Saturday at 7:30 the Cavaliers tip off against the Knicks. Fellow bloguin blogger Lives from the top-notch Knickerbocker site Knicks Fanatics and I exchanged a Q & A in preparation for the match-up. Look for my answers to his questions here. His A's in response to my Q's are as follows...
StepienRules: LeBron just inked his endorsement deal with McDonalds...so why does he need the media market that is New York then? And why do you guys think you can get everybody? We just gave you Sabathia, leave us alone!
Knicks Fanatics: LOL. If LeBron comes to New York, McDonald's may name a sandwich after him: LeTripleDouble Burger sounds better than the Angus Burger. Too bad they can't have it their way and nickname him the Burger King. Seriously, not all New Yorkers believe that Madison Avenue is the center of the marketing universe. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Britney Spears have proven that you don't need to work in New York to take advantage of the New York media. Those who think LeBron needs New York to sell shoes and hamburgers in China, LA and Belize are just looking for pennies in the bottom of the purse to give LeBron in addition to a max salary, because they can't convince him that he would join a winning organization. With that said, I would be very happy for LeBron to select New York as his new home. And stop complaining, we gave you Walt Frazier once.
Knicks Fanatics: David Lee is an offensive stud and a defensive dud.
Look, I know its Cleveland, and I know we're nervous. I know there's no way the Indians shouldn't have won a World Series in the 90's, no way Elway should have lead the Broncos all the way down the field in the 80s, and if you asked me last May, there's no way I would have told you the Cavaliers weren't going to win the NBA title a year ago. But this Cavaliers team - that we're all watching right now - is better than all that, and they just might not let you down this time. So go ahead and fall backwards like you did at your company retreat last summer, they'll catch you. They are hands down the best team in the NBA. They have far and away the best player in the game, and from 1 to 12, there is no team close to being as deep. So, for now, I say put the trade talk on the back burner for a minute and just appreciate what it is we're watching. You may never see any team like this again, not in this town at least.
Take tonight's 102-86 win over the Heat for example. Daniel Gibson, a guy that doesn't even see the floor when the team's at full strength, all he does is miss the entire first half, show up at halftime, and score a dozen points before he leaves, giving Boobie seven straight games now in double figures. And the truth is, this team's so deep, that when Mo and Delonte get back he's probably back to sitting beside Darnell Jackson on the bench every night. Then there's JJ Hickson. A frustrating guy at times to be sure, however not lately. He tomahawked in the face of Dwayne Wade tonight - that was for you Andy - and scored 12 points hitting the double digit mark for the second game in a row, and that's only two games removed from going for 23 against Minnesota. Then there's the Shaq-a-lier. If you hadn't been keeping track at home, Shaq's 13 and 8 tonight gives him ten straight games in double figure points. Last time the Big Fella didn't go for double digits was January 14th in Utah, and tonight, he did it in 21 minutes of work - less than half the game for all non-math majors. But saying all that, LeBron James has been better.
And what I mean by better, is noticeably better than he was last season. How many people can actually say that they thought that possible - after watching LeBron win the MVP last season - that he could come back this time around and be a markedly better player? Because he is.
I'm still hoping LeBron wears his uniform underneath a tearaway Gucci suit courtside to the dunk contest, and just when everybody's pretty sure there's no way he'll do it, he busts out the Wine and Gold, leaves the pinstripes on the floor, and does something like this...
Photo Credit: Cleveland.com
In addition to getting a chance to speak with Anthony Parker yesterday prior to the Cavaliers - Clippers game, I also caught up with Cleveland's own Jawad Williams for a minute on his way into the locker room after shootaround. Williams played 12 minutes in the first half yesterday and scored 12 points on 4 of 7 from the field. He also grabbed a rebound and had two assists before sitting out most of the second half while nursing a sore back. Our pregame exchange is below...
StepienRules: Did you get a chance to talk with Coach Williams the other night when he was in town?
Jawad Williams: Yeah, I talked to him briefly after the game, and he just told me to continue to work hard.
StepienRules: Have you stopped to think this season that it wasn't too long ago you were an undrafted free agent bouncing around between Spain, Japan and Israel, and now here you are as a rotation player for Cavs?
Jawad Williams: I am just continuing to look forward at this point, but I do know where I come from. I am very thankful for this situation, so all I can do now is just continue to work hard, and hopefully things will continue to get better for me.
