Monday, January 28, 2008

Wine and Gold in the Wild, Wild West

Hey everyone, it’s A.C. here! What’s happening?

That was one nice win for the Cavaliers on Sunday over the Lakers. The L-Train was incredible and Cleveland’s fourth-quarter defense was outstanding. Ira came in and did an excellent job. He started at guard and finished at forward.

As far as Ira replacing Sahsa in the starting lineup, it’s definitely going to be an adjustment period. It may not be a big adjustment period, but it will be an adjustment because the Cavaliers are a TEAM, and not a bunch of individuals – just like my Cavaliers were when I played.

And you take a guy out of that rotation, it is an adjustment period. Because what Sasha would do very well is, on the opposite side of the double-team of LeBron, Sasha was able to penetrate to the basket and get inside. But Ira’s a different kind of player – he’s not looking to get inside and he doesn’t finish like Sasha. So the biggest difference is that they’re going to have to adjust to a different kind of player on the weak side.

But Ira’s definitely going to bring a defensive presence. There’s not going to be a lot of people penetrating on Ira, or going by him. I think the biggest difference is going to be that Sasha is a better outside shooter than Ira, but everything else should pretty much stay the same. Ira’s going to bring some positive minutes to the floor for the Cavaliers. There’s no doubt about that.

The Cavaliers are a much better road team than they have been in any year of the LeBron Era, and some of these huge wins out West – against Dallas, San Antonio and now Los Angeles – prove it every time. If you look at the Finals experience, it teaches you to play tough games on the road. And it’s carrying over into the regular season now.

And that’s basically what I see: They have experience playing tough games on the road – games that you have to win. They know the mindset they have to bring to the floor on the road, so it’s a comfortable feeling they have now instead of a question mark.

Winning on the road is the key to the playoffs. And the playoff picture is starting to shape up in the Eastern Conference. It’s pretty much the same as it was last year – minus the Bulls and Heat – except Boston is going to push somebody out, because they weren’t in it last year.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, they need to go one more 7-of-10 or 8-out-of-10 stretch to really solidify themselves into that upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. They needed that run to get themselves back in the race, and now they need to solidify their standing by going on one more run.

I know the players are starting to look at the All-Star Break right now. Not so much for the “break” but just that it’s the unofficial half way point. I feel that the Cavaliers could have three guys at All-Star Weekend.

Obviously, LeBron was voted in, which is a no-brainer. But right now, Boobie should have an opportunity to be in the Three-Point ShootOut. He’s one of the best three-point shooters in the league. And Z, I think, deserves a shot. I would say the East could use three centers, because there really isn’t a true center in front of him. I think Z should be an All-Star this year. He’s having that type of year – he’s running the floor, he’s rebounding, he’s scoring consistently. The coaches are the ones who pick now, so hopefully they’ll give him the nod.

The schedule is set up for us to have a good finish. We don’t have any strenuous trips left. They have time to get practices in now; they have time for rest. So the schedule is set up to where if we can whether the storm out West right here, we can take advantage of that schedule. We seem to have our confidence back and we’re ready to roll. So I’m looking for a good finish.

During my days with the Cavaliers, a trip out West could be really good or really bad.

Once we started winning, it was great. At first we didn’t want to go out West at all because we’d come out here and get our butts kicked. Once we started winning, it was really a pleasure to not only come out here, but to compete because the fans treated us so bad before, that when we started competing, it was a good thing to walk out of a place – like the Forum – with a win.

Everybody played hard once we figured it out. Guys turned up their game for the Lakers and the Blazers and Sonics. It was something that we looked forward to.

The West Coast trip is a way to get a little break from the weather and eventually it turned out to be a good situation for us – once we started winning, of course. At first, it was not pleasurable because we would get just beat up. But when we got it together, you walk out of a win in L.A., you walk out with your chest out.

And that’s an excellent feeling.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Road Warriors

Hey, everyone! It’s AC, checking in from the road – what’s happening?

