Cracks in the Armor?

Wizards 80, Cavaliers 77 (Box Score)

Up until the final three seconds, it looked like the Cavs might pull a redux of their Christmas Night performance against these same lowly Wizards, having clawed their way back from a 16-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. The Cavs’ defense was suffocating; the Wizards were imploding. The game was tied at 77.

And then, much like they had at various points of the afternoon, the Cavs fell asleep on defense and gave Antawn Jamison a wide-open look that resulted in a 79-77 Wizards lead with 10+ seconds left. And then, much like they had at various points in the afternoon, the Cavs offense gave the ball to LeBron, stopped moving, and watched him try to drive on the entire Wizards’ team. And then, much like Wizards fans claim he always does, LeBron took about 3 full steps and made a lay-up.

Traveling. Game over.

This game was ugly for the Cavaliers. They are clearly missing the inside presence of Z on the blocks, as they were out-rebounded 52-35, including an edge of 19-9 for the Wizards on the offensive glass. The Cavs held the Wizards to 41% shooting, including only 2-of-10 from distance, but allowed far too many second-chance points (20). As Austin Carr kept pointing out, they were relying on their athleticism to get the rebounds, instead of squarely putting bodies on Wizards to keep them off the glass.

But, this game was ugly on both sides of the court for Cleveland. By the third quarter, the offense looked abysmally stagnant. They’ve regressed to the point of last year where when times get tough, instead of sticking to what has worked for the first two months of the season, they panic, pass the ball sheepishly around the perimeter, and jack up bad shots. The Cavs were shooting over 50% at the half, and were only down four. By the end of the third quarter, they were down 14 (!!) after scoring only 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting from the floor. They finished the game shooting under 40%, and were 7-for-26 from distance. 26 three-point attempts!!! The Cavs also finished with 17 turn-overs for the game, resulting in 19 points-off-turn-overs for Washington. If you’re scoring at home, that would be 39 points that the Cavs all but gift-wrapped for the Wiz.

Now, we Cavs fans could crack jokes about the fact that the Wizards’ interim coach reportedly wrote “REDEMPTION!” on the dry-erase board in their locker room for this game (seriously? This one game somehow erases not only three straight years of playoff losses, but also the fact that your team has 5 fewer wins THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE CONFERENCE??), but there are bigger issues afoot here.

Frankly, it was a miracle that the Cavs had a shot to send this game to OT with 10 seconds left.  With just under seven minutes left in the game, they were still down 12 and looking completely lifeless. Cavs fans have criticized Mike Brown’s coaching in the past, but he deserves a tiny bit of credit for getting the team back into this game. With 6:33 left in the fourth quarter, Caron Butler turned the ball over, and Mo Williams passed to LeBron on the break. In what appeared to be a horrible, horrible call (and the third offensive foul on the Cavs in the quarter), Mike James slid in front of LeBron on his way to the rack, was NOT square, drove his shoulder into LeBron’s chest, and somehow drew the charge. Mike Brown not only managed to get himself ejected, but probably displayed more anger and emotion in doing so than I can remember ever seeing from him. He ran far past the time line, and had to be physically restrained by two members of his staff. “Mike Brown is our leader,” LeBron said afterward. “We all respect what he did; it was a stand-up move for us. … Sometimes you look for a teammate to make a play to fire you up; every now and then a coach can fire you up. We’re not saying we want Mike Brown to get thrown out if we’re flat or not making shots. We’re not saying that. But sometimes you need a coach to do something, and that definitely fired us up.”

After the ejection, Butler made 1-of-2 from the line, and then the Cavs went OFF. A 19-6 run over the next five and a half minutes drew them even at 77. The teams traded misses over the next two possessions, setting up the final two possessions that resulted in the Jamison bucket and the LeBron traveling call. Butler made one free-throw to set the final score, as a LeBron three-point heave at the buzzer went begging. 77 points is the Cavs’ season-low, and sadly comes just one game after scoring 117 against Chicago on Friday night.

There are two fairly large elephants in the room in the aftermath of this game that I feel need to be discussed. The first is the re-emergence of the Cavs’ stagnant offense. Without Ilgauskas, the Cavs obviously have much less interior scoring. But, we’ve seen that Anderson Varejao can pick up some of the slack when given the ball. On Sunday, he had only 9 shots in 40 minutes of PT, and scored only 10 points. Rookie JJ Hickson got 18 minutes of action, but he himself only took six shots in that time. Darnell Jackson did not play.

