Sunday, April 27, 2008

West Delivers

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

Sunday’s game was outstanding and the Cavaliers now have a golden opportunity to wrap this series up on Wednesday. LeBron James was the hero, but it was really an outstanding game for Delonte West.

Delonte hit the big shots and he was much more poised in Game 4 than in Game 3. He competed, and I think in Game 3 he just didn’t compete. He just sort of let the atmosphere of the arena overtake him. On Sunday, he kept his head in the game and he stepped up and hit some big shots. Both he and Boobie changed the complexion of the game.

The shots that they both hit came at crucial times of the game; times that either fed the momentum or changed the momentum.

The way Delonte played on Sunday is the way I’ve wanted to see him play. I’ve wanted to see Delonte be more assertive, more aggressive. And there were a couple times in the second half – (he didn’t do it the first half) – where he came down in the transition game, he saw an opportunity and he took it. Once he made the shot and was fouled, the other he got a layup.

He’s got to do a lot of that. He’s capable of it.

It wasn’t just the point guard play on Sunday. The Cavaliers frontline completely controlled the middle. And when you control the middle – in any sport – you have a chance of winning most ballgames. The only variable you’re fighting is the perimeter game. And that’s why teams like Orlando are tough. Because you can slow them down in the middle, but they still have the perimeter game to fall back on.

But on Sunday, once the Cavaliers began controlling the middle, you could see that Washington was starting to crumble. They started taking bad shots, they started rushing things. You could see it was starting to happen because they couldn’t get anything going inside.

Defensively, Ben Wallace played a great game on Sunday. He didn’t score any points, but he did everything else well. He defended well, he played Jamison well – (which is a tough guard for him for as much as Antawn plays away from the basket) – he got his hands on a lot of balls and saved a lot of baskets.

The team on Sunday was the Cavaliers team that we’ve been looking for. There was a big difference between the team that showed up Sunday and the one that did last Thursday night. We went to do our pre-game prep for FSN, and in the Cavaliers locker room, nobody was smiling. Everyone had their game face on on Sunday afternoon and I think all of them were focused.

The Cavaliers – as far as I can tell – aren’t bothered or distracted by all that Jay-Z, DeShawn Stevenson stuff. All that stuff doesn’t have much to do with the game itself. It’s a media-hype thing. It creates an ambience around the game that sells more tickets and gets more people involved. But as far as the players are concerned, I don’t think it adds a lot to the series.

One thing I’ve learned in sports: if you have to resort to what Washington has had to resort to, there’s a weakness somewhere. And their weakness is they don’t think they can beat us. In the end, that’s what it turns out to be; they don’t really believe they can beat us. So they’re going to resort to other things to pump them up and get them going. And it’s not working.

On Wednesday, I’m expecting our crowd to be in it right from the beginning and give the Cavaliers the same kind of boost that Washington’s crowd gave them on Thursday. After that, it’s essential that Cleveland just goes right at them. And I’m expecting us to come out fired up and ready to go.

The Cavs are still honing their style in this series; to get it to a point where we can rely on it through the rest of the playoffs. Our style is rough-and-tumble; we’re an ugly, defensive, down and dirty team – knees scarred up, elbows scraped with some bumps and bruises. That’s how we play.

And you can see that aspect of the team starting to come out. This is obviously a different team than the one we saw in the last month of the regular season.

I think they’re tougher mentally. You could start to see it late in the season, but what the playoffs have done for the Cavaliers is focus more for a longer period of time. Whereas before, they couldn’t seem to stay focused for any amount of time.

At the same time, Coach Brown is learning his matchups and his rotation – who to put in when he wants points, who to put in when he wants some stops. He’s learning all that on the job, but the playoffs will make you focus better and longer.

So now the Cavaliers are closing in on beating Washington for the third straight season. It’s not going to be easy, but I think the Cavs are definitely feeling good about their chances.

Gilbert Arenas said before the series started that the Wizards wanted the Cavaliers. But I think it’s a case of the old saying: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Blue Collar Club

Hey, everyone! AC, checking in from Chicago! What’s happening?

It was another tough one for the Cavaliers on the road on Friday night. It hurts even more coming on the heels of Wednesday’s win over New Jersey, when they looked so good in the third and fourth quarters.

That was the best they’ve played since they’ve gotten everyone back. But if they don’t understand what kind of team they are now, then they are really missing the boat. The Cavaliers are a blue collar team; they’re not a fancy-dan team – shooting long jumpers and so forth. They’re a hard-working team and they have to understand that and come out and give that kind of effort every night in order to win.

We cannot play the other way and win.

Sometimes, it looks like they didn’t want to get down and dirty for four quarters. They want to do it for two quarters. And that’s not enough to win at this time of year. You have to get down and dirty for four quarters now because that’s what it’s going to take to win.

To me, it’s about understanding who you are for the Cavaliers. They have to understand they’re not a glamour team. They are a blue collar team. That means when you get in that locker room and put your uniform on, and when you walk out on that floor – you are double-teaming hard, you’re defending hard, you’re not giving up dribble-penetration and you’re playing all-out on the defensive end of the floor.

On offense, you’re setting good picks, you’re not floating through picks, you’re concentrating on making shots and hitting your free throws. And that’s the way you live – you live and die that way. And that’s what they have to understand.

Right now, hopefully, they’ll start to understand that because they need to come out of the funk that they’ve been in – especially on the road. Friday night’s game was big because if they came out – after the first quarter – very lacksadasical. And I’m afraid it shows that they don’t know who they are.

