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When I look at the Cavaliers, the biggest problem I see is a lack of versatility among their guys who play power forward and center.
The best teams in the NBA have guys playing the 4 or 5 who not only can play the power game but also can face up to the basket and get up and down the floor. The Magic can pound it inside with Dwight Howard or they can kick it outside to Ryan Anderson or Rashard Lewis (when he returns). The Celtics can go inside with Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett or they can let Rasheed Wallace stretch the defense with his jumper.
On the defensive end, Cleveland's bigs need to get more athletic so they are capable of defending pick-and-rolls and blocking shots in transition.
I think the Cavs are still an elite team, and when the playoffs begin, anything can happen. It's early in the season, but after losing to the Bulls 86-85 on Thursday, they are just 3-3 and have as many home losses as they had all of last season.
It all starts with the interior, and unless they make a deal, they aren't going to be any better than third in the East. Anytime LeBron James has to play the 4 as much as he did against the Bulls, it is going to make Cleveland's backcourt vulnerable. Chicago's size and the athleticism of its guards gave Cleveland problems.
Last season, Mo Williams was an All-Star, but with the addition of Shaq, his production is going to suffer. He is not being put in a position to perform at the same level. He doesn't get the same amount of touches or opportunities, and one of the reasons is Cleveland's spacing isn't correct. He is a rhythm player, someone who gets it going the more the ball is in his hands. The Cavs are turning him into a catch-and-shoot player, and he is capable of so much more.
Cleveland isn't going to win as many games as it did last season. The Cavs have too many specialists. For example, only LeBron, Williams and Delonte West can handle the ball. Then you look at a team like Orlando that can go 10 or 11 deep. The Magic are the deepest team in the league. The Lakers and Blazers are the deepest teams in the West, but even they can't mix and match the way Orlando can. And as Boston has shown so far, the Celtics are the top team in the East. That means Cleveland is playing for third in the East.ESPN analyst Jalen Rose is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
Since the Cavaliers have already matched their 2008-09 home loss total, some are already wondering if their high-profile acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal was the equivalent of attempting to put out a fire with Diesel fuel.
While O'Neal's still-devastating post game has given the Cavaliers a new dimension offensively and was critical in their win over Washington on Tuesday, Cleveland still looks to be figuring out how to best use his talents in its offense.
Last season, the Cavs were the best first-quarter team by a wide margin. They would set the tone with balanced, fast-moving offensive efforts, relying on high-post sets and screens on the weak side and perimeter to free up shooters. LeBron James would finish plays on the weak side of the floor.
This season, the Cavs have started most games sluggishly, often coming out flat and awkwardly offensively as they try to work an opening frontcourt pair of O'Neal and Anderson Varejao, neither of whom can shoot from outside. Instead of coming out of the gate with energy and ball movement, the Cavaliers have attempted to dump the ball in to O'Neal and watch him work.
Against the Bulls on Thursday, Cleveland's starters came out flat. The Cavs scored 12 points during the eight minutes O'Neal played in the first quarter, and 15 points in the final four minutes of the quarter. One of the best offensive stretches the Cavaliers played in the entire game was late in the fourth quarter, when they went to a small-ball lineup featuring Varejao at the center position and LeBron at power forward. This lineup, coming with 2:50 remaining in the game, was the first time coach Mike Brown had gone small all night, despite the fact that Chicago is not a team known for frontcourt scorers. (In fact, Brown had gone big by playing Zydrunas Ilgauskas and O'Neal together during two previous stretches in the game.)
With 14 feet and $32.5 million worth of center sitting on the bench, Cleveland immediately rattled off seven points in three possessions and was able to set up a wide-open Mo Williams 3-point attempt in transition that would have been the go-ahead basket. Of course, Shaq came in for the final possession, and his inability to stretch the floor allowed Joakim Noah to be in position under the basket to shut down James' final drive.To read more, check out Krolik's TrueHoop Network blog, Cavs the Blog.
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday night's slate of games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I didn't feel like it was even close to being a foul. I wasn't worried because there was no contact at all."
-- Bulls big man Joakim Noah, who defended LeBron James in the final seconds of Chicago's road win
In a matchup of two of the top point guards in the league, Utah's Deron Williams (27 points, 9 assists) came out on top of San Antonio's Tony Parker (21 points).
The early-season trend of fourth-quarter collapses and career highs by opponents hasn't done much to energize the Jazz fan base. Who could have predicted that the remedy would be a visit from the perennial Jazz killers, the San Antonio Spurs? Maybe the Jazz just need a national spotlight and a late tipoff for every game.
A win leaves everyone in a good mood, but it can't drown out the recent cacophony of calls for the head of Carlos Boozer and the resignation of Jerry Sloan. Unless the Jazz can string together a few more games with solid effort, the anger amongst the fan base will turn into apathy. I'm not even sure they have to be wins. Most fans would be happy with nothing more than solid effort and a little teamwork, something that seems to disappear in the fourth quarter and on the road.
Before Thursday's game, the Jazz radio broadcast man, David Locke, wrote on his blog that Boozer's troubles on the court weren't due to lack of effort, but from caring too much.
To read more, check out Hall's TrueHoop Network blog, Salt City Hoops.
The last points scored by either team in the Bulls' 86-85 win at Cleveland came on LeBron James' basket that cut the Cavaliers' deficit to one point with 1:32 left to play in the fourth quarter. This was the first NBA game decided by a one-point margin in which neither team scored in the final 90 seconds since March 18, 2006, when the Bulls lost at home to Miami 85-84, with the last point coming on a free throw by Gary Payton with 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.• More from Elias Sports Bureau
"Welcome to my world, Phil."
That's what 14 other Western Conference coaches are thinking after watching how the Lakers have had to scratch and claw their way to an uneven 4-1 start in the absence of Pau Gasol, who has been out with a hamstring injury.
• To read Hollinger's PER Diem, click here