The Cavs are hurting inside without Z, but in this game they seemingly chose not to try to continue to work inside with what they DO have. Varejao has shown an improved enough offensive game down low that if he’s going to be the starting center next to the offensively-challenged Ben Wallace, the Cavs are going to have to try to move the ball through him with almost as much committment as they do when Big Z is in there. If there’s no forcing of opposing defenses to collapse on the paint, we’re back to moving the ball around the perimeter and hoisting bad jumpers. It also did not help yesterday that the Cavs of old showed up at the free throw line, as the team shot just under 61% from the line (14-23). Even Mo Williams missed a free throw.

The other problem that seems to be creeping in is one that I have always taken issue with. Ever since LeBron has arrived in Cleveland, there is one aspect of his game that I simply cannot stand, and that seems to get worse as he’s gotten older and more “established” in the league. Let’s all face it: LeBron is a big WHINER.

LeBron has never committed a foul in his NBA career, as is evident from the fact that every time he’s whistled for one he scrunches his face up and stomps around like a petulant child. LeBron has never missed a lay-up in his NBA career, as is evident from the fact that every time a lay-up doesn’t go in, he puts his arms out and looks for the nearest officials.

This is hardly unique to LeBron, but as the best player in the NBA, I want him to let some of this crap go and JUST PLAY HIS GAME. But, he is incapable of doing so:

Bad call. We all make mistakes, and I think I got the wrong end of the bargain. I watched it 10 times after the game, and it was clearly a good play. … You have your trademark play, and that’s one of my plays. It kind of looks like a travel because it’s slow, and it’s kind of a high-step, but it’s a one-two just as fluent as any other one-two in this league. I got the wrong end of it, but I think they need to look at it — and they need to understand that’s not a travel. It’s a perfectly legal play, something I’ve always done.

While I won’t disagree with those last four words, I’m afraid that LeBron’s ego is getting the better of him here. While he may call it a “crab dribble” (WTF is a crab dribble?), he traveled. He turned the corner, and took two steps and a jump. If he had landed on both feet before jumping for the shot, he could at least use a jump-stop argument. I myself have never heard of a “crab dribble”. I actually yelled at the TV, “Shut up, LeBron! You traveled!” as he argued the call all the way back down the floor for the 20 seconds after the call. His mouth echoed the refrain of “Bad call” visibly on the HD coverage as he was talking to the officials. And, in the AP recap, LeBron even pointed out that he thought he was fouled on the shot he took–AFTER traveling.

No one can argue that the officiating in the NBA is perfect; far from it. It’s a league of stars, and stars get calls. That includes LeBron. He gets more calls than many players (including his 4-point play in this game where Caron Butler got called for a ticky-tack hand-check on LeBron as he hoisted a three that somehow went in). He needs to learn to realize that he is already getting preferential treatment because of who he is, and to stop crying after what he feels are calls he should be getting but doesn’t and/or fouls he commits.

In discussing it this morning, RockKing agreed: “The thing I dislike about this Cavs team in general, more than anything, is all the incessant whining over calls. They’re not doing themselves any favors and they’re starting to lose most of the borderline calls that could go either way because the officials are sick of it, too.” LeBron isn’t alone. Anderson Varejao has his own reputation not only for flopping, but for doing the palms up “who, me?” routine after every call.

This Cavs team is better than that, and should play like it. But, even more basic than that, they should get back to playing the game they were playing before they lost Ilgauskas. They’re going to have to try, if they want to continue to hang around with the likes of the Celtics for the long haul.

  • http://web.me.com/dennymayo/Dennis_and_Kate/Dennis_Blog/Dennis_Blog.html IRB?

    Well said sir.

    Watched the game on CSN yesterday here in DC and they had an interview with Antawn Jamison about the “rivalry”. He said stuff along the lines of “we hate them and their fans, and they hate us and our fans” – which I have a large amount of disagreement with, as I think it’s one sided. THEN he said “I think this rivalry is at the same level as UNC/Duke because every time out we all give it our all, but still respect the other team at the end of the day”. He ABSOLUTELY slighted the UNC/Duke rivalry with that statement. I was shocked.

    The biggest gripe I heard about LeBron when we went to the playoffs last year in DC was his whining. It’s true – it’s horrendous. A man that big should not whine so much. Andy is pretty bad too.

    PS The ad for the Bachelor right above the reply menu is creeping me out.

  • MacNip

    I am cool with Lebron voicing his opinion, especially in games like yesterday where the one official seemed to almost have a personal vandetta against him

  • Jay

    I agree. Good article. LeBron definetley traveled. I screamed at the tv too. I’ve been telling people for weeks now, the Cavs, I love them, but JESUS do they cry about fouls/non-calls. Varejao is my favorite player. Always has been since he came here. But he needs to quit worrying about getting the foul called on him, get your but back down the floor, and play some ball. Yesterday’s game was an abomination to watch, although the 4th was exciting. If they come out of the gate that lame, forget about Boston, Charlotte’s gonna beat them.

