Monday, November 29, 2004

Chillin' in LA...seriously

Los Angeles -- Sorry I haven't written in a few days, it has been busy following the Cavaliers. But not as sorry as I am about the weather here in SoCal, where the high is in the 50s and the locals are wearing hats and gloves...though as a hearty Midwesterner I scoff at them.

Heading into tonight's game with Los Clippers, the Cavaliers have put together quite an impressive little November, their best in more than 10 years in fact.

Here's some of the "best ofs" thus far, in my humblest opinion:

Best game: Cavs 114, Suns 109. LeBron scores 19 points in the fourth quarter. Big Z drains 3-pointer to send it to overtime. Carried the Cavs to six straight wins.

Best dunk: C'mon, scroll down, LBJ reigning over Steve Smith in Charlotte.

Best pass: Ilgauskas' no-look, over the head, behind the back, dish to Rob Traylor in the fourth quarter in win over Bulls last Saturday night. Had Tractor finished instead of being fouled, it would've been in SportCenter's Top 10.

Best quote: Boston's Gary Payton to Paul Pierce, trying to call him down before talking to the media after loss to Cavs: "PP, let me holla at you for a hot second." As Bania said to Seinfeld, "That's gold." One wonders if one of Ron Artest's teammates at started a sentence "AT, let me holla..." while he was laying on that scorer's table in Detroit, the NBA might not be in this mess.

Best performance: LBJ going off for 43 on 15-of-22 shooting in a payback game on Larry Brown and the Pistons last week. For the background, check out my Sunday Column.

Biggest surprise: Just how darn good LeBron has been thus far. Read on for more details. That and Jeff McInnis, who is having a career year in a contract year. OK, I guess this technically isn't a "best of."

That's all for now. Feel free to hit me up with some of your Best Ofs or just holla at me for a hot second at bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com.

For more award-losing content, check out my game stories from Cavaliers' victories over the Celtics and the Bulls from last weekend.

Take care all,
Brian




Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving thanks for LeBron

Boston -- Though this may draw a hearty guffaw, those of us in the media really try not to dote. What I mean is, we really don't like to dole out heapings of praise on anyone. Heapings of criticism, sure, but it usually you feel a little queasy extolling a pro athlete to outrageous means because, well, because of Kobe Bryant for example.

That said, it is becoming more challenging by the day to document LeBron James this early in the season. Just on this blog alone in the last few weeks, I've gone on and on. I'm doing it in print as well, as you can read in my game story from Wednesday's 92-76 win over the Pistons. But after seeing him put up 43 points on just 22 shots -- I mean, I remember games when Allen Iverson scored 22 points on like 43 shots -- it makes you dig deeper to relate what you've witnessed.

A beat writer must do everything with totality in mind, which means you have to remember that what your writing today has to be put in tomorrow's perspective. That's a fuzzy explanation, I know, but it basically means you have to be careful ripping a player, especially one who reads your stories, and many do, who could be going crazy in two weeks. And vice versa. In addition, we're still in November and one must remember the dancing doesn't come until May and June.

Yet I find myself constantly seeing new levels from LeBron and being compelled to discuss them, even if it dangers on losing the reader. His performance so far thus season has been unprecedented, which of course comes after his unprecedented rookie season.

So, the deeply buried point: Please excuse we who wax on LeBron. It may become tiresome at times, indeed, but no more tiresome than seeing him continue to post power performances.

Dribbles:
--Check out my version of LeBron's To Do List this week, might make you laugh. Might make you pity me further.
--Anyone notice the irony of LeBron exiting the game with two minutes to play, signaling the end of the game, was the same time Larry Brown brought Darko Milicic into the game?
--Luke Jackson may not have an NBA body yet and still has to work on his game, but I believe you'll start seeing him get more playing time.

Take care all, e-mail me at bwindhor@thebeaconjournal.com if you wish,
Brian

Monday, November 22, 2004

My NY State of Mind

New York -- May I say, with apologies to Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel and the like, that I really don't care for NYC. Somewhere between paying an international-level tariff to cross the Hudson and having my cabbie stop and sell a cell phone left his his cab to some wacko on the street, I was in my usual NY bad mood Sunday. And that was before by $20 roast beef sandwich for lunch.

It seemed it carried over to the Cavaliers, too, as they were lethargic in losing to the Knicks, 98-88. It broke the club's six-game winning streak. There's no real harm in such a loss, going on the road on the second game of a back-to-back is going to produce such results.

