As impressive as it was, the Cleveland Cavaliers' 101-97 overtime win Wednesday over the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills hasn't changed my mind about the pecking order in the Eastern Conference.
For a night, it's King's palace
People tend to overreact to one game. Cleveland could play the Bobcats tomorrow and get whacked. There's something to be said for consistency, and that's why Detroit's still the team to beat in the East.
Nonetheless, I've got to take my hat off to a team that bounces back after starting to leave the floor thinking it had it won, as coach Mike Brown did following James' jumper at the regulation buzzer, only to see it nullified on replay. To me, it showed a lot of mental toughness the way Cleveland came back right away in overtime.
James was great in this one, with a season-high 41 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He was doing it all, taking it to the glass with authority, getting some huge dunks, and even coming with a big block late in the game. We are seeing a maturation process on both ends of the floor. However, it should be noted that James did miss one free throw in overtime -- I've got to nitpick something here.
There's no denying that this was an important win for Cleveland, which had lost nine of its past 10 at The Palace. With the win, they're now only two games back of the first-place Pistons in the Central Division. This win prevented Detroit from clinching the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Pistons had blown out the Cavs twice already this year, with one more to play.
I think Detroit is a matchup that suits Cleveland well. I believe the Pistons are the better team, but the Cavs give them trouble. I know the Cavs think they can beat Detroit based on what they did last year in the playoffs, taking them to a seventh game. This year the Cavs hope they can win the Central and get a potential Game 7 against Detroit at home.
If they get there, it will be in large part because of the job Brown has done getting his team to play defense. Last year they were porous at best. Now they're a pretty good defensive team.
There are still a lot of holes on the Cavs, overall. LeBron has to work so hard -- too hard. Cleveland's spacing on offense needs work, and so does their movement.
I just don't see Cleveland making opponents' pay when LeBron gets double and triple teamed. He's been maligned for not winning big games. But that's not his fault -- his team's must help him out. The problem with this team is that no one can create on offense besides LeBron and Larry Hughes. It helps when he does get some aid, including Wednesday's big contributions from Drew Gooden (22 points) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (14 points).
Hughes playing at the point has been good for the Cavs, filling in for the injured Daniel Gibson, though it's certainly not a natural spot for him. Sasha Pavlovic had a great February, but he hasn't played as well early in March.
As for Detroit, the defense looks good to me. And on offense, we saw Chris Webber flash some of his skills, stealing one from LeBron and heading back over half court for an old-time Webber jam.
They'll need some of that flash in the days ahead. Detroit now heads West for a five game road trip. The games are at Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Phoenix. Not the most difficult interconference trip, but you're still going out West, which is always going to be tough. Looking at each team's next five games, the next two weeks as a much harder stretch for Detroit.
Still, any one of those Pistons starters can beat you -- is there a better five in the East? I don't think so.
Jon Barry played two seasons in Detroit, departing the year before the 2004 title run.
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Jazz forward Carlos Boozer pulls down one of his 16 rebounds in a 94-72 win over the Indiana Pacers .
I'm a little surprised that Stu Jackson didn't give Kobe Bryant a two-game suspension, since the league is never shy about hammering home a message when someone keeps going astray the same way.
And don't forget, Bryant drew a two-game suspension last season for a particularly nasty elbow against Mike Miller, so it's not like this is only the second time his elbows have gotten him in trouble.
I asked Jackson why he wasn't more harsh with Bryant and he left no doubt that he wil be next time.
"We considered suspending him for multiple games," Jackson said. "At some point a player becomes a recidivist, and if this happens again, most likely, there will be multiple games."
What a surprise Tim Thomas is a disappointment in Clipperland. He left Chicago where things went bad and went to the Suns and Steve Nash. Everyone plays at their best level on the floor with him. Nash figures out where you want the ball to be at your best and he gets it to you there.
You won't have to shoot very often where you don't want to with Nash feeding you. That's not the case in LA. Those who don't want to play alongside Nash are nuts. He makes the game easy for everyone. Just ask Dwight Howard and Jermaine O'Neal their opinion of Nash when they played against him.
Cleveland Tightens Central Chase
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Be very quiet. Heat coach Pat Riley is hunting a playoff spot without Dwyane Wade. His team beat the Bulls, 103-70.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Memphis was on a fast-track to falling one game ahead of Boston for worst record, jumping out to a 10-0 lead on the Raps on Wednesday night. Order was restored, however, and Toronto soon opened up a can on the grisly gang. Boston, having regained its senses after going on an ill-advised four-game win streak, lost at home by 31 to the Rockets. That's better. Chad Ford's draft machine projects just where Kevin Durant and Greg Oden are most likely to land.
Pat (Long Island, NY): David, yesterday, in the ESPN panel's voting of the greatest centers of all-time, Dwight Howard got a vote! DWIGHT HOWARD! Third Year DWIGHT HOWARD! I hope that wasn't you David! Clearly one could argue Rik Smits has accomplished more in his career than DWIGHT HOWARD!
David Thorpe: That was me, baby! But it's not what you think. It was, in a way, a protest vote. I couldn't include George Mikan -- played too long ago. And no one else deserved, to my mind, a "top 10 all time" label. In 6 or 7 years, I bet we see Dwight's name in that list. I think ESPN is working on a "next top 10" type of list. He'll be on that one for sure.
• Sorry Washington, your contender status is revoked until further notice. I mean, if the Hawks lost six in a row with Joe Johnson, you'd have to think they'd be easy pickings without him, right? Um, wrong.
The Wizards completely flamed out after leading by eight at halftime because they were dominated in the paint by Zaza Pachulia. Yes, really. So what's going to happen when they face the likes of Shaq, Bosh, Jermaine and Rasheed in the playoffs?
• Atlanta's Josh Smith began the second half on the bench and didn't enter the game until the third quarter was nearly over. Both Smith and Hawks coach Mike Woodson would only describe it as a "coach's decision," but it appeared the benching was punishment for Smith screaming at Anthony Johnson toward the end of the first half.
• With Marvin Williams out, Atlanta's second-round pick Solomon Jones got his first career start Wednesday. The lanky shot-blocker badly needs to add some muscle, but he showed 15-foot range. His game is still very raw, but long term, he might turn out better than the team's disappointing first-rounder, Shelden Williams. Jones finished with eight points, four boards and a block in 22 minutes, while playing passable D on Antawn Jamison.
• Wizards coach Eddie Jordan used all 12 players in the game's first 17 minutes, and it wasn't 15-second stints either -- everybody played at least 4:31 in the first half. Jordan said it was intentional, that after playing seven guys for so much of the season he's trying to get more guys involved -- especially now that players like Jamison, Caron Butler and Darius Songaila are back in the lineup. It was the fourth straight game he'd used the whole roster.
-- John Hollinger at Philips Arena