Cavaliers 105 – Nuggets 88 [box]
A key part of this road trip was going to be how the Cavaliers could play without their starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Anderson Varejao had filled in admirably to this point, but the Denver Nuggets had a problem finding an answer for Igauskas in the past so if his ankle was well enough to play on Friday, all the better.
And play he did. The big man went from “out” to “doubtful” yesterday morning. And then decided to go from “doubtful” to “Craig Ehlo” in the evening. When you look down the box score, you expect to see two three-point field goals made by Delonte West. However, Ilgauskas was stroking from all over the court, hitting nine of his 14 shot attempts – two of which were from long range. Big Z finished with 23 points in 27 minutes.
Obviously, a huge part of last night’s win was also the play of LeBron James. After shooting the lights out against Minnesota, James picked up right where he left off by draining his first six shots. On the night, he finished at 13-of-20 (along with 7-of-8 from the line) for 33 points. For good measure, LBJ tallied 10 rebounds and eight boards. All of this work is not going unappreciated or unnoticed as ESPN’s Mark Stein claims James as the first “trimester” MVP. I don’t disagree.
The aformentioned Delonte West took things up another notch after providing his Cavalier career-high 21 points against the Timberwolves by finishing with 22 versus the Nuggets. For what it is worth, he also lead the team in +/- with +26.
Though the Nuggets have 17 wins and are a formidable opponent in the West, I’m sure someone will come up with a reason why the Cavaliers are “not as good as they look.” Taking it on the road and handing it to them by 17 points just won’t be enough for some people. This team is not just beating lesser opponents – they are destroying them. A league-leading differential of +13.3 points per game is pretty astounding. The fact that we raised it against the Nuggets, again, is even better.
The team will have to stay focused as they head to Oklahoma City to finish up the road trip before welcoming the Houston Rockets to the Q.