of the season, play the field and “get a raise regardless.” And considering Boozer has been injured and was talking to ESPN in street clothes, the timing wasn’t exactly impeccable.

Here is what Boozer told ESPN:

“I’m opting out. No matter what, I’m going to get a raise regardless.
I am going to opt out, I don’t see why I wouldn’t, I think it’s a very good
business decision for me and my family, but I’d also like to see what
happens with the Jazz and stay here.”

Boozer should be applauded for being honest — and then repeatedly
rebuked for the very same thing. Seriously. Come on, Carlos. You got
a lot of nerve, man.

Your teammates are busting their tails, trying to stay afloat while you lounge around in a suit … and all you can do is talk business?

It really makes you wonder, would signing Boozer to a large long-term contract really be worth it? I mean, doesn’t it seem to you like he suffers from a severe case of chronic dissatisfaction? No matter where Boozer is, he seems to be wishing he were someplace else.

And Cavs fans have to be laughing. They don’t really have any right to be angry with the Jazz — but they are anyway. And every time Boozer does something that could be perceived as a slip-up, they flood the message boards and pound out words like “karma” and acronyms like “LOL!” to express their glee.

In Cleveland, they no longer say Boozer’s name, they spit it.

Z doubtful for Nuggets game

While he officially is listed as doubtful for Friday night, Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas hasn’t given up hope.

“I went through most of the practice (Thursday) and there’s still some soreness and stiffness I’m dealing with,” said Ilgauskas, nursing a left ankle sprain. “So I’ll just wake up and see how it responded to the work I did and we’ll just keep it as a game-time decision.”

The Nuggets have struggled against big men this season, and the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas would provide a boost for Brown’s lineup.

“(Doubtful) is one of those words that I still don’t know what it means,” Brown said. “I know what ‘out’ means, and he’s not out.”