  • Chris M

    Mac, I think the point was more about his career than yesterday. I’m definitely a little tired of James not taking credit for one foul. He could throw his arm up once in a while, and admit to something, But he doesn’t.

    Also, nice point IRB. That is a little surprising considering he went to Carolina.

  • kevin

    I’ve always said if you leave it in the refs’ hands at the end of the game, you deserve what you get.

    the Cavs should have crushed the wiz and not even been in that situation at the end.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    Jay, in a way, I’m hoping losing yesterday might have been good for them. If they had pulled out the win, they might be less inclined to look at how they’ve been playing over the past couple of weeks, because if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Hopefully it was a wake-up call to lose to a team with 6 wins.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    DP – I was just about to say the same thing. They need big time wake-up call…

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    kevin,
    Couldn’t agree more. That’s one of the main reasons I’m miffed that LeBron spent so much time discussing the travel call after the game. How about the 15 MISSED SHOTS IN THE THIRD QUARTER, LEBRON??

  • http://bulletsforever.com JakeTheSnake

    Not gonna lie, I thought the Redemption thing was incredibly lame. Maybe if he was talking about redemption from Friday’s game against the Celtics I could see it, but one shorthanded regular season win doesn’t make up for thee straight years of playoff losses and being 7-25, but whatever gets ‘em going I guess.

  • B-bo

    It’s games like this that illustrate why I’ve been of the Winston Wolfe school of thought when it comes to this team: they haven’t accomplished anything yet. A good first few months of regular season basketball does not make them champs. The best teams are, first and foremost, the ones that take care of the teams they should beat, and I don’t know that the Cavs are there yet. The season is a marathon, and sustaining effort is key. I understand the role injuries can play in all this, but the wiz are not a team that should remotely bother a Cavs team playing with focus and fire. And yes, the C’s and Lakers have also fallen to weak teams at times this year, and yes, the Cavs do have the potential to be a title team. But the whining, mental errors, and lack of hustle at times are all reason for concern.

  • AMC

    Just a brutal game to watch, and I too was watching in DC on CSN so I had to put up with the Wizards homerism on top of the Cavs dismal performance. I am in total agreement that the whining needs to stop – in addition to LeBron and Andy, Z is a major culprit when he’s healthy too. It’s one of those things though that’s going to be up to LeBron to stop – he’s the team leader and needs to set the right tone of professionalism. As for his supposed “crab dribble” – it was most definitely traveling, though it was arguably less egregious than the non-travel call the Wizards are still smarting about from the playoffs a couple of years ago.

    I have to say I wasn’t as disappointed with the offensive performance as DP and even Windy was in today’s PD. I agree they jacked WAY too many 3 pointers, but it seemed to me like the vast majority of those shots were very good looks, in some cases wide open looks as the result of good ball movement. My big problem with the offense right now is that LeBron and sometimes Mo are the only ones who seem to want to get into the lane anymore. All of our guards and Wally stand on the wing while Andy just sets screens over and over. What happened to Mo being the primary ball handler? In the second half yesterday, LeBron was on the ball WAY too much. The offense runs a lot better through Mo, and when he’s out, through Delonte.

    As for the defense, it’s completely unacceptable that the Wizards got so many second chance points on the offensive glass. Until the 4th quarter, they were just outhustled. There’s definitely been some cracks in the armor here, but this team is still a very good one when they’re completely focused. Focus has always been a problem with these Cavs teams, which I think reflects poorly on LeBron more than anything else.

  • AMC

    One more thing – Pavolvic is becoming completely useless. The guy can’t play D, can’t shoot, and can’t get into the lane. He’s making it hard for Mike Brown to justify giving him subsantial minutes.

  • Boomhauer

    It was strange to read the Cavs complaining about the officials because they’ve been a “no excuses” team for most of the Ferry/Brown era. I wonder if the fast start has given them a sense of entitlement that is changing that “no excuse” mantra.

  • Swig

    OMG THE CAVS LOSE TO A SUB 500 TEAM?!?!? THE SKY IS FALLING!!!!!!

    This team is absolutely a title contender. Look around the league and tell my how many teams you FEAR in a 7 games series vs the cavs? There isn’t a single team that a series against is un-winnable, and none of those teams want to play Cleveland either.

    You what this team IS NOT? One of the best teams ever. It is also not an unbeatable juggernaut. Please stop confusing this with the ability to win it all.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    In the league? How about just in the East:

    Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Orlando

    If they play continually like they have been, any of those four could easily take a 7-game series from them.

  • Swig

    Do you honestly expect the cavs to have a 90%+ chance to win every series?

