Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cavs Season Over/Akron Aeros Report

After a season of excitement, Cavs depart in a night of embarrassment
by Terry Pluto/Plain Dealer Columnist
Saturday May 30, 2009, 11:30 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For the Cavaliers, the season ended with a dunk in the face, a defensive collapse and a total breakdown of what made them the winningest team in the regular season.

Final score: Orlando 103, Cavaliers 90 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The real story is the game didn't feel that close, that somewhere along the line, the Cavs' will was broken, it's confidence slammed by Dwight Howard scoring inside or Rashard Lewis and the rest firing away while wide open from the 3-point line.

The word that comes to mind is embarrassing.

How could the Cavs be so passive, so uncertain in a Game 6 with their season on life support?

"We feel like we have to win this game at home," Rashard Lewis told the Orlando media. "We don't want to come and play in their arena where they feed off the crowd."

Before the game, James said: "I think a team is most dangerous when it's down to its last limb."

Not if the guys plan to just jump off, which the Cavs did for whatever reason -- be it pressure or a sense of the season slipping away.
Joshua Gunter/The Plain DealerLeBron James and the Cavaliers again had their season end amidst the celebration of their triumphant opponents. It was an especially painful end to a stunning season, says Terry Pluto.
Yes, Orlando is the better team, proving it by winning all five games here -- two in the regular season, three in the playoffs. Of course, had the Cavs capitalized on that 16-point lead in the opener, there would be a Game 7 in Cleveland coming up. They lost their home court advantage in the opener, which ended up a 107-106 loss.

But the Cavs had to be better than they were Saturday night.

They seemed uncertain on offense. James was not driving with authority, his teammates were reluctant to aggressively look for their shots. What exactly was the plan? Go inside? Set up James on the wing or at the top of the key, where he was so effective in Game 4? How about James in the low post?

"They jumped out to an early lead, Mo (Williams) got in foul trouble and because we got behind, we had to play quick and never could get control of the tempo," said Cavs coach Mike Brown.

The last thing you want to do to steal a road game is to be out-rebounded, 25-16, in the first half when the road team needs to set the tone. But the Cavs were out-hustled for what Mike Brown calls 50-50 balls. They seemed to disappear like Magic into the hands of Orlando players about 90 percent of the time.

At that point, the game was over.

"I never would have thought with the way this series has gone that we'd have been up 20 points in the fourth quarter," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.

But when a team is soft defensively on the road, it happens. Orlando dominated the boards, 47-34, with a 15-4 scoring edge on second shots. Howard consistently set up near the basket and overpowered the Cavs big men.

OK, here are a few second-guesses:

1) What were the Cavs doing with James on defense? It was hard to know exactly who he was supposed to be covering.

2) Whatever happened to Joe Smith? It's hard to believe they couldn't have used another big man have helped underneath where Dwight Howard was terrorizing them.

3) What was the deal in the third quarters, where the Cavs were outscored in five of the six games? What happened to adjustments?

There's so much more.

Brown made his reputation as a defensive coach, but never could come up with a scheme to stall Orlando for long, much less shut them down. The Magic averaged 103 points in this series, shooting nearly 49 percent.

He stubbornly refused to maximize James on defense by assigning him to defend either Rashard Lewis or Hedu Turkoglu for most of the series. He was not able to find a way to either stop Dwight Howard (40 points, 14 rebounds) inside or Lewis and the other shooters outside.

Even James (who averaged 38.5 points per game) seemed a bit out of sorts, as he didn't drive to the basket with the same authority. After three quarters, with the Cavs trailing 86-70, James had attempted only six shots in the paint, making three.

James finished with his worst performance of the 14-game postseason, scoring 25 on 8-of-20 shooting.

As Orlando prepares to head to Los Angeles for the NBA Finals, the Cavs go to their summer vacation feeling empty and, hopefully, a little angry. This was a lousy way for what should have been a very good season to end.


First-Eye Akron Aeros Report

I got a chance to see the Aeros play the Erie Seawolves in Erie this afternoon, a 7-2 Seawolves win.

