Writing about sports on this blog is frought with peril, given the conflicting loyalties among us. ?However, given that the Cavs are the only NBA team in Ohio, Pittsburgh doesn’t have one, and neither does Kentucky, I think I’m on safe ground here. ?Plus, the Cavs look to have turned a corner. ?They jumped to the top spot in ESPN’s Power Rankings, thus.
Sometimes we get it wrong and this is one of those times. Ever since we saw the Cavs lose to the Dirk-less Mavs in person and suggested they wouldn’t go higher than No. 4 in the near future, they’ve been ruthless.
Ruthless is a good word to describe the Cavs right now. ?The swagger is back, Lebron is humiliating people multiple times a game, and team defense is swarming. ?The beatdown administered on Christmas Day to the Lakers, at LA, was a message-sender, big time.
Much of this is due to Shaq’s presence on the floor. ?He’s not the scorer he was once, but Shaq affects every game profoundly. ? After a month or so of experimenting, the Cavs have just about figured out how to maximize that on both ends of the court.
On offense, it goes like this. ?Pound the ball to Shaq. ?Shaq gets double teamed, finds open opponent, or gets fouled. ?Shaq misses free throws, no matter. ?Do it again. ?And again. ?Rack up more fouls. ?Pretty soon the opponent is in the penalty for the rest of the quarter, their big men are on the bench in foul trouble, Cavs are parading to the free throw line. ?Lather, rinse, repeat at the start of each quarter. ?This alone probably accounts for double digit points.
On defesnse, Shaq has 6 fouls to use, and boy does he use them. ?Hard. ?Behind him, Ilgauskus is now free to use his fouls, too. ?Defensively, Shaq’s attitude has permeated the team – there are few easy baskets against the Cavs. ?No Cavs team in the history of the franchise has been this physically tough, or has ever fouled this hard so often. ?It forces jump shots, lowers the opponent’s shooting percentage, and it all snowballs.
Throw in Lebron James being the MVP he was last year, and at this point in the season, the Cavs are popping on all cylinders. ?It’s really a sight to see.