This time of year, you can’t turn it on and off. It has to be part of your makeup. The Cavaliers don’t play a pretty game. When they play an ugly game, they usually win. That’s what it is – scrapping, fighting, getting over the top of picks, getting second-chance points. That’s who they are.

They even seem to play better offensively when they get ugly on the defensive end. They’re a down and dirty team. Simple as that.

The First Round is still shaping up, but it’s looking like it’ll be the Wizards.

I believe if we play the Wizards, we’ll need homecourt advantage. The Wizards have an incentive to beat us. And that means they’re going to play a little above their heads. So we have to have homecourt advantage to take that edge out of the equation. But I think we match up well with them.

I don’t believe that the Wizards can put Arenas into a full-tilt to situation right now. And I think LeBron has something he wants to prove to DeShawn Stevenson. (He really doesn’t need to prove anything to him, because there’s nothing to prove – Stevenson is nowhere near LeBron’s class.)

But the L-Train’s going to want to show something to that young man, and I’ll love watching every minute of it.

Coach Brown is going to have to crunch some numbers when the postseason rolls around. And I think it’s going to come down to playing more than eight guys. Traditional wisdom says that come playoff time, you play your top eight. But if you play eight guys, they’re going to be on a string because you’re going to have at least two more guys who deserve time if they’re able to produce.

It’s a healthy situation because it’s about competition. You go out there and play well – you play. You go out there and play poorly – you sit.

“Good guys” don’t win championships. And by that I don’t mean you want a bunch of “bad guys.” But you have to produce in order to compete for a Championship. That’s just the way it is in life. You don’t deserve anything just because of the name on the back of your jersey.

In playoff time, that means nothing.

I think he can go ten-deep. But those ten will have to realize that minutes are cut down – and you have to produce. That’s the way I see it. And that’s the way I’ve always been taught.

When you get on the floor, you bring it. It’s not time to fool around; it’s time to win a Championship.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jockeying for Position

Hey, Cavs fans! It’s AC – what’s happening?

The Cavaliers definitely struggled through the month of March, and frankly, I’m glad it’s over.

I think basically, it’s been the change of personnel. Our system is set up where you have to not just know the system, but have a good feel for the system. And it’s taken a while for that to happen.

And when you look at the injuries – if you’re going to be together for a while and be a good team, you have to play around 30 games before you have a feel for what’s going on. And that’s basically the situation: we just haven’t had enough continuity to make it work. You see spurts of it, but then somebody gets injured and it slips away.

But time’s running out. So you almost have to force it now; and let’s hope we can get the job done by doing it that way.

Can the Cavaliers still get it done in the postseason? Of course they can. But I think the key is going to be having home court advantage in the First Round. That’s going to be the key to getting us over that hump. I think if we can get past that first series, we’ll be ready to roll. (I should say, if we get through that first series healthy, then we’ll be ready to roll.)

Coach Brown had to make a change after that Detroit game on Saturday, and so far, it’s worked out well. Our problem, I think, is that we come out too player-friendly in the first quarter and we just kind of go through the motions – you can tell by the body language.

I think by inserting Devin Brown into the starting lineup, he changes that dynamic a little. Devin’s the kind of guy who only knows how to play one way – 100 percent. And I think that’s going to create that attitude early in the game, which we need.

Sasha can get his minutes back, but he’s got to earn them, simple as that. That’s what all coaches want. You have to earn your minutes. He’ll just have to focus better, moving forward.

One guy who definitely seems to be picking up his game is Delonte West, who is finally getting back to the aggressive play that I love seeing out of him.

Think about it: what have the Cavaliers been looking for ever since they got LeBron? The “Robin” to go with the “Batman.” We’ve needed someone who can give some balance to LeBron. The other day against Philly, he gave LeBron four or five assists and he scored on four or five shots that LeBron assisted on – and they were key baskets at the right time.

But what I like about Delonte is when he pushes the ball and flattens the defense out. When the defense is flat and you have LeBron or Ben or Z coming in behind that, there’s not much a team can do about it – because now you have some major horses coming at you full-steam.

I would tell Delonte: ‘If you can get to the hoop, get to the hoop and don’t worry about mistakes. He cannot worry about mistakes. This is not a perfect game. Go out and play the game. The more you relax, the better you’ll play. The tighter you are, the worse you’ll play. It’s as simple as that.

And you can see that when he plays like that, he’s so much better. You can see that his defense is already pretty strong, and he gets off his shot very quickly. He’s a solid point guard, but he’s got to be the point guard. He’s got to be the facilitator. He gave LeBron some key baskets; LeBron gave him some key baskets. It’s a good mixture, and the rest of the guys can play off of that.

That’s a nice one-two punch and we’ll need those kinds of combinations down the stretch.

There are seven games left and I think if we win our next two or three, we can lock up the fourth seed. I think if we lose two of these next three, it’s going to be a fight to the finish. The all-important thing at this point in the season is the loss column. And I think we’re up three games on both teams trying to get at us.

But I think with the amount of games we have left, if we win the next three right now, we should be able to close it out.

Actually, I think having to fight for it will re-energize the team. They understand how important it is to have that homecourt advantage. They have to understand how important it is, especially with all the injuries and new players. They’ll need that in the First Round – to get their feet under them and be ready to come out and play in the Second Round.

If any team in the entire NBA understands the importance of seeding, the Cavaliers would be that team. After what happened last year, how that last game changed their fortunes. They got a good seed and by playing well, they were able to run their way to the NBA Finals.

And that should definitely be enough motivation to get them through the final seven games.