The Cavaliers have gotten back to their winning ways, but this week they face maybe their toughest test of the season when they meet the Spurs in San Antonio. I think it’s going to be a game where the team finds out where they are at this point in the season. It’s a gauge to find out: Are we ready? Are we back to where we think we should be? Or do we still have more work to do?

I think that’s the type of situation it’s going to be. And that means they should be hungry and they should play with a lot of enthusiasm.

Right now, I see the team being very comfortable out there because they know the rotations. There is something to the fact that they have been looking for the right rotation. This is bigger than fans think, because – as a player – you need to know when the Coach is looking for you, and what he’s looking for when he makes the call.

A lot of guys put pressure on themselves to perform because they’re outside the rotation. Now that they know what the situation is – and they know when they’re coming in the game – they can get their mind focused on what they have to do. When I had my injuries and I started coming off the bench, that was my toughest thing – knowing when I was coming in. And once I had that understood, I seemed to play a lot better.

Coming off the bench and being part of a rotation can be more difficult than it seems. First of all, you get your mind set on what you have to do. You’re able to figure out the guy you’re going to guard – and what he’s doing. You need to get your mind ready for action. You don’t have time to come in and ease into the game. You have to come right in and be ready to go.

When you come off the bench, you see how the game plan is working. You get a chance to watch it. You see how it’s going and there are some things you can tweak. But the most important thing is that you have the energy level where it should be. Because you know you have to come in and either maintain the lead, or get the lead back. So it’s a whole different mindset.

But it’s much easier on you when you understand when you’re coming in and when you’re going out. And you also know: you can let it all hang out when you know the timespan you’re going to play. You don’t have to hold anything back – you go in 100 percent ready to play because you have only X amount of minutes before you’re back out again.

When a team is on the road like the Cavaliers will be over the next couple weeks, the bench becomes extremely important.

The road’s been tough, but really, the schedule is set up now where the Cavaliers shouldn’t have too many more problems. We only have four or five road back-to-backs left for the whole rest of the season. From now on, there’s mostly a day in-between where you can get your rest and get your focus on who you’re playing.

So the schedule was set up for us – if we were able to weather the first part of the season – to make a run in the second half. The key is we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we have to start winning on the road to get back up into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. Each road game is very important now.

Without getting too nostalgic, the road is much, much different now than when I played. First of all, we traveled commercial. That was totally different. We had to catch the first flight out of town the next day after every game. You’d play one night in Golden State, stay over and the next day you’d leave for L.A. – getting on a 5 a.m. flight. You’d play in L.A. that night and man, that just wore you down. And I think a lot of players back then had injury problems because of that.

Back then, they didn’t feed you, either. You had to fend for yourself. Now, players have good nutrition around all the time, so they can eat properly. Now, guys have the right types of food around all the time – they have people who set up a schedule for them. They eat properly; they know what to eat now.

I didn’t know what to eat. I was washing down a bag of Dorito’s with orange pop when I first came into the league. McDonald’s was just getting going, so we thought fast food was great. There weren’t any warning signs on fast food back then. As far as we were concerned, that was all good stuff.

The road was such a different animal back then than it is now. Back in those days, I’d tape myself sometimes. That’s just the way it was when I came into the league. And that’s just unheard of now.

We were responsible for our equipment, our uniform, everything. In my first two years, I washed my own uniform! And believe me, there were some funky guys out there – guys who didn’t smell good at all because they didn’t want to, or didn’t know how, to wash their stuff. But that was something you had to do. I’d get into town and instead of going out to get a bite to eat – like players do now – I’d go straight to the laundromat.

Nightlife was different, too.

Coach always had “spies” on the road. It would be the trainer or someone like that. But we always had a spy to figure out what the guys were doing, or what they weren’t doing. One way or another Coach Fitch always found out, and he had ways of making you pay for it. So you’d learn real quick. If Fitch knew that you were out carousing the night before … Oh man!

