One of my absolute favorite Cavaliers games of all time happened February 22, 2008.
One day earlier, Danny Ferry made one of the biggest and most important trades in team history. He had traded away Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Drew Gooden, Shannon Browns, Ira Newble, and Cedric Simmons for Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, and Joe Smith.
The trade was stunning, and ultimately lead to the most successful run of basketball in team history (in the regular season, anyway). But because Ferry traded away so many rotation guys, it left the Cavaliers a little short handed. You see, Wallace, Szczerbiak, West, and Smith didn’t arrive in Cleveland until literally moments before tipoff.
So the Cavaliers went out against the Washington Wizards, bitter “rivals” at that time, and dressed only 8 players. They started LeBron James, Damon Jones, Devin Brown, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Eric Snow. The only players on the bench were Billy Thomas, Dwayne Jones, and Kaniel Dickens. Dickens and Thomas were signed to a 10 day contract just that day so the Cavs could dress 8.
So what happened? The Cavaliers came out and played one of the best games I’ve ever seen them play. I’ve never seen so much heart and effort. The Cavaliers should have been killed in that game by the Wizards. Instead, Damon Jones went off for 27 points, LeBron put in 33 points, and the Cavaliers squeaked out a 90-89 win. It was a game I will never forget.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, tonight the Cavaliers (16-24, 10th in the East) will be in Milwaukee to take on the Bucks (18-24, 8th in the East), who just traded Stephen Jackson and the injured Andrew Bogut to Golden State for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown. At the time of this writing, none of the new Bucks are expected to play tonight.
It’s not even close to the same situation the Cavaliers faced in 2008, but nevertheless, the situation still reminds me of that night. If Luc Mbah a Moute and Shaun Livingston are unable to play due to injury, the Bucks will be down to Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy Jr, Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden, and Beno Udrih as players who play over 15 minutes per night.
Playing against the team the Cavaliers need to catch to make the playoffs, and catching them short handed, is exactly what the Cavs needed coming off last night’s humiliating loss to the Raptors. The Cavaliers need to bring their typical energy that they often do on the road to this game tonight. They need to be relentless and at least attempt to wear down the Bucks.
The Bucks pulled out a tight 1 point win in overtime last time these teams played. Kyrie Irving didn’t play in that game and Sessions wasn’t particularly effective. It is my opinion that this game will make or break with Kyrie Irving. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but something has been a little “off” with Kyrie ever since All-Star break. I don’t see the same attacking, aggressive style that we used to see. To make matters worse, his shot has been failing him lately. To these eyes, it looks as if Kyrie has lost his confidence a bit.
I look to Kyrie to have a bounce back game tonight. Heading out on the road where there is less pressure will help. Furthermore, Kyrie is just due. The Bucks play great team defense, and they allow Brandon Jennings to be aggressive with the PGs. It’s not all that different from how Mike Brown used to install defense in Cleveland. That can make things challenging for am opposing PG. But sometimes teams can use that aggressiveness against the Bucks, and that’s what I look for Kyrie to do tonight. Again, this is just a hunch, but I think Irving is going to have a bounce back game (you can laugh at me after the game when this doesn’t happen….the jinx is on).
Milwaukee has enough talent and plays smart enough basketball to beat the Cavaliers, even if they are the short handed team tonight. The Cavaliers need to do a much better job rebounding against the Bucks than they did against the Raptors. If they can do that and just manage their turnovers a bit, and Kyrie has said breakout game, then I think the Cavaliers will find a way to win this one on the road.
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