Jeanmar Gomez, who pitched a perfect game for Akron earlier in the season, started for the Aeros did not have his usual stuff getting lit up for 7 runs in only 4 innings. Gomez showed excellent breaking pitches and got 2 strikes on the majority of the batters. However, he could not put them away. His fastball clocked around 90 mpg, an area he can surely improve on in his young career.

Carlos Santana had two sac flies for the only Aero RBIs of the game, one with the bases loaded and 0 outs in the first inning.

Beau Mills and Nick Weglarz did not have very good days at the plate.

The Seawolves starter Marte really shut down the Akron bats in a 3 game Erie sweep of the series. The Aeros still lead the division by 3 games over Erie.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Season Saved, For Now

That's the kind of game we need to see from Mo Williams to save this series!

The season continues: James' brilliant fourth quarter keeps Cavaliers alive in Game 5, 112-102

by Brian Windhorst/Plain Dealer Reporter
Thursday May 28, 2009, 11:37 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cavaliers made several statements on Thursday night. The most important may have been the one they made to themselves.

They can beat the Orlando Magic, a concept that has seemed doubtful at times during this rocky Eastern Conference finals. They can do it playing their own way, even if it means having to absorb body blows and intense and sometimes unrelenting pressure.

The Cavs took what they hope is their first step in a comeback by out-battling the Magic, 112-102, in Game 5 at The Q.

It was a high-scoring game that saw an early 22-point lead turn into an 8-point deficit with stunning swiftness, not your typical Cavs effort. But it also showed just what it is going to take to eliminate the Cavs from the playoffs.

Quite a bit.

Now the series shifts back to Orlando as the Magic get their second chance for a closeout game. But they will have to do so under pressure for the first time all series.

If the Cavs are to steal one in Central Florida, it will probably take the same sort of effort they put forth in Game 5. Not only was it the deepest performance of the five games but it also saw some of the Magic's unsungs stop playing like such heroes.

That and yet another superior effort from LeBron James, who doesn't yet seem to be tiring of them yet.

James had his best all-around game of the series and his first triple double of the postseason when the Cavs had to have it. He scored 37 points with 12 assists and set a career playoff high with 14 rebounds. Those numbers can seem numbing without this context: From late in the third quarter to late in the fourth, James scored or assisted on 32 consecutive Cavs points.
John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer The Cavaliers, as Wally Szczerbiak showed on this second-half play, were determined not to let Dwight Howard get easy baskets inside. Howard scored 24 points before fouling out.
Coach Mike Brown took a page out of the Magic book and put James in the high post at the center of the floor not unlike the way the Magic use Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard in their middle pick-and-rolls. Surrounding him with a small lineup and a couple of teammates who were hot, notably Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson, turned out to be a perfect adjustment.

"I knew there was going to be an opportunity to press the gas on the offensive end," James said. "It was something the players and coaches came up with to exploit their defense and take advantage of my shooters."

When the Magic gave him space, he repeatedly bulled into the lane and into Howard, drawing fouls until Howard was disqualified. The final foul for Howard came with 2:22 left as James crunched into him and somehow got the ball on the rim and into the net. When he finished the three-point play, the Cavs had pretty much finished the Magic and earned new life.

James scored 17 points in the fourth quarter and dished out four assists. Three went to Williams and Gibson for 3-pointers.

"They're giving him the ball in the middle of the floor. The game is all LeBron all the time," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "It is a difficult area to double team in because of shooters and his passing. It gets real tough because he has shooters and if he gets in the lane it is automatically a foul."

Williams finally was able to summon the sort of All-Star performance he gave for much of the season. He made his first four shots, seeming comfortable on the floor for the first time in about a month. He finished with 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Four other Cavs scored in double figures, again the sort of team-wide production that was a characteristic of so much of the season.
Tracy Boulian/The Plain DealerWally Szczerbiak and LeBron James enjoy the biggest basket of Thursday's Game 5, a fourth-quarter drive and score that drew the sixth foul of the game on Dwight Howard (rear).
Zydrunas Ilgauskas made 6-of-8 shots and put up 16 points despite having his hands full dealing with Howard, who presented a problem just about every minute he was on the floor. Ilgauskas, as in Game 4, finished the game on the bench after fouling out -- as did Anderson Varejao.

Delonte West had another strong game with 13 points though he, too, had struggles on defense. Daniel Gibson followed up his good shooting in Game 4 by hitting three more 3-pointers in Game 5 on his way to 11 points.

