Game Notes: Cavs at Sixers
The future is about to meet the present.
Lets get it! Yeah, bang that Primo. Don’t ya know LBJ is Classic?
Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire. —Reggie Leach
These are the moments where everyone in the arena burns bright but chill. Old cats nod to the beat players are bangin’ in their headphones. The ushers smile a different smile. Cheerleaders bounce a little higher. Hip Hop and the Hare Raisers get some nice dunks in. There’s one in particular where Christian (Hare Raiser) goes between his legs twice before he rocks the rim. It’s gonna be one of those games. Festive, exciting, mesmerizing—all the way live—then out of the tunnel walks LeBron James.
Think Johnny Storm with a Diesel sized S on his chest, but with no “Shaaaqtus,” and you have the athlete straight blaze across the future, present, but yet primitive globe.
Twenty-three dribbles down the court flashing in and out of time’s fashionable nuance—back and forth, forth and back—attacking your senses with whooooas, aaaaaahs, daaaaaaamns and woooows before you turned on the TV and sat down to have a sip before the opening tip.
You don’t know what hit you until bang you suddenly are in the Cavs’ locker room. Cameras, lights, ball boys, public relations folk take turns bumping you until you fall to the floor dizzy—you pass out—dastardly dreaming but seemingly alright as your eyes open slowly to a kid clowning you…
“Mista, are you OK? Why are you laying in the middle of the street?”
“Damn!” You say to yourself. “What the hell was in this bottle…”
You shake awake to the sights and sounds of a packed Wachovia Center Arena. People are moving all around you. Devon Givens, Anthony Gilbert and I give you the head nod as we walk by. Looking down at my credential… “Get your own identity and pull yourself together,” you hear me think. I wink your way as you elbow your homie and say…
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what? Nah man, you trippin’ dawg.”
He then laughs in slow but fast motion and looks at you funny as a boat load of rosin powder covers your green retro 23. The kid who clowned you outside the arena is suddenly laughing with ya mans having a good ‘ole time, pointing your way in joker like fashion.
“Is that my beer that little kid has?”
“Nah. Can’t be.”
“Damn. What is goin’ on?”
Your mind flashes to the court just as LeBron throws the rock between his legs, off the glass—catching it with surreal power and precision and boofs it through the rim—in the pregame.
The crowd goes crazy. Real crazy.
You turn to your boy: “Yooooo did you see that?”
He ain’t there. Your phone vibrates, answering but peering at the phone in wonderment when you recognize the voice.
“Dawg…what happened? Why was the crowd so loud?”
“Huh?” you say. “Whaa?”
It’s your boy, and you are completely lost.
He then brings you the beer you were drinking in the first place.
By this point your mind is so drunk with confusion you start dancing by ya damn self.
Falling into the game you feel the rock pounding your chest as it echoes the floor. The game is physical from the start. Refs are letting ‘em play. Andre Iguodala gets four dunks in the first half. LeBron is more intense than usual but comfortable with letting his teammates get into the flow.
He gets out on the break and bangs it Larry Johnson style all up in Willie Green’s chest…glancing off his body ever so slightly as Willie turns his head to the side as if to say “Ewwwww.”
There’s a crazy first quarter buzzer-beater where the ball touches three players and lands in the hands of Boobie Gibson, who scoops the rock into the basket as the clock sounds.
“Damn. I love this game. It’s Friday night. Crowd is hype. Fine lovelies all around. LeBron is here. Iguodala is playing on another level.”
All these thoughts race through your brain to the game’s flame.
The intensity of Mike Brown gets you up but then…
Yeah he got ‘em. With two hands at that.
Sickdiculous bang, but the Sixers are down and have no answer for Wally. He’s 6-7 from the field, 4-4 behind the line in a mere 25 minutes and finishes with 18.
Mo Williams is 3-8 from the arc. Big Z has a three. All of Delonte’s baskets are triples. LeBron only has one? What the…
As a team the Cavs shoot 12-23 from Akron. Lights out.
Iguodala has 26 but on only 11 shots. Andre Miller and Lou Williams both chip in with 17 but in a physical game, the Cavs defeat the Sixers 102-92 behind LeBron’s 27 and 10.