However, this is the type of game the Cavaliers are eventually going to have to win. They've already made great strides this season in beating the teams they need to beat. Getting victories over Golden State. Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington may seem routine because the Cavaliers are better, but they lost to a whole bunch of teams they were better than at the start of last season. That overtime victory over Phoenix also showed they could finish what they'd started in the late comeback.

These are growth points for this still young team. Another level -- the level of being not just a winning team but a dominant one -- is to find a way to gut out wins when things aren't going your way or you're tired. The Cavs were down just two points going into the fourth quarter Sunday night but couldn't get the job done.

Not the end of the world, no, but far from the end of this team's maturation.

Dribbles:
--I attended the David Stern press conference at Madison Square Garden before the game. Never have I seen the man more serious. The player's association can fight these suspensions, but I don't see Stern budging an inch.
--For more on the brawl as I saw it, check out my Sunday column.
--Like the Miami Heat before them, the Knicks used sagging zones and extra man-to-man defenders to deny LeBron James Sunday and it worked. Look for this strategy to be employed again and see how James handles it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Able to leap tall defenders in a single bound...

Charlotte, N.C--I've seen LeBron James dunk since he was 14. I've seen hundreds of his games, practices, his dunk contests, his commercials. But I've never seen him throw down a dunk like he did in Thursday night's 106-89 win over the Bobcats.

Those of us in the media don't react when we see high-flying dunks, we're used to seeing them. We see them everyday. But just as everyone at the Charlotte Coliseum was on their feet when James exploded like 14 feet in the air to thrown down an alley-oop from Jeff McInnis, my fellow writers and I were left to just look at each other and exclaim "wow." For those of us who not only take pride in being icy emotionless islands at courtside, but are used to seeing these physical feats from James, that is saying something.

When I looked to my left, I saw Cavaliers' play-by-play man Joe Tait, who has seen 1,000 times more NBA dunks than me, was shaking his head. Cavs TV play-by-play man Michael Reghi was almost out of his seat, extolling him as an airborne ballerina. But none of that affirmed what I just seen was special as something I experienced a few minutes later.

It wasn't until I was walking out of the media room to return to the court after halftime. In the tunnel leading to the floor, a towel draped over his head, LeBron stood and glared at a television showing first half highlights. It was a Bobcats TV feed, so it was showing their exploits from the first 24 minutes. But LeBron was willing to wait for it, he wanted to see it for himself, even though the rest of his team was already on the floor warming up.

Finally, the highlight came. It showed him soaring over Steve Smith not once, but three times. I stood and watched with LeBron, equally interested in seeing the replay. When it was over, he pulled the towel from his head, closed his eyes, and smiled while staring at the ground.

Sometimes he even amazes himself.

--For more, check out Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler's take on the amazing jam.

--Reach me at bwindhorst@thebeaconjournal.com

Take care all,
Brian

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Hugs all around

Everywhere you looked there were hugs at Gund Arena Monday night in the Cavaliers 99-88 victory over the Warriors. Drew Gooden was hugging Zyrdunas Ilgauskas, Robert Traylor was hugging Jeff McInnis and Paul Silas was going around the locker room wrapping people up.

I was taught in kindergarten that there's good hugs and bad hugs. There were some of both this night. Some hot-blooded emotions at the end of the game, which may or may not have been picked up on FSN Ohio's telecast, put a little bit of a damper on the Cavaliers' first over .500 experience since 2001.

With the Cavaliers struggling to take control of the game late, Gooden and McInnis got on a different page during a play and the possession got all messed up. McInnis screamed at Gooden right in front of the bench - and the media members sitting three feet away. Gooden gave him the deer in the headlights look he would give Silas when he'd get benched the first week of the season. The two didn't make much eye contact for the rest of the game.

This is the best and worst of McInnis. He had 20 points, a season-high, in the win and showed great leadership in getting big baskets. But he just has a tendency to whack out sometimes and get under his teammates' skin. He was right, it was Gooden's mistake and it happened at a costly time, but his reaction caused a rift at a time when the team needed to come together. But last Saturday he was like a conductor in brilliantly dishing out 11 assists in the win over Washington.

McInnis has a ton of talent and he's playing the best basketball of his career. His arrival last season started the Cavaliers on the right path. I think he's got a great personality and is a proud man. He's also one of the best actors in the NBA, often getting calls by flailing and screaming. But well all have our little flaws, and his is keeping his composure. And that's is vital for a point guard.

