With the Cavaliers locking up home court advantage throughout the playoffs, they have used the last two weeks to rest rather than to work on certain issues. While one of these “issues” may have not been able to be tuned due to medical reasons, there are three things that I think will be worth watching when the Cavs take the floor this Saturday afternoon:
He gets a bullet point all to himself, and for good reason. O’Neal injured his thumb on February 25th against the Boston Celtics. In that game, the Cavaliers were getting embarrassed on both ends of the floor through the first two quarters. Without O’Neal in the second half, the Cavs managed to outscore the Celtics 50-32. Prior to resting LeBron James at the end of the season, the Cavs went on to go 16-3 without the veteran big man.
Not only has O’Neal been cleared, but he will be the starting center on Saturday. He has only had a handful of practices and has yet to play with both Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Antawn Jamison in the lineup. How Mike Brown handles this will be something to watch. Where does JJ Hickson come in? He was the starting center for the last few weeks and played very well. How plays coming off of the bench will also be key as he tends to be a different player when starting.
The team will be running a completely different pace than they have for the last seven weeks – one that was working very well. Whether or not they can revert back will be very interesting.
Mike Brown has been known as a defensive head coach. Well, this defensive head coach has seen his team give up nearly 100 points in three quarters against the Boston Celtics. He has seen them give up at least 99 points in five of the last six games.
Having true big men like Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas leaves Cleveland very vulnerable to the pick and roll. Anderson Varejao is one of the best pick and roll defenders in the entire league, but can be overmatched against centers like Dwight Howard – who the Cavaliers will likely see assuming both teams make it to the eastern conference finals.
The last five post-game interviews with Mike Brown saw the coach voice his displeasure on weak-side help as well as middle drives and kick-outs. Anyone that watched last season’s playoffs saw what Orlando was able to do via both mediums and will likely try to replicate this throughout the game. The Cavs will need to get back to what they do best by playing better defense against teams that will likely be a lot quicker in the post.
Mo Williams and Delonte West were one of the smaller backcourts in the postseason last year. The Cavaliers went out and added Anthony Parker who has filled in admirably. But there are still games where these three refuse to attack the rim and rely on mid-range jump shots. If the latter starts to occur, the Cavaliers will be in trouble.
Sure, Williams is one of the better three-point shooters in the game. But if he is not hitting his shots, he tends to get mentally roughed up on the defensive end. If he attacks the rim, draws in defenders and is able to find an open big man, he will be a lot better off, likely making the team that much better as well.
Also with regard to the backcourt, fans should keep an eye on Delonte West’s court date – stemming from his weapons-related incident in Maryland – as it is set for April 16th. If West and Prince George’s County are unable to meet a plea bargain, West may be forced to attend court and could face a suspension by the league. This could provide huge implications for the first round or two of the playoffs.
Obviously, there will be other hurdles that the Cavaliers will overcome, but these three stand in the forefront of what may make or break the 2010 “All Together” Cavs postseason.
For more of Scott’s coverage of the Cleveland Cavaliers check out Waiting For Next Year.