The Cavs move closer to the securing the top spot. The Sixers meanwhile, are in danger of falling fast into the 7th or 8th spot, where they do not want to be.
Physical game gets him to the line and he makes 10-12. Press row was a little miffed why the game was so rough and tough.
The Playoffs are upon us. We assume there was one play where Reggie Evans tried to slam LBJ through the floor, opening a nasty gash right below his left knee. After the game in the locker room, you hear the young fella scream from the shower because the soap and water probably doesn’t feel so good in such a fresh cut. Mo Williams clowns LeBron to cover that mess up before it gets infected.
LeBron obliges and gets one of the attendants to bring him the necessary first aid.
Since you are in the locker room with me. Let’s hit him up for some quotes relevant to this time of year. Relax bruh. He’s human just like you. Chill bruh. You want to ask the first question?
Silence. OK, I got it…
SLAM: LeBron, does your focus change as you mature?
LeBron James: Your focus does change. It has to change. You are going from one season to the another season—the Playoffs are another season. Your attitude and your mental state have to change.
SLAM: Is the game everything you thought it would be?
LBJ: The game of basketball has been fun to me my whole life and has been fun ever since I got into the NBA. That’s all I wanted out of this game is to have fun with it and compete every time I go out—on the high school level, peer level and now in the NBA. It hasn’t changed.
SLAM: Does the thought of making history every night get you hype?
LBJ: Nah, I’m just trying to get a win. If history comes by doing that, then it’s a great thing as an individual. I really put a lot of passion into my game. So if it happens, it happens.
Mo’s right here. We might as well get him too, right?
SLAM: Mo you made the Playoffs in Milwaukee but what’s it like for teams to focus on you more heavily? You are becoming a great player in this league. What do you see different out of yourself heading into this year’s playoffs?
Mo Williams: Just experience, man. That was a few years ago when we were in the Playoffs. I was a young fella. I definitely wasn’t a focal point like I am now. I’m more comfortable out on the floor.
SLAM: What do you most attribute to the player you have become?
MW: Hard work, man. Hard work and just staying with it.
SLAM: Do you find yourself playing differently with LeBron?
MW: He makes the game easier. I have an ability to knock down wide-open shots. He’s gonna get them for me.
SLAM: Why were you such a slept-on player in this league?
MW: Playing in Milwaukee. We weren’t that good to be on national television. People just didn’t see me.
Yo, you ready? Let’s go out and see what’s on Coach Mike Brown’s mind. Dude… leave the socks on the floor. You ever see Big Z’s feet bruh?
SLAM: Coach as you mature, are you satisfied with how your team responds and also matures this time of year?
Mike Brown: We are moving along well as a group. We still have room to get better. That’s the exciting part. We know offensively and defensively we can get a lot better. If we can climb the ladder in that direction we’ll have a chance at our ultimate goal. Yeah, I like the process of where we are headed so far, and I give all the credit to the guys in that locker room.
Do you remember Bird and Magic? There could be this rivalry that shapes the next couple of seasons if the Lakers and Cavs continue to play on this level. As they battle for the overall top spot in the Playoffs, and the home court advantage that comes with it, I wonder if Tony DiLeo sees anything unique with Kobe and LeBron both playing out of their mind at the same time:
“Well as far as I can remember there was Magic and Bird but in recent years? You do have Wade, Dwight Howard and some of these other young players are very, very good.”
SLAM: Is it good to have this game and Boston coming up to give you a sense of where this team is as you enter the Playoffs?
Tony DiLeo: That’s the silver lining. Twice Cleveland and also Boston. We won’t see any tougher teams in the Playoffs. Good match up and good challenge heading into the Playoffs.
We can come back to the coach and ask him why Iguodala managed only 11 shots. I thought he was gonna hit for 40 the way he was gettin’ off. Thad the Young One looks a little discouraged he’s sitting out. Stop lookin’ at those soft Philly pretzels man. Reggie Evans is a beast!
SLAM: How long are you gonna be out, Thad?
Thaddeus Young: It’s day-to-day. I felt pretty good shooting around. It’s still a little sore. Right now we are trying to work on my conditioning.
SLAM: I asked LeBron this earlier. Do you see things differently now than when you were a rookie?
