We continue previewing the Central Division with the Cleveland Cavaliers. You can read past previews here.

by Jake Appleman

The Cavs had just been dismantled by the Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and LeBron James sat in front of his locker, staring straight ahead, understandably pissed off. Before the game, LeBron had been publicly regurgitating what I’m 99% sure were some Weezy lyrics–quite loudly, in fact–either to himself in a fit of blissful obliviousness, or indirectly to a mostly blind horde of assembled media members that were slowly starting to congregate near his designated personal space.
Actually, with so many folks crowding Bron’s lyrical zone, those two options weren’t mutually exclusive. While it was possible that the lyrical mood (The Weeze?) may have just struck him, it seemed that the exercise combined a) an attempt at pumping himself up and b) sending a message to said media horde. Since I don’t indulge in song-songy rappers that don’t have much to say–no offense to Lil’ Wayne, every soccer mom’s favorite glorified hedonist–I can’t tell you what song LeBron was rapping word for word. I seem to vaguely recall strawberries, Henny and a 50 percent chance of fellatio, but don’t quote me on that. Regardless, the context seemed fitting enough: something about rising above the haters, or another equally played out cultural theme.

Anyway, LeBron James succeeded at pumping himself and his teammates up, as the Cavs jumped out to a 21-11 lead, before losing the rest of the game 78-52, which is is kind of like landing a solid body blow before getting shot in the face.

As memory serves, after the game it was me, Lebron, Boobie Gibson, and LeBron’s bag of Mickey D’s in the locker room. Some of the other Cavs may have still been lurking, or they may have cleared out by then. I don’t remember and it’s not really important. LeBron and Boobie had been talking about something when I slowly approached and meekly tried to interrupt–stupid me–in search of a quote for a story I was working on.

LeBron told me I could ask him the question in the press conference just like everyone else, something I was already aware of. In doing so, he made a legitimate point. I countered by saying my question had nothing to do with the game and I didn’t want to waste the time of a hundred or so other people. Even though LeBron was probably in the right, as his biographer‘s illegitimate test tube baby, I expected more.

Having had my SLAM card pulled by none other than the guy that we consistently vouch for lit a mini-rage inside of me, unjustifiable as it may have been. Deep down, I knew I could have gotten the quote at shoot-around had I chosen to attend instead grabbing brunch at IHOP–which would have been stupid because IHOP is awesome–but in the moment that didn’t matter.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that the collective silent anger in that room was so f*cking palpable; it’s hard to believe that steroids weren’t involved. I was mad because I thought I had been wronged (kind of), but by my own standards I knew I f*cked up. And LeBron was mad because he was facing an 0-2 hole, and having already missed a golden opportunity by shooting 2-18 in Game 1, may have realized that he already f*cked up as well. And hot damn, if it wasn’t for a clutch P.J. Brown elbow jumper and some missed open 3 balls that Boobie Gibson might have converted had he played, the Cavs STILL WOULD HAVE PULLED IT OFF.

Will they turn their anger into vengeance? Read on.

BURNING QUESTIONS

Will Sasha Pavlovic come out of his tree house and play?

As much as I want Sasha to succeed, waiting for him is kind of like being a fourteen year old that worries too much about minimal acne: you shouldn’t waste so much time waiting for a breakout that probably won’t come.

Can the Cavs succeed in the postseason by throwing two 4′s out there that won’t be expected to score more than a basket or two per game?

Trick question. The true answer lies in whether or not rookie J.J. Hickson is a player. And LeBron’s been compensating for his teammates’ offensive shortcomings for years; though Joe Smith’s solid midrange game and veteran presence will be missed, it’s not that big of deal.

Will people continue to underrate Ben Wallace (relatively speaking) come playoff time?

Yeah, unless they play the Celtics or Pistons in a wrestling ring.

What do you think of Delonte West re-signing?

ONIONS!

What do you think about the possibility that LeB–?

STOP WASTING EVERYBODY’S TIME WITH IRRELEVANT SPECULATION THAT WON’T BE SOLVED FOR ANOTHER TWO YEARS. DAN GILBERT, YOU CAN MAKE THAT CHECK OUT TO CASH. THANKS, SUB PRIME LOAN HOMIE!

What’s your opinion on the Mo Williams trade?

I’m not completely sold on it yet for one simple reason: the way the Cavs operate. LeBron dominates possession of the ball, as he should, and he’s usually looking to create for others. Often, Mo Williams makes plays for himself. While LBJ and MW will no doubt make each other better in certain situations, it’s worrisome to think about Williams potentially jacking up shots and trying to create for himself when the offense gets stagnant. What I hope to see is a wrinkle, preferably wrinkles, on Mike Brown’s dry erase clipboard that can take advantage of LeBron’s off-the-ball presence and Williams’ ability to create for himself. Be they various screen/roll combos, or sets that stack the floor in a way that marginalizes the opposing defense, the Cavs need to start excelling on both ends. The defensive bedrock is there, now they need to maximize the cohesion of their singular parts to become a more complete team. Or not. It almost worked for them last year.

Anything else the Cavs should be doing to win more games?

Yeah, spread the floor. They’ve got four bona fide shooters (midrange and from distance) in Boobie, Wally World, Delonte West and Mo Williams. Spacing the floor gives LBJ and MW maneuverability for penetration and can open up the low post for Z to operate, not to mention providing long caroms–off of long jumpers–beneficial to the positioning of their active, scrappy bigs.

Is LeBron the best player in the league?

Don’t care. We have a list for that shit. I guess he’s either 1 or 1a right now, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he needs to get a go-to post move, improve his late game free throw shooting and bring some of that Beijing defense to the regular season.

PREDICTION:

If the Cavs play as well as they can in a seemingly inevitable rematch with the Celtics, LeBron might be rapping something of true quality before he wins his first championship. Then again, if the Cavs can’t put it together, the mainstream media will again start impersonating fire sirens, imploring LeBron to come to the BK or the Mecca because apparently New York solves everything; the stock market, traffic and kids in striped shirts picking up STDs after downing $10 mixed drinks are all prime examples.

New York: many think it’d solve everything. Even when there’s not that much wrong to begin with.