Well, that was fun. In the final game before the All-Star break, the Cavaliers and Magic played one half All-Star game, one half playoff game on the defensive end with the Cavaliers making all the shots and stops late, beating the Orlando Magic 115-106. The game was ties at 96 with 4 minutes or so to go when LeBron James, and the Cavaliers defense, turned up the intensity, propelling the Cavs to the final 19-10 run that put the game away.
The story of the game early on were the officials. It was unfortunate that both Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard were saddled for large parts of the game with fouls. A message to the NBA - these games are better with those guys in the game. If they want to slam on each other for 48 minutes, I say, let them!
With the Magic focused on keeping James out of the lane, as well as giving zero respect to J.J. Hickson, J.J. went to work, scoring 13-points in the first quarter. For J.J., it was a series of back-cuts and pick and rolls to the basket, mostly with noone defending him, that allowed easy lay-ups and dunks. Hickson finished the game with 20 points on 9-14 shooting. He played with a ton of energy and confidence. I just don't see a scenario right now where the Cavaliers trade him. Sure, he might be getting his points because teams are not respecting his game, but fine - I hope opposing teams disrespect J.J. to the tune of 20-points every night.
Now, people will say there are plenty of bigs that could provide the Cavaliers what J.J. does, especially playing with LeBron. I say, no way. An example? We saw two of them this week. First, the denial of D-Wade last week. That was special. If not impressed by J.J. stuffing Wade, how about the swattage of Dwight Howard tonight? Your every-day big cannot do that. J.J. is a special athlete.
The Cavaliers welcomed back Delonte West tonight and he did not disappoint. West played 23 minutes, including much of the 4th quarter, which allowed Daniel Gibson to play off the ball - where he is in his real comfort zone. West also showed little rust with his jumpshot in the 4th quarter, hitting a couple huge 3's during the final 4th Quarter run.
As for the whistle-lovers, Shaq was held to 10 points in 19 minutes. Somehow Shaq played the final 7 minutes of the game with 5 fouls. Also with 5 was Dwight Howard who finished with 14 points. Neither was really a factor, which, like I said, is a disappointment. Watching Shaq and Howard avoid contact over the last 4 minutes while both teams went right to the basket made for bad TV.
With Hickson scoring 20 points, the Cavaliers got a big performance from their other PF, Anderson Varejao. Varejao was just as active in the 2nd Quarter, nearly equaling Hickson's 1st Quarter production. Andy finished with 16 points on 8-11 shooting. Surprisingly, it was Hickson that played the big minutes - 27:43 - with Andy stuck on the bench with fould troubles. Still, 16 points in 15 minutes is pretty impressive for Varejao.
This game was a great test of the 'new-look' Cavaliers. We have been touting Cleveland's depth all year and it shined tonight. The Cavaliers played 10 players at least 10 minutes tonight and all 10 hit the scoresheet. It provided further proof that come playoff time Mike Brown will have a lot of rotation options - and that's without Mo WIlliams or Leon Powe.
The best for last - LeBron James was not having a great night - by his standards anyway. That is, until winning time. LeBron scored 11 points in the 4th quarter, while dishing out 4 assists. Early in the game, when his jump-shot wasn't falling, LeBron was attacking and getting to the line. In the 4th quarter, LeBron's jumper started to fall, especially in crunch time. The result? 32 points, 8 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Cavs are now 4-0 against the two Finals teams from a year ago. What's it mean? Not much, though it proves that the moves the Cavaliers made during the off-season seem to be working. The team can now enjoy the weekend and get recharged for the stretch run. Hopefully Mo WIlliams will return soon and Leon Powe is hoping to be cleared to play next week. The NBA's deepest team just gets deeper.