The Cavs played a more standard style of defense than they had been using in the first four games. They did not cross-match James on Rafer Alston and played straight up and attached to the Magic's strong shooters when they could. It had both positive and negative effects.

Alston came back to earth after his 26 points in Orlando and went just 1-of-10 from the floor. His missing production turned out to be a difference for the Magic. So did Rashard Lewis, who had 15 points but went just 4-of-12 shooting. Without as much space, the Magic made just 8-of-25 3-pointers.

The Howard/Hedo Turkoglu pick-and-roll was still a problem. Orlando got 24 points from Howard before he fouled out on 8-of-10 shooting with 10 rebounds. Turkoglu had his best scoring game of the series with 29 points. But the Cavs simply had more support.

"Our mental focus and awareness were there," Brown said. "Especially down the stretch."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thanks For Nothing, Mo Williams

All season I wondered what could derail this season and the answer is that Mo Williams is a playoff choke

The Shot, the Drive, the Fumble, The MO

Biggest disparity between a regular season and playoff player I have ever seen in sports. Without Mo, we are last year's team and this year's Magic beat last year's Cavs every time.

I'm not gonna waste your time with his awful playoff stats, are you watching the series? That's enough proof right there.

Let it be known I am officially ending the Cavaliers season. Lakers over Magic in 6.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't Blame Z, Look at Backcourt

Before we blame Z and his defense of Dwight Howard for the Game 1 loss, let's take some things into consideration:

Z's +- was a plus 12 where as Ben Wallace was a minus 14. I know those stats can be misleading but it is interesting to think about. Honestly, this would be a perfect series to get Lorenzen Wright some minutes as a big physical body to D up Howard but alas, he is hurt. Ben is just too small to be effective in this series.

Mo and Delonte shot 10 for 32. It's bad enough to shoot 28% but when your duo takes 32 field goals in the process, it's tough to win. The rest of the team shot an outstanding 33/56, the two guards really need to step it up.

The point is, yes Z had some trouble with Howard defensively, but so did everyone else on the team! Howard didn't beat us, the three point shooting in the 2nd half (particularly from Turkoglu and Lewis) did! Z had a double double and did his job. This was a team effort but let's look at the back-court who we have praised all season, and take into account that Mo and Delonte need to step up!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quick Liftoffs: 5-17

I know Tribe fans are getting impatient and panicking, calling for every young prospect from AAA to be brought up, but ITS NOT WORKING.

These guys are not helping us win games and many of them haven't had enough time in AAA to have any business being up here in the first place.

Crowe was outmatched at the plate (and is still in AAA, batting under .200), Francisco has been outperforming LaPorta (ditto when Laporta plays 1B over Garko or DeRosa), Carroll is a better option than Valbuena (also putrid at the plate), and at this point I'd take Sowers or Zach Jackson as the 5th starter over what we saw from Huff today (not enough time at Columbus!). Bringing up Hector Rondon would be another mistake!

The veterans are going to need to turn it around to save this team. I have faith in Francisco, Peralta, even DeRosa and Carmona to help turn things around over the youngsters who aren't ready!

On the injury front, Hafner coming back will bump LaPorta back to AAA (unless Dellucci's .270 average plummets in that time), Westbrook will eventually bump out the #5 starter (I want Jackson, Sowers or Tomo Ohka right now), and Joe Smith will bump out one of the over-the-hill pen arms (Herges, Vizcaino).

Right now, I think there are a couple moves that can be made to help the team in the short-run.

Sent Jensen Lewis down to AAA, bring up Rich Rundles
- A lot of Tribe fans are anxious to see flamethrowing Jon Meloan (acquired in the Casey Blake deal) but the fact is that his over-6 ERA and tendency to walk people in AAA make him an unsafe option. Rundles has been pitching well for Columbus and has experience for the Tribe last September where he performed well in a short amount of time. He's also already on the 40-man roster which is a plus. I think everyone agrees that Lewis needs a sabbatical to figure out what is going wrong.

