You always have to wonder what you are going to ee after a long layoff. For the Cavaliers, the All-Star Break was a welcome sight for a team that seemed physically and mentally worn down. It's nice to see the Wine and Gold used their time off wisely.
Looking refreshed, re-energized and most importantly re-focused on the defensive end, the Cavs overcame a slow start to dominate the short-handed Toronto Raptors 93-76 in Canada. Doing so, the Cavs re-established what made them the League's best team for much of the first 2 months of the season -- relentless defense, smart offense, and efficiency from LeBron James.
Let's start with the defense. After some early troubles that saw the Raptors jump out to a 19-10 lead just 7 minutes into the game, the Cavaliers clamped down and started playing the typ of defense that saw them win 12 straight games by double-digit points. Every shot was contested, ever passing lane filled. The Raptors scored 23 points in the first 12 minutes, just 53 the remaining 36.
On offense, the Cavaliers made a concerted effort to get the ball down low to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Without Chris Bosh in the lineup, the Cavaliers had their way in the pain, with Z and J.J. Hickson doing anything they wanted inside. Z had 22 points and 6 rebounds, while Hickson scored 8 points and collected 8 rebounds. Hickson, who has been in and out of Mike Brown's doghouse this season, saw extended action since the Cavs were without Ben Wallace. While he still makes rookie mistakes, by the bushel at times, you can see why the Cavaliers are so excited about him. When the light for Hickson "turns on", watch out.
As for James, I talked last week, when he was scoring 45-50 points a night, that LeBron being forced into beomcing a scorer certain disaster for the Cavaliers. Its not his game, and its not the game the Cavaliers would prefer to play. All the evidence I need for that is wrapped up in last night's game. LeBron had 4 points at halftime, yet the Cavs led 47-41. For the night, James scored 20, added 9 assists and 9 rebounds, and played only 33 minutes. That is the forula for a Cavaliers win, even when they are shorthanded,
Nothing pretty, nothing glamerous, but a win against a team that is reeling. NExt up is Milwaukee. The question remains, will the same Cavaliers team that beat Toronto on Wednesday night be the team that takes the floor on Friday Night?