TY: As a rookie, I didn’t realize how important it was to get better seeding and then go out and compete in the Playoffs. I obviously played well. I started in the Playoffs and played significant minutes down the stretch. You want to try and finish strong this time of year.
SLAM: We talk a lot. As a writer, it’s cool seeing you bud into this star. If there was an award for a second year player, you would probably garner enough attention to win it even with your boy Kevin Durant playing stellar because your record is better. It’s not that we are surprised how good you are, but yeah we are surprised how good you are [we laugh]. Your talent is unlimited. You aren’t close to your prime. What are your goals as you approach the critical part of your career?
TY: I just want to get better, man. I want to remain focused and do the things I’ve been doing. I listen to my teammates. This guy next to me [Lou Williams]… he came into the League when he was young, and he’s been able to tell me a few things about not playing straight out and taking advantage when you do get that chance. I have to remain focused and concentrate on getting better.
SLAM: Learning curve. Some guys are low, some are high. You see to have a high learning curve. You have become such a successful player so early. Could you explain that for the fans?
TY: I had my Dad around. You know about him playing in the League. We’ve talked about him before. He tried to teach me a lot of things from when he was playing. I’d take some of those things and incorporate them into my game. The same with other players I watch on tape. Adding their stuff to my game. One of the guys is Andre Iguodala. He gets a lot of easy baskets of certain things that he does. He is one of the best players in the League so I try to learn as much as I can from him.
SLAM: Nuance question for the fans. When you see a player in front of you in a defensive stance, are some players still surprised you are left handed?
TY: Nah, I don’t think anyone is surprised. I’m pretty sure that’s in the scouting report now. I’ll bait them in by driving right, laying it up with my left or dunking it. They gotta know, though. For the month of March, I averaged over 20 points. I’m on the radar of teams.
SLAM: This time you are out. Are you trying to flip it and learn something different about the game?
TY: Yeah. I get to hear the coaches a little more. I get to hear a lot of what the players are saying in terms of strategy. I want to be able to do the things everyone is talking about (his teammates and coaches) when I’m on the floor. We want to get everything together and get into the next round.
SLAM: Last question, Thad. Do you compare yourself to the League to become that great all-around player?
TY: I just go out there and play basketball. I want to win ball games and will try my hardest to do so. Everybody is gonna have good and bad games. At the time I got hurt [ankle], I was playing the best basketball of my career.
Back to Coach DiLeo. He was explaining how the Sixers played well, but just didn’t do enough to win—giving up a three late (well 12 of them) or a layup right when the team was about to go on a run. He spoke of those being the little things his team has to correct if they are gonna make some noise entering the big stage. He expressed his team rebounding better and finishing off 24 seconds of defense. He saw some positives and explained the Cavs are one of the best teams in the League and that little mistakes lead to losses by good teams. I asked him about those 11 shots from Iguodala… four being first half dunks.
Tony DiLeo: “You say 11 shots, but he did get to the foul line. He had the ball in his hands a lot and was doing the things to get to the foul line. That’s what we tried to do. We got 31 free throws. They hit more three-pointers, but we did have more free-throws. We were doing more attacking and getting to the rim. Some of their threes were open but most were contested. Mo Williams and Wally shot well tonight. Andre (Iguodala) has been playing at a high level. He has to. There is not a lot of time to rest him. I thought he did a great job. He was guarding the best player in the League, did a decent job and had to carry the load on the offensive end. I liked the way Andre played. We didn’t expect Szczerbiak to score 18 points. We knew he would score some, but no to that tune. Playing this team is preparing us because of their talent. It was a physical game.”
SLAM: Are you expecting Thaddeus to learn while he’s out (two weeks, but Coach said he would definitely be ready for the Playoffs)?
TD: He’s very intelligent and a tough kid. He’s watching what’s going on out there. That will be a big benefit and also that he’ll have fresh legs because he hasn’t played for a while. Some of our guys looked tired. Thad picks up on a lot of things so he’ll be able to see things from a different perspective.
Iguodala is showing signs of maturing on and off the court. When covering a team for a few years, you see cats become more comfortable. He went for it against the Cavs and got his son a poster with a great player catching the ball after getting banged on.
SLAM: You seemed to be very aggressive in the first half. I thought you were poised to have a huge game. Is this a game where you should have gotten some more shots?
