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The Cavaliers have been streaky all year â€“ winning six, losing five, winning seven, losing four. Itâ€™s the pattern of a team that hasnâ€™t really found its identity. Anyone whoâ€™s ever watched a TNT game has heard Charles Barkley lament that fact.
The Cavaliers â€“ still the third-best team in the Eastern Conference â€“ lack two things as the playoff stretch is officially upon us: Consistency and Larry Hughes.
Clevelandâ€™s bench was outscored 105-17 over the weekend. That does not bode well against a deep Mavericks team, but it doesnâ€™t bode well against any team. Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones have to start finding the bottom of the net. Marshall is averaging four points per game over his last nine and Jones is averaging three points per game over his last 12.
Drew Goodenâ€™s recent M.O. has been that he comes out of the gate like a bat out of hell and tends to disappear in the second half. Some of it is Mike Brownâ€™s rotation and some of it is Drew failing to assert himself. He hasnâ€™t notched double-figure scoring in his last three ballgames and on Friday night he had nine points in the first quarter.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas is having one of his best seasons as a pro, but he is having one or two solid quarters per game. He scored 21 points in Miami on Sunday, but 15 of those came in a single period. Z has grabbed double-figure rebounds once in his last 11 games.
The bright spot, of course, has been LeBron James. His statistics arenâ€™t even important anymore because he simply carries the club. He hasnâ€™t led the team in scoring in only one game among the last 25. He is the unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers. He just needs help.
The Cavaliers are an even .500 since Larry Hughes went down. Thatâ€™s a credit to Coach Mike Brown. And when he returns, the Wine and Gold will be adding an entirely new gear. Hughes does everything LeBron can, just on a slightly smaller scale. He can handle the ball and shoot it. He can break down the defense off the dribble and heâ€™s an All-NBA defender. If they can figure out the consistency part while Hughes recovers, the Cavaliers could be one dangerous squad when the postseason rolls around.