|Cavaliers not defending the way they did during run to NBA finals last season|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 21 December 2007 19:37|
LeBron James may be the early favorite for the MVP award. But nobody on the Cavaliers is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, and that's a problem for a team that isn't an offensive power, even with James' greatness.
It was defense that sent Cleveland to the NBA finals last season, and it's a big reason the Cavs have struggled so much thus far in their quest to get back.
Rarely was that more obvious than in losses at New Jersey and New York in a six-day span. The Cavs allowed the Nets - the NBA's lowest-scoring team - to surpass their season average by nearly 14 points in a 105-97 victory on Dec. 14.
Cleveland returned to the area on Wednesday and watched the Knicks shoot a season-best 56 percent from the field while rolling to a 108-90 victory. An angry Brown noted 90 points should be enough to win, and it often was last season.
``But, we did it against the Nets, we do it tonight. We go against teams that are struggling and we just think it's going to be easy,'' Brown said. ``We think we can show up and we're going to win the game.
``If the guys on our team thought we defended tonight, we're going to be in trouble,'' Brown added in remarks that sounded just like the ones in New Jersey.
The Cavs bounced back with a much stronger effort in a 94-90 victory over the Lakers on Thursday, but the numbers were disappointing through Cleveland's first 27 games - roughly one-third of the season.
Cleveland was letting teams shoot 46.4 percent, better than only three teams. In fact, the Cavs were tied with defensively challenged Golden State and worse than Phoenix, another team that isn't known for digging in on the defensive end.
The Cavs were yielding 100.8 points per game. Last season, they limited teams to 92.9 points and 44.8 percent shooting, ranking in the top 10 in both categories.
Injuries and holdouts have prevented the Cavs from putting their preferred rotation on the floor on a regular basis. Once they can, perhaps they can return to the level they played at in 2006-07.
``We've had a lot of guys that missed training camp. We had a lot of injuries,'' James said. ``It's been a challenge for us to get back into the mode that we were in last year when we were hitting our stride. We've got to come together, find out what the problem is and continue to play.''
HANDS-ON JORDAN: Charlotte Bobcats first-year coach Sam Vincent was running practice Tuesday when a six-time NBA champion walked through the door.
Michael Jordan, the team's part-owner and the guy who hired Vincent, had watched practice before. But this time he was dressed to work out, and did some conditioning drills on the side as the Bobcats ran the floor.
Then Jordan asked for some practice gear. Jordan returned - with a piece of tape hiding the Adidas logo on the Bobcats' warmup jersey - and Nike's most famous spokesman jumped into a drill.
Jordan took over practice of his struggling team, going one-on-one with players and showing that at 44, he still has his jump shot.
``It was a workshop this week because I felt like they needed it,'' Jordan said. ``They were getting at a point, where they just could not get over the hump.''
With the Bobcats having dropped 10 of 12 games entering the week, Jordan decided to get involved, sitting in on a film session a day before he practiced.
``If you go out tomorrow and do the same thing, you can care less if I come here and hang out with you,'' said Jordan, who has the final say on all personnel decisions. ``But if you take what I said and my actions of being around and put it to good use, then it's a tool we can revisit quite often, but if there are not results, don't use it as an excuse.''
The immediate results were good. A night later, the Bobcats' big guns of Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson and Raymond Felton helped Charlotte rally from a 12-point deficit with under 6 minutes left in a 98-92 win over Utah.
So maybe Jordan will become more involved. But could that lead to some awkwardness for Vincent, who played with Jordan briefly in Chicago?
``Absolutely not. I welcome it,'' said Vincent, whose previous NBA coaching experience consisted of one year as an assistant in Dallas. ``The challenge for me as a coach is to work around it, not to lose the message I'm trying to get to the guys for that day.
``When he all of a sudden comes in and wants to be involved, there's a tremendous value in it. I don't see it as a distraction or a negative.''
FOUR MORE YEARS? Isiah Thomas celebrates four years in New York this weekend. And while the ``Fire Isiah!'' cries aren't about to be replaced by chants of ``Four more years,'' Thomas says he has support in the city.
