The pre-season in the NBA means nothing. Wins and losses don’t count, and players are even less intense than during the sometimes halfhearted regular season contests.
Tuesday night was the first opportunity to see most of the Cavs roster intact and playing close to normal minutes. The only rotational player who was held out was sixth-man Antawn Jamison as the Cavs downed the Sixers, 111-95.
After watching this meaningless contest, I became more optimistic about the Cavaliers chances to be competitive and make a run at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Maybe my hopefulness was enhanced because of the depressing Ohio State loss and the Browns struggles, but it’s possible that I actually liked what I saw.
During the game, I got a much better grip on this team. I compiled this list of key factors for the Cavs’ success in 2010-11:
Run Like The Wind
I love Head Coach, Byron Scott’s, up-tempo offense and think this will give the team the best chance to flourish.
One concern was if the players would adjust to the tempo. They haven’t only adjusted—they seem to relish the opportunity to run as often as possible.
The Cavs will win or lose games based on how successfully they can run the fast-break and get high-percentage shots. J.J. Hickson, who had 22 points and 11 boards, will be the main benefactor of this because of his running and dunking athleticism.
Returning from an ankle injury, it appears that Anderson Varejao's flying around fits in perfectly, as he played like he had never missed a beat, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The guard play will of course be crucial to how well the Cavs execute in transition, and Mo Williams, Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson all look plenty capable. Boobie looked especially comfortable in the offense. It had been assumed that he couldn’t dribble, but he pushed the pace and found the open big man, along with knocking down his threes.
The hope is that the Cavs’ up-tempo pace will help them wear down opponents throughout the course of the game. As long as they cash in on the chances that they have to run, they will stay competitive every night.
Although the “Quitness” is gone, there is one thing about him that Cavs fans certainly won’t miss: watching numerous possessions where he would hold the ball on the perimeter for 20 seconds before taking an off-balance shot or passing to somebody else for a challenged shot.
I called that phenomenon “LeBron ball.”
Now the Cavs are faced with a different problem: who can create in the half-court?
Much of the team had been designed to spot up and knock down open looks that the talented guy in South Beach created for them. Without him, the Cavs had multiple sloppy possessions in the half-court on Tuesday.
The good thing is that there are a lot of cuts and movement in Scott’s Princeton offense, so somebody is bound to get open. It won’t be the stand-around-and-wait offense of “LeBron ball.”
Williams and Jamison will be important creators in the half-court. Although there hasn't been any evidence of it yet, hopefully, J.J. Hickson will soon show that he can create his own shot.
The answer to the half-court conundrum is the Cavs hitting their threes. They shot 45% from outside the arc on Tuesday; shooting 35% for the pre-season.
With Hickson and Varejao as the low-post scoring threats, and a lack of creators, many possessions came down to a three or outside shot. Williams, Gibson and Anthony Parker aren’t bashful when it comes to hoisting threes. If they get hot from the outside, look out—but if it’s a cold shooting night, it could get ugly for the Cavs.
With an up-tempo offense, the Cavs need to rely on their bench to provide fresh legs and keep that rhythm going.
Jamison, Gibson and Sessions lead the bench bunch.
Sessions has really stood out during the pre-season; he suits this offense by fluidly running the floor, and having good court vision and awareness.
The Cavs had some turnover issues while adjusting to the new offense. The risk of turnovers will always be a little higher with a transition team, but the Cavs need to limit them.
Things seemed to be clicking on Tuesday as the Cavs turned it over 13 times, which was nearly five below their pre-season average.
It seems the Cavs have been worst in the NBA in free throw percentage for about seven years, and the “Quitness” played no small role in that. Did Cavs fans ever NOT cringe when he was at the line?
Now, with ample fast-break opportunities, opponents will give some fouls to cut down on the easy finishes. The Cavs need to convert at a much better rate than they have.
Don’t look now, but the Cavs are tied for fourth in free throw percentage during the pre-season!
James Edward Hickson
Everybody is forecasting a breakout season for the third-year power forward, and I think he is the most important player for the Cavs to be successful.
He loves to run the floor and finish in transition, and has shown that he can read the defense and score off some weak side alley-oops. His rebounding also seems improved, which comes with experience and effort.
Hickson will score plenty of points off of dunks, but I’m interested to see if the work he has put in on his post game and outside shot will pay off. His shot definitely looks improved and if he can make it with regularity, he could be downright scary.
Possibly the ultimate factor is that the team buys into Scott and his system, which I think they have.
The team is enjoying the freedom to get out and run and they are moving in the half-court offense.
I haven’t mentioned much about the defense, but that’s because it has been a staple of the team in the past several years and it still looked solid. The main concern will be how the defense handles Dwight Howard and other dominant low-post players.
Although it was only the pre-season, the Cavs looked invested in the game, played hard, and showed much of the same camaraderie that they have in the past few seasons.
I’m getting pretty excited just thinking about it—only one week to go until the Cavs regular season tips off!