    Detroit and Orlando would both be great series. If our all-star center is injured and we play terrible basketball, then yes we could lose to Detroit and Atlanta.

    My obfuscated point: The cavs have the best start in franchise history and all people want to talk about is why they won’t win.

    Cleveland fans are the new poster board emo fans since Philly finally won something.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Rick

    Let’s not miss the point here…

    If the Cavs play offense the way they did Sunday…they will not go to the Finals.

    If the Cavs don’t rebound better than they did on Sunday…they will not go to the Finals.

    Are they capable of bouncing back and playing like they did at the beginning of the season? Of course. Absolutely.

    Am I tired of seeing the Cavs complain about every call that is made against them? Absolutely. Even when we win.

  • David

    LeBron gets star treatment? seriously? the same dude that gets held onto every time he drives to the basket and still doesnt get the call? Kobe and D-Wade get the calls if someone is within three feet of them. LeBron consistently has to deal with fouls simply because he is bigger than everyone.

    dont blame LeBron for the officials sucking

  • DCBucks

    I agree LeBron has some issues with whining, but to be fair there isn’t another player in the league that gets as much contact as LeBron. Just breath on Wade, Arenas, Bryant, or Paul and the whistle blows. NBA officials are notorious for anticipating calls and playing favorites.

    Regardless, no way should a game against the Wizards have to come down to an officials call. They didn’t come to play.

  • Tim

    LeBron gets the short end of a lot of calls and has fouls not called on him because he’s so much bigger and stronger than almost everyone on the court. Wade, Paul, Kobe, Pierce, etc. are smaller and get knocked down a lot more, making it seem like the contact was worse. LeBron knocks defenders down or bounces off contact, resulting in offensive fouls or non-calls. He does whine sometimes, but certainly not on every single call. Way to overly generalize.

  • The Bambino

    I was actually embarrassed to be a Cavs and LBJ fan when I heard his post-game “explanation” as to why the referees didn’t let him take 3 1/2 steps at the end of a close game. Seriously LeBron, I know that neither you or the President Elect can do anything wrong, but c’mon man…

  • eshaw

    as to LeBron winning… he gets hacked a lot more than other stars in the leauge and a lot of times doen’t get the call, but as you stated he needs to stop crying about it ALL the time, even if his point is valid. Andy is the one who should never say a word esp since he has a rep as a flopper and is a roll player in the NBA he just isnt gonna get calls against most of the players he’s guarding. I just hope the Cavs aren’t getting that big head metality wherre they think they can just roll into Washington show up and get a W. They need to have a sense of urgancy all year long just like Boston did last year, I know it’s a long season and I’m sure it’s hard to keep it up every night esp when you see that Mike James and McGuire are guarding you all night ( the Wiz are pathethic btw!!)
    I’ve liked all the moves Ferry has done recently but I’m really hoping he goes out and gets another solid scoring big b/c even though I like Hickson’s talent, he’s just too raw to be getting crucial minutes against Boston, LA, etc. on a chapionship caliber team.
    Lets try to take advantage next time Boston loses and we play a team with a 25% win clip!!

  • http://www.dailycleveland.com Brian

    Love this article. I’ve been noticing this whining a lot more recently — especially because Mo Williams is, at least in the games I’ve watched, remarkably composed (comparably). I also noticed it during the Heat double-header — when Dwayne Wade fouls, he puts up his arm, takes credit for the foul, and keeps playing basketball. Come on Cavs, PLEASE don’t make us “that whiny team”…

    On another note, man is this a great season so far. Lot of intensity (not as much in the first three quarters as I’d always hope…) and a lot of great moments. Hopefully we can plug the Z hole for now and keep on going.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    “LeBron consistently has to deal with fouls simply because he is bigger than everyone.”

    So did Shaq in his prime. He never complained about it as much as LeBron does.

  • Hoy

    I think what hes saying is Lebron’s size leads to alot of contact, which the refs tend to let go as non-calls because of Lebron’s size.

    Shaq’s size created even more contact, however it got him alot of calls, the guy just couldn’t make a free throw, so defenses didn’t really care how much Shaq got to the line. If Shaq had even been a 70% free throw shooter he would’ve been called out for the “all-star” treatment alot more.

    @AMC, Pavlovic is the second best perimeter defender on the team (behind D west who is outstanding given his height), he constantly has to come off the bench and take on the toughest outside match up night in night out and does a solid job. His offense may never develop (I’ve given up hope) but you don’t earn minutes on Mike Brown’s team without playing tough on D, and Pavlovic gets minutes for it. He iced Redd for the entire 4th quarter last time we were in Milwaukee.

  • Hoy

    Adendum, I still think Lebron complains too much, I just disagree with the Shaq comparison

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