After the game Silas came to the locker room after the players showered - something I don't remember seeing him do before - and grabbed Gooden and McInnis and gave them hugs. Winning can solve lots of things. But if the Cavaliers are going to keep winning, they need McInnis to show all his good sides, not is few bad ones.

On another note, LeBron James' behind-the-back, reverse between the legs dribble (does that even make sense?) and subsequent jumper over Ansu Sesay in the second quarter was one of the most amazing things I've seen him do in his career. Last season there was a drive and dunk over Atlanta's Boris Diaw that was amazing. But nothing overcomes a dunk he had in practice last season when he came from the right wing and jumped over Kevin Ollie's head. There was a television crew there and as soon as the dunk was over - at it was determined James was OK after literally tripping over Ollie's head - they wanted to know if it was on tape. Alas, they were not rolling.

That's all for now. You know the drill, questions and comments to bwindhorst@thebeaconjournal.com.

Take care all,
Brian

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Getting an early read

Surprised the way the Cavaliers dismantled the Wizards 105-74 Saturday? So was I. From where I sat, I wasn't exactly impressed with the guts of the victories over Atlanta and Phoenix earlier this week. They had to go all out to beat the hapless Hawks and, while the comeback against the Suns was inspirational, one must remember what happened to get them down by 19 points.

Last Saturday night as I was sitting in Milwaukee watching the Cavs get hammered by the Bucks, I was wondering what I was thinking when I predicted this team would win 45 games this year. This Saturday, seeing the core players all perform at once, I questioned whether my estimate was low. The truth will unfold as we get a deeper look at this team.

Until then, though, I'm watching some things closely. After six games, here's some things I've noticed that are tells as to what you'll probably see from the Cavs on a given night:

-Jeff McInnis' body language. As J-Mac will be the first to admit, he's cocky and he plays his best when he's running his mouth. But that means he's being active, getting the ball up the floor quickly and making smart decisions. When he's getting it, he can see two or three passes into the future. But sometimes when he isn't getting in the flow, he gets frustrated and holds the ball too long. You can see it by the look on his face. His smack talk also can become patronizing, like Wednesday when he got chippy with the Suns' Steven Hunter even as Hunter was embarrassing the Cavs.

-Drew Gooden's defense. Yes, his rebounding and scoring are more visible. But watch how he guards his man. If he's low, fighting for position and denying, it means he's doing the same going after boards. For more depth on Gooden, check out my Sunday column.

-How many times Zydrunas Ilgauskas hits the floor. I'm sure Gordon Gund cringes every time he hears Z's done it. He was down there three times in the first half Saturday after loose balls. It inspires his teammates.

-Reliance on LeBron's scoring. LeBron is one of the best scorers in the NBA, but when defenses concentrate solely on him, like Miami did in the second game of the season, they can frustrate him and force him to settle for jumpers in traffic (his worst offensive trait). One of the best indications the Cavs were playing well Saturday was they were ahead 28-11 after one quarter and James had just three points.

Thanks for visiting the blog. I'll check back in soon. As always, e-mail questions and comments to bwindhorst@thebeaconjournal.com.

Take care all,
Brian

Friday, November 12, 2004

Welcome to the Blog

Hello Cavaliers fans, avid Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com readers, the bored, and the angry. Some of you may be familiar with the e-mail newsletters my cohorts at the ABJ Terry Pluto and Patrick McManamon have done in the past. Well, this a newer, I hope more cutting edge way to get inside Cavaliers information that you can't get anywhere else.

For starters, my name is Brian Windhorst and simply, I go where the Cavaliers go. I'm at every practice, every game, every day. While my daily stories, notebooks and Sunday columns in the Beacon Journal will provide plenty of news, stats and analysis, this is a forum for information that goes deeper, above and beyond.

I'm going to be more informal and personal here, allowing you to get to know the Cavaliers players, coaches and staff better than conventional newspaper stories allow. From LeBron James to Luke Jackson, from Paul Silas to Stan Kellers (Who's that? Well you'll find out).

I hope you like it and will check back often, I plan on posting every few days or maybe more. Please send feedback at bwindhorst@thebeaconjournal.com, your questions and comments will become a part of the blog.

Take care all,
Brian

Monday, November 08, 2004

Coming soon

Brian Windhorst blogs the Cavs.