The Cleveland Cavaliers have been riding high as of late.
A once seemingly insurmountable deficit to be considered one of the top teams in the East, has been chipped away at a slow and steady pace. Now, the Cavs have been finding ways to win, sneaking their way up to the fourth seed in the eastern conference.
LeBron James has been instrumental, cancel that, LeBron James with the exception of a bucket here and there from a teammate, has BEEN the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers.
The "killer instinct" that was last year's popular knock on LeBron has developed in front of our very eyes, and it's scary.
With his speed and size, he is forcing his way to the basket and he's next to impossible to stop with momentum in the lane. Late in games, the mid-range jump shots and even contested 3s manage to find their way down, when it seems as if he gets in his 'late game zone'.
LeBron undoubtedly finds ways to make the guys around him better when he's on the court as well. But, the negative effect it seems to have when he's out of the line-up is starting to be blatantly obvious.
The Cavaliers are 0-6 without LeBron's presence on the court and their lack of a second leader on the court is glaringly apparent. While on the positive side they feed off his play and ability to find them buckets off his own double and triple teams, they are also so spoiled by his presence that when he isn't in the game, each individual is challenged to a higher degree individually, as their defenders are not watching LeBron out of the corner of their eye and can man up without anyone commanding secondary help to contain.
In last night's game against the Supersonics the Cavaliers looked lackadaisical and slow to the ball the entire first half and defensively it looked like a pick-up game at the YMCA. Uncontested shots and defensive miscues under the bucket led to a 40-point first quarter for Seattle.
To coach Mike Brown's credit, he had just about every different Cavalier on the floor, but nobody was stepping up and defensively were uninspired and out-hustled.
Eric Snow even made an apperance, dusting himself off to try and provide a spark defensively with his strength being disciplined veteran defense, but to no avail.
Shannon Brown finally peeled off the warm-ups as well as Donyell Marshall who was coming back for the first time in two months since suffering a wrist injury. Snow, Marshall and Brown combined for five points, two rebounds, and no assists.
The bench who, with LeBron playing a spark as of late, simply jumped into the game to take their turn playing un-enthused and painfully hesitant, waiting for the next guy to take control of the game, just like LeBron does when he is in the game.
Larry Hughes finally stepped up and finished the game with 28 points. But without LeBron in the line-up they came up a few buckets short of a fourth quarter comeback which they lead the NBA in doing.
On LeBron's absence Larry Hughes said, "We basically run everything through him, so when he's not out there, it takes us awhile to figure out where we are most effective."
Unfortunately for Cleveland, that has been painfully true in all six games he has missed. What was disappointing is the effort that was put forth early into the game. A now 11-35 Sonics team was scoring at will and nobody in red and gold looked to be interested in putting a stop to it.
The Cavaliers' record is now 25-20 and 0-6 minus LeBron. LeBron is day-to-day with an ankle sprain in which he played the second half against Portland, and scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to the Trail Blazers' 15 as a team. The Cavaliers' play without him undoubtedly shows they count on James to be a superstar for them every night, which he more often then not does.
Ilgauskas added to the discussion of the Cavaliers' play minus LeBron saying, "Sometimes we do rely on him so much especially at the end of games, it's hard for guys to switch it mentally".
Also blatantly obvious.
Thus far, if the MVP award is truly what its letters stand for the most VALUABLE player to his team, then I think you would have a hard time making a case for anyone else right now.
LeBron's all-around ability truly has spoiled his supporting cast into incompetence. In essence, the Cavaliers wouldn't have a prayer without LeBron anyway, but when he can't play, it would be nice for the Cavs to win a game they should win here and there.
LeBron, in all probability, would have played had the Supersonics not been the second game of a back-to-back West Coast road trip, considering he played on the ankle for a half and looked great on it.
The Cavaliers have a day off to get LeBron healthy and get ready for the Clippers Saturday night.