Saturday, February 23, 2008

Memphis at Cleveland - 2.24.08

Memphis is playing a tough schedule of games and is also playing some of their worst basketball of the season. The trade of Pau Gasol and the loss of Mike Miller to back spasms has caused Memphis to struggle with a young lineup who is ill prepared for the rigors of the NBA season. Hakim Warrick has started to slow down after a hot start replacing Pau as the starting PF. Rudy Gay has been extremely frustrated by the lack of respect from the referees and has struggled to get as many open looks as he got earlier in the season when teams were more focused on containing Gasol and Miller. Juan Carlos Navarro has gone public with his struggles hitting the rookie wall in the NBA as well. Most disturbing has been Darko Milicic's recent struggles after putting together three consecutive double-doubles after the trade.

Cleveland joined many other contending teams in attempting to make a major deal to increase their chances in the playoffs. Gone are former Grizz Drew Gooden as well as Lrry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Cedric Simmons and Shannon Brown. In are Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. By trading two starters Cleveland gave up on a lot of players who contributed to their NBA finals run last season. West and Wally should provide immediate aid in two big areas of weakness for the Cavs: point guard, especially with Daniel 'Boobie' Gibson out with a sprained ankle, and outside shooting. Wallace is aging rapidly but will provide toughness on the interior that the Cavs have lacked as well. Cleveland has remained in the playoff hunt this year thanks to the incredible play of superstar LeBron James and his 4th quarter heroics. The changes in the lineup should limit the need for LeBron to lead so many 4th quarter comebacks.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Damon Jones
Damon Jones has started while waiting for Delonte West to be cleared to play for Cleveland but his time as the starter is running short. Damon is known more as a long range threat than a true point guard that Cleveland needs. Jones is shooting 42% from the arc this season and was 7-11 in his one start against Washington on Friday night. Mike Conley continues to gain confidence in his offensive game but still struggles with his outside shot. He is cool in the lane and can score with either hand in the paint as well has being able to spot teammates on the perimeter. He averages 2.5 assists to turnovers the last few games which is more than respectable for a rookie and rather incredible considering the poor shooting the Grizzlies have exhibited lately.
Advantage: Memphis

Shooting Guards: Juan Carlos Navarro vs Eric Snow

Snow is another player forced into the starting role with Gibson's injury and without West or Szczerbiak available on Friday night. He more than any other player is least capable of relieving James of offensive burdens. Snow is also an intelligent player and excellent defender who will give Navarro fits getting open for a shot. Not that superior defense is called for lately on Navarro. Juan Carlos has struggled badly the last few weeks and is shooting a mere 31% from the field and 19% from the arc in the last 10 games. Navarro has reached double figures in 3 of the last 5 games but he also had a goose egg against Dallas Friday night. The one good thing is Navarro knows he can shoot and won't hesitate to continue putting up shots.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs LeBron James

This is a matchup where Memphis fans get to see the difference between who they want to be a superstar in Rudy Gay and what a superstar is in LeBron James. Rudy is averaging 20 ppg, 6.1 rpg and 1.8 apg. Very nice numbers for a 21 yr old 2nd yr players. LeBron James is averaging 30.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 7.5 apg. Damn good for any player and phenomenal for a 24 yr old 5th yr player. LeBron is the total package and what's more is he is most deadly in the 4th quarter. LeBron has led Cleveland from behind in the 4th quarter consistently all season. Over the last 5 games LeBron has actually picked up his play averaging a triple double with 31 ppg, 11 rpg and 10 apg over that span.
Advantage: Cleveland

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Ben Wallace

Hakim Warrick has been one of the few bright spots since the trade of Pau Gasol. As a starter Hakim is averaging 18 ppg, 8.2 rpg and shooting 55% from the field. That's the good news. The bad news is he is hooting 52% from the free throw line and teams are starting to realize that they need to cover him everywhere inside the arc. In the last 5 games Hak's scoring has gone been 24, 23, 22, 20 and 15. The trend is not Hak's friend right now. Ben Wallace was supposed to be the missing link to Chicago's return to glory. Instead he became the reason for their failure. Now in Cleveland he won't be expected to be what he isn't. Defense and rebounding is what Cleveland wants from Wallace and against undersized and underweighted Warrick that shouldn't be a problem.
Advantage: Cleveland

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Does anyone know who the 2nd leading scorer on the Cavs is? Yep, Big Z is still #2 although Cleveland is hoping that won't be the case after the trade with Wally coming to town. Ilgauskas is slow, actually plodding, and doesn't really have a go to move. All he does is his job each and every night. Big Z has 20 double-doubles this season. Darko has 6 double-doubles this season. He even had three in a row but the last one was 7 games ago and his performance has been declining game by game since then.
Advantage: Cleveland

Benches: Memphis vs Cleveland

Cleveland's bench could be loaded or empty depending on on how the starting lineup shakes out. Wally Szczerbiak has been great coming off the bench in Seattle and will probably start that way in Cleveland as first. However, Wally is a far better SG option than Snow, Jones, Gibson or anyone else on Cleveland's roster. Anderson Varejao was a serious prospect for Chris Wallace when he came to Memphis but it was obvious Memphis couldn't sign him so they turned to Darko instead. Joe Smith is solid if unspecatcular. Aleksandar Pavlovic has struggled with his contract, conditioning and expectations this season. Whatever the reason Pavlovic has failed to live up to expectations. Memphis' bench has been terrible lately. Kyle Lowry is struggling shooting, Brian Cardinal looks out of place on the court and Jason Collins contributes nothing. Former Lakers Javaris Crittenton and Kwame Brown have looked alternately terrible and promising but never dependable.
Advantage: Cleveland

Outside Opinions and Other Commentary:
Cavalier Attitude
Larry Hughes: Please Stop Taking Bad Shots - I wonder if they are going to move to covering Chicago or change their name...
Brian Windhorst - - One of the best bloggers in the country on the NBA. A must read for any informed fan.
Waiting For Next Year - This is the former Cleveland Sports Authority site and very well done.

BallHype: hype it up!

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