I’d be out there, I’d be playing 40 minutes or the entire first two quarters and you’d look over there to the bench wanting to come out and if Coach knew you were out the night before, he would just look away as if to say: “Keep going.” You’d learn your lesson right away that you didn’t want to do this too often.

And back then – something I don’t think they do a lot of now – the players policed themselves. After a while, when we started winning, players would keep one another in line. Because winning is what you’re there for. We were losing so much at first and winning was such a good feeling that we wanted to keep it going.

So you’d stop all that carousing, and the guys that were carousing a lot all of sudden were in bed. And Coach made sure you were in bed. That was the way life was on the road back in my early days in the league.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Crossing the Line

Hey everybody! It’s A.C. – what’s happening?

The Cavaliers have now won five of their last six. And it’s been more than just LeBron – although his performance on Sunday afternoon in Toronto was absolutely spectacular.

One big reason the Cavaliers are starting to get back on track is that they’ve returned to the rotation that they were in before heading into the postseason last year. I wouldn’t say everything is back to normal, but it’s what they’re familiar with. Consequently, the rotations are familiar – everything that they’re doing offensively and defensively, they’ve done it for a while and they’ve been successful doing it. So that’s why I think things are moving in the right direction now.

The key now is: can they sustain it and get better at what they’re doing? Because when I watched Saturday night’s Detroit-Boston game, that’s a different level of intensity in those games. And can the Cavaliers get to that level of intensity and maintain it before they get to the playoffs?

Right now, we have to generate our own level of intensity – game to game – whereas in the Playoffs, it’s there automatically. And we have to get our emotions right for each game. Because it’s time to stop talking about how much time we have. If you’re trying to win a Championship and get one of those top four spots in the East – which I feel you have to have – the time is now.

You can’t wait much longer; you have to start getting in stride now.

At this point, I don’t see the intensity – night-in and night-out – like it was, say, the first time they played Boston or when they went to Dallas. The intensity level is a little off-and-on right now. The way they’re playing right now is consistent, but the intensity level is not quite there yet. I don’t see it like I saw it in the Pistons-Celtics game. Those two are playing for keeps already, because they understand that every game you play now – games in November and December – those games can come back to haunt you in April, as far as your positioning is concerned.

You look at what the Cavaliers went through last year. Everything fell into place – except that we gave up about 15 games where we had the lead in the fourth quarter to teams that we should normally beat. If we had taken care of business in that respect, we could have had homecourt advantage over San Antonio in the Finals. I think they all understand what these games mean, so hopefully now that the injured players are getting healthy, they can get on a nice roll and get things going.

Getting to .500 is bigger than people think. When you look at the Eastern Conference, .500 is a big mark, because there’s only three other teams that are above .500. So what you’re looking at now – the quicker you can get to .500 and get your team built from that point on, and can get, say, 10 games above .500, you’re among the elite teams in the Conference. You’ve got to get over that Mason-Dixon line. You can’t be below that line. You’ve got to get over that and start building on .500 instead of trying to get to .500.

Right now, the Cavaliers are playing pretty well, even though Larry Hughes is still struggling a bit shooting the ball.

The main thing is to shoot, shoot, shoot. When I would get into slumps, I would practice and get up a lot of shots and try to get into a rhythm – watch tape of how you’re shooting the ball. When Larry first came back, he was going straight up, through the shoulders and into the shot. Now he’s starting to lean left or right, instead of planting, going straight up and – boom! – lacing the shot.

He does a lot better coming off the pick and hitting the jump shot because he has a chance to square himself and go straight up. But when he’s on the move, he has a tendency to float instead of going straight up.

It’s one of the reasons I think point guard is better for him, because he can do other things to help the team when his shot is off. He can direct the show, he can slash to the basket, he can get out on the break, he can do a lot of good things and hopefully the jumper will come back.

It’s all there for Larry, he just needs to reach down and find it.