After four regular season games, the jury is still out on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Following the team's much-anticipated home opener that resulted in a disappointing loss to the Boston Celtics, the squad traveled north of the border for what many thought would be a great opportunity to even the slate and work out any bugs left from the offseason.
The result was an even more disheartening effort as the Cavs were dismantled by the Raptors, 101-91.
Questions that were on the minds of Cleveland fans and the media alike (Was the addition of Shaquille O'Neal really an upgrade? What's going on with the offense—and defense? Why do Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas share so much time on the floor?) grew into deeper, much more serious concerns after the Toronto mishap.
The next few days saw the Cavs turn things around swiftly.
The Cavs also got consistent shooting from the likes of Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson. The production of those two guards is going to be a crucial storyline to watch throughout the season, as Gibson has been remarkably streaky in his young career and Williams was an absolute ghost in last season's playoffs.
These two contests, albeit against more inferior competition than was seen in the season's first two games, also resulted in big wins for the club. At least one blowout victory was needed over the weekend to pacify the Cleveland faithful.
Finally—and arguably most importantly—Saturday's Halloween matchup against the Bobcats saw the return of the much maligned but sorely missed guard, Delonte West.
West entered the contest under a standing ovation and started exactly where he left off last season: playing dogged defense, facilitating the offense, and making great off-dribble moves to the hoop.
West's personal issues (depression/bipolar disorder that kept him out of every preseason game, a weapons charge stemming from an incident in Maryland over the summer—which will more than likely result in an NBA suspension—and now a domestic dispute involving his wife) can't be overlooked. But in the meantime, seeing No. 13 on the floor is an absolute blessing.
While both the season and his tenure with the Cavaliers are young, guard/forward Anthony Parker has been a bit disappointing thus far.
Parker has frequently wasted possessions with deep, contested jump shots and fade aways and hasn't displayed the defensive pressure on tall, capable shooters that was advertised upon his signing with the Cavs.
This kind of perimeter lockdown defense on lanky shooters will absolutely have to become a strength for Cleveland if it hopes to have a shot at the title in '10. While West and Williams play outstanding overall defense, they simply lack the size and length to defend the Rashard Lewises and Hedo Turkoglus of the NBA.
To his credit, Parker has been playing an unusually high number of minutes thus far due to West's absence. Parker should continue to start for the foreseeable future until West catches up (after the Bobcats game, though, it doesn't look like he really needs to) with the rest of the squad.
Parker's also playing in a different system, so his comfort with the Cavs on both ends of the floor should become more evident over the next few games.
Once West is able to start again, bringing Parker off the bench should help the Cavs maintain a good rhythm and apply the strong defensive presence they displayed last year.
With West's future (as far as this season is concerned) blurry, the Cavs need to play him as much as possible while they can, not only to help win games, but to allow Parker and fellow new Cavalier Jamario Moon time to develop within the Cleveland rotation.
The Cavaliers' offense has been incredibly stagnant at times this year, so the quicker Parker and Moon learn and mesh into the Cavs' system, the better.
This week brings a couple very tough tests at home for the Cavaliers, as the rejuvenated Wizards and young, tough Bulls come to Cleveland. These matchups should serve as great measuring stick games and give the Cavs all they can handle.
In the meantime, if the Cavs want to get back into a winning flow, they'll need to cherish their Halloween treat as much as they can.
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