Chosen by almost everyone as a legitimate title contender heading into this year, the Cavs have tumbled to a 4-3 record and have already suffered as many home losses (two) as they did during the entire '08-'09 campaign.
It's still not clear whether chemistry is what's preventing Cleveland from regaining its dominant form, since other big problems (rotation issues, offensive lifelessness, defensive lapses, rebounding troubles, etc.) have arisen and made the Cavalier faithful sick with worry.
The offense hasn't been consistent in any sort of way. Some nights, actual plays are run (novel idea, huh?), off-ball movement is not only seen, but is effective, and team passing and shooting are on target.
Other nights, the Cavs stubbornly revert to watching LeBron James and/or O'Neal as they take on four defenders by themselves before heaving a field goal attempt at the rack.
Defensively, the Cavs' mastery of the rebounding game has disappeared in the wake of the team's mediocre start (Cleveland is averaging 41.9 boards per game, while opponents are snagging 41.1 per contest), while opponents have frequently been able to infiltrate the usually solid Cleveland defense on their way to easy buckets.
Amid all these problems has been one of the Cavs' only constant positives: the play of power forward Anderson Varejao.
Varejao, affectionately known as "the wild thing" by Cavalier fans, has buttered his bread in the Association with all-out hustle, ferocious rebounding, and never-back-down defense.
It's this style of play (the same that makes other fans loathe the Brazilian) that has endeared Varejao with the blue-collar fans in Cleveland since his arrival with the squad in 2004.
These characteristics, along with his ever-churning motor, have helped Varejao develop into one of Cleveland's lone bright spots early this season. So far, Varejao is averaging an attention-worthy 8.6 points along with a stellar 9.4 rebounds this year.
In the month of November (three games), he's posted nightly averages of 10 points (double-digit scoring is outstanding for someone with offensive ability as raw as Varejao's) and 12.3 boards—monstrous numbers for a guy whose real impact doesn't show up on the stat sheet.
Despite recently being relegated to head coach Mike Brown's bench (Brown is now "experimenting" with starting the promising youngster, J.J. Hickson), Varejao will continue to receive starter's minutes and be a consistent double-double threat.
It should be interesting to see how Varejao develops with the second unit, as much of his offensive production is the result of how well he and James work the pick-and-roll (the majority of Varejao's points are direct results of insanely beautiful passes from James).
However, if Varejao continues his tireless play and fierce defense (both of which are virtual certainties), his addition to the Cavs' bench should give that group a much-needed spark. Playing well without James on the floor is absolutely integral to the Cavs contending in the Eastern Conference this season.
Despite how well Varejao has played this year, his contributions have largely gone unnoticed. The Cavs have, for the most part, failed to live up to the titanic expectations set upon them at the season's opening, and the attention of fans and the media alike has been drawn away from Varejao's outstanding play.
It's hard to believe that the most productive year from a guy with a Sideshow Bob haircut is being overlooked.
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