Give Sowers another shot
- I know what he did in his first two starts, but the fact is that there isn't anything left to prove for Sowers in AAA where he has an impressive ERA hovering around 2 and won a 2-1 decision tonight. I'm all for giving him a handful of starts until Westbrook comes back later in the summer and deciding his future at that point. I'm still waiting for the 2006 Sowers to reemerge. I know, though, that even if Sowers will never work out for the Indians, that we can boost his trade value in that time with some more exposure and some good starts. David Huff hasn't been in AAA long enough to be up here in the bigs (3.2 innings and 7 runs today) and Laffey is our best bullpen arm at this point, no sense moving him from that role.

Barfield up, Valbuena down
- Luis Valbuena is a promising young IF but he is just overmatched at the plate, batting around .100 at the time of this post. Josh Barfield was 3-3 with some runs scored in a very brief appearance earlier this month and I'd like to give him another shot as the starting 2B. Valbuena needs more time at AAA (see a pattern?) to work on his bat and Barfield can work at 2B with Peralta at 3rd, Cabrera at short with Garko/DeRosa getting a day off or DH-ing. At the worst, he can provide speed off the bench, something Valbuena does not.

Bringing em back - At some point, Lewis and Perez will need to come back to Cleveland and contribute to the pen. Perez may be ready soon, with an ERA of 0.00 in a handful of appearances, but Lewis would need some time. I'm gonna give Luis Vizcaino a chance to prove himself but if his one pitch walk-off Friday night was any indication, he's just another journeyman stiff. I'd consider removing some of those type of guys in our bullpen with those who have proven themselves for us in the past (Perez, Lewis, even Zach Jackson).

God bless us all

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quick Liftoffs: 5-12


Jim Thome, we hate you. I refuse to listen to Indians fans who still love "Big Jim" or are willing to forgive him for spurning the Tribe for the money the rest of American baseball provides. I will never forgive him, or Manny, or Carlos Boozer, or any of the others. When athletes leave a team for money, just say it. Don't hide behind excuses or claim you were just "testing the market." You aren't fooling anyone, we are smart people here! It wouldn't be enough just to leave, but to come back to THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX and constantly torment us (2 HRs 4 RBI tonight) is just too much...


Will the Cavs ever lose? At 8-0 with 8 double-digit wins, it sure doesn't look like it. I won't be foolish enough to say that the Cavs an sweep the Celtics and Lakers/Nuggets, but I don't think Boston is a legit threat any more. It will take them a minimum of 13 games played (and 7 overtimes or more) to get to the same place the Cavs are at with 8 games. They are old, tired, and don't have the unquenchable hunger that is driving, Lebron and Co. to their ultimate goal. Like Mo said earlier this postseason, I sure won't feel bad if that series goes 7!


The way the Indians are going, it is possible the Browns can come up from the cellar they have held in the Cleveland sports rankings since pre-Lebron days. Eric Mangini better be a pretty damn good coach though....

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Another Day, Another Bullpen Meltdown

The team with the most 8th inning runs allowed in baseball was at it again on Saturday blowing a game that would have been a great comeback and a series-winner.

The Indians rallied from 5-0 down after starter Aaron Laffey was chased in the 4th to take a 7-6 lead thanks in part to solid bullpen efforts from Vinnie Chulk and Tony Sipp. However, all of that came undone when Rafael Betancourt gave up 3 runs in the 8th inning and Jhonny Peralta blew a chance to make things interesting in the 9th, stranding runners on 1st and 3rd with 2 outs.

This team is the most frustrating in baseball. One day you get double-digit runs, then you get 12 runs in 6 games. The starters are up and down and the bullpen is mostly down, with no bridge whatsoever to closer Kerry Wood (perfect in 5 save opportunities).

I propose a complete bullpen shakedown to save this pitiful season.

Send Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez to AAA Columbus and bring up youngsters John Meloan and his firey fastball and Zach Jackson who started the season as a longman with the Tribe. The Indians need to strongly consider designating Masa Kobayashi for assignment if he can't prove to be effective and think about moving Scott Lewis or Anthony Reyes to the pen for another effective arm. Betancourt will be reduced to a mop-up guy until/if he can turn things around and Chulk and Sipp moved to the 8th inning responsibilties as the only guys in the pen with ERA even close to being under 3.00.

God help us all if this bullpen can't turn things around. Why did Wedge fire Luis Isaac again?