Andre Iguodala: I was trying to stay in the flow of the game. Their bigs were doing a good job of helping on the pick and roll. I didn’t want to force anything, but there was definitely somewhere in the third quarter (where he could have gotten more shots).
SLAM: The Cavs run a lot of interior picks to free up cats to for spot up jumpers or catch the defense off guard. Andre, how do you get through those picks? Film study?
AI: It really is about communication then the other team. You have to call it out as early as possible. They do a good job of running you into the picks so it happens fast and you might not have enough time to adjust to it. You have to fight or slide over them and not get a dead hit. The moved the ball around and hit some quick threes.
SLAM: You are a lot more vocal this year. You are hitting bit shots. What are you trying to get across to your younger teammates?
AI: Just to look at the big picture. The big picture is trying to do it every day. Every time you step on the court, play like it’s your last time. Even if things don’t go your way, you have to continue to understand to play the right way and it’s gonna get better for the entire team.
SLAM: Do you find yourself being more demonstrative—in saying things you wouldn’t have said before? Are you saying more now in practice?
AI: That’s kind of the hardest part. I see a whole lot of things that are wrong. If you tell a rookie or a young player every single mistake he makes, then he’s gonna get lost. You have to pick and choose when to say stuff to a young guy. You have to let them know they have a long way to go, but that they are doing fine but still work on this or that.
SLAM: You got your poster for your kid [Andre laughs]. It seems like when you get a dunk or two early in the game, you begin to bounce in and out of the lane. I thought you were gonna go for 40.
AI: I have to be a little more aggressive. Even after taking a bad shot. I’ll go through spurts where I’ll have a big quarter here or a big quarter there and then there’s a quarter when I don’t get too many looks. I have to work on giving my team a whole lot when I’m out there as far as being an all around player.
Are you OK young fella? The one thing I would tell you as a fan is to realize LeBron thinks steps ahead. Sometimes my questions are out of left field, but he’s getting to the point where he’s answering my questions before I finish them. It’s my responsibility to grow in that moment also so my questions don’t become stagnant like some of the other writers. We gotta grow people. This is a great time to cover the League. There’s no drama, seats are beginning to being filled and the young stars in the League are having fun like none other in my lifetime.
Think about the pregame stuff LeBron does for a sec. He’s setting his range by under-handing balls from half court. If he can hit from there, then he can hit from everywhere. This kid is amazing.
He’s thinking three steps ahead of the entire League—both mentally and physically. Pregame dunk contest with himself? Who does that? He’s getting away with it as long as the Cavs win. They are really having fun and if they win it all, this is gonna be one helluva season to remember. You can’t help to be in awe of LeBron’s growth and to say he’s exceeded all expectations isn’t something out of the ordinary.
There are times where I do get a little miffed at some of the questions posed to the young fella. There seems to be this wave in journalism to knock the NBA off its current perch of jazzy hip fan hopra and turn it back into some public relations disaster where the players have an unnecessary adversarial relationship with the media. Writers are scratching up the wrong tree if they think they are gonna crack a player who appears to be 40 but is only 24.
The League better watch out because LeBron James is a genius at what he does. He markets himself better than almost any other athlete on the planet. He signs every autograph put in front of his face plus he’s a straight killer on the court. Check it before he wrecks the League into his own image for the next 10 years. He and his teammates are having too much fun, but there is a time to be serious. Diante Christmas spoke to LeBron after the game, and it’s a sight to see how younger DC appears in LBJ’s presence. They are a mere two years apart and are both great young men. It was something to behold seeing LeBron give Diante sound advice and sincerely mean everything he said.
The League is in good hands with the current crop of young talent and it starts at the top—where LeBron James is poised to sit upon his throne sooner than you know.
“Son! Wake up! You were dreaming about the Cavs and the Sixers. Why have you been wearing the same jersey for two days and what’s that powder all over your face…”
Just something different one time for ya mind to ease us all into what should be a very exciting playoffs.
LeBron James and his proverbial time machine travel on.
His talent is primitive but grounded in the future. His game is future soul terrific like a universe of Tron. His spirit is past Paul Robesonesque but his team is on a head on collision course with the present. That present is Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers who will take no shorts to make sure LeBron James and the Cavaliers are ‘08-09 history.