It's hard to find these days.
With the Knicks falling into last place, on the heels of an embarrassing loss in a sex harassment suit against Thomas and Madison Square Garden, the coach is booed during home games. The chants for his dismissal usually follow.
Some fans went a step further this week, holding a protest rally in which they carried a giant pink slip. But Thomas doesn't think that's how everyone in the Big Apple feels about him.
``Believe it or not, there are more supporters that are pretty silent and don't have the outlet that some of your critics have,'' he said. ``That's the way it's been with me since I stepped on the stage at 16, 17 years old. And that's part of sports, that's part of being in this arena. Some people like you and some people don't. Some people support you, some people don't. But that won't stop or deter me from doing what I came here to do.''
He hasn't done it yet.
Thomas arrived as team president on Dec. 22, 2003, taking on a second role when he became the coach in June 2006. The Knicks have made only one playoff appearance, getting swept by the Nets in '04, while Thomas has assembled a high-priced roster with big names who haven't always fit together.
Thomas calls trying to win in New York the toughest challenge in sports, and he's found some days to be tougher than others.
``You have your days where you kind of feel a little sorry for yourself, but then you got to pick yourself up rather quickly and kick yourself in the tail and say you got to get in there and fight,'' Thomas said. ``And that's what I do and that's all I know.''
Though the record doesn't show it, Thomas insists he's improved the state of the franchise.
``I do think our future is brighter now than when I came four years ago, that's for sure,'' he said.
CHRISTMAS PLAY: As a kid, Dwyane Wade always looked forward to the NBA's Christmas Day games. And as a player, he still relishes being part of them.
Wade and the Heat will visit Cleveland on Christmas afternoon, marking the fourth straight year - all since the arrival of Shaquille O'Neal in Miami - that the Heat will be part of the NBA's Dec. 25 showcase lineup.
``I still enjoy playing in it because it's a big game and a big day,'' Wade said. ``I'd enjoy it more if we were in Miami instead of going to Cleveland, but you enjoy playing on the bigger stage. So you go out there and try to give it your all.''
Wade is 3-0 on Christmas; he's averaged 29 points on the holiday, helping the Heat beat the Los Angeles Lakers each previous season.
``Once the ball goes up, it's not even about Christmas,'' Wade said. ``It's about winning that ballgame. And afterward, it's about Christmas again.''
Even for the teams not playing, Christmas can be a work day for NBA clubs - as Antoine Walker has found out.
Walker was with the Heat for two of those Christmas games. He was traded during this year's training camp to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
``I liked playing on Christmas, personally. I thought it was a lot of fun being on the national stage,'' Walker said. ``The game is big. Everybody's at home. I'd rather be playing. We've got to travel that day. We're flying to Oakland that day. So I'd rather be in the other situation.''
The Phoenix Suns visit the Lakers, and Seattle travels to Portland in the other Christmas games. The latter was supposed to mark the first pro meeting of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, but the Trail Blazers center needed microfracture knee surgery in the preseason.
DIRTY DANCING: Dance-Cam, a staple of some timeouts during many NBA games, can become pretty mundane. Young kids jiggling and shaking, or old, overweight men trying to bust a move to some catchy tune like ``Cotton-Eye Joe.''
But the Memphis Grizzlies ended up with a little spice added during Monday night's game with Golden State.
As the camera panned the crowd, it focused on a woman in her mid- to late-20s going through her steps. Suddenly, she reached for her shirt and pulled it up, flashing the crowd and sending a definite shock through the FedExForum before the camera went to the next dancer.
Surprisingly, police and arena security did not go rushing to the woman and escort her out. Instead, after a few minutes, she left on her own, beer in hand.
Team officials said the woman was arrested as she left the arena and banned from the building for future events.
AP Sports Writers Mike Cranston in Charlotte, N.C. and Tim Reynolds in Miami, and AP freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tenn. contributed to this report.