StepienRules: You've been contributing in a variety of ways this season - on the defensive end, as a rebounder, as well as stretching the floor offensively from the perimeter. Is there one thing over the other that Mike Brown has told you he needs 'this' from you 'at least' every night?
Jawad Williams: No, not one thing in particular over the other, just a little bit of everything. My role can change on any given night, on some nights it could be strictly to play defense and rebound, and I'm willing to accept that, and I feel like as long as I continue to do what they ask me to do I think I'll be fine.
StepienRules: Was there one thing you were able to learn about your game in your time overseas that you might not have been able to learn had you not had that experience?
Jawad Williams: The biggest thing was efficiency. Trying to be efficient and consistent every night. In the NBA its more of an individual game. Not saying that we're not a team, but in the NBA its more about match-ups. Overseas its more of a team game, where everyone's getting involved, and you have to be efficient when your time comes. Learning that playing overseas, I really think helped me a lot.
Thoughts on Leon Powe from Pregame:
I spent a good portion of pregame yesterday standing on the court watching Leon Powe warm-up as well, and I have to say, the guy looked pretty healthy to me.
Now that said, I realize all he was doing was catching passes from a 16-year old ball boy, and attacking the basket with nobody in front of him like Shep used to do after Nutso passed, but still, he seemed to be going pretty hard. He was definetely exploding off that leg some, and I didn't see him limping around at all during the 30 minutes or so he was out there. He dunked a few times as well, and on one of those dunks he brought the ball back over his head with two hands and brought it down with some power...so we'll see. I certainly walked away encouraged at the possibilities there.
The Cavaliers were gracious enough to grant me a press credential for Sunday's game, and as a result I had an opportunity to speak one on one with Anthony Parker and Jawad Williams prior to tip-off. Below, after a recap of sorts, is my conversation with Anthony Parker. Look for my chat with Jawad Williams tomorrow, and a Leon Powe update later in the week.
The Cavaliers started out so hot on Sunday night that after LeBron hit a three pointer with 3.9 seconds left in the first quarter to give himself 23 points for the period and his team a 26 point lead (46-20), Daniel Gibson and Jamario Moon put their warm-ups back on and signed autographs for most of the 2nd quarter.
Or maybe that was pregame. But they could have, because even though the Clippers would eventually cut a lead - that once reached a 'diff' of 31 when Jawad Williams hit a three with 5:30 left in the second quarter - all the way down to 11 early in the fourth, it was over before the second period ever started. Baron Davis played tough throughout, and the Clippers fought some with Kaman sidelined, but they still lost handily even with Mo and Delonte missing in action. Truth is the Clippers never really recovered from the record setting uppercut that came their way in the form of 13 out of 17 three pointers made by the Cavaliers to start the game...that's 76.5% from three point range for the first half if you're scoring at home.
Catching Up with Anthony Parker:
One of those guys that had a hand in the three point barage was Anthony Parker, who's not yet been named to the three point shoot-out despite being amongst the leaders in that category all season. I had a chance to speak with AP about that, and his career overseas (which ended in 2006) on Sunday prior to tip-off, and our conversation's below...
StepienRules: Can you talk about how far you've come in your career, in that it wasn't too long ago you were playing all the way over in Israel for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, and now here you are as a starter on the team with the best record in the NBA?
Anthony Parker: Well, starting 13 years ago in Philly, and, you know, not having a great time of it my first round in the NBA, then going overseas and having a great time, playing at a high level, then coming back and falling into this opportunity, its been great. I don't think that I look at it as I've come so far in that I was in Tel-Aviv and it wasn't good, and now its better here, but it is a different experience, and to be back in the NBA and have this opportunity at this age, I certainly didn't think that I'd have this chance.
StepienRules: You wear the number eighteen in tribute to your days overseas. Can you talk to me about that?
Anthony Parker: The number eighteen in the Jewish faith it means 'chai,' which is a symbol for life and good fortune, and when I came back to the NBA, I didn't want to just choose a meaningless number. A lot of the numbers I would have taken were taken already, and so I thought that it was a good way to carry what happened in Israel with me, and kinda say thanks to all the fans, and the country as a whole, while taking those memories with me to the NBA.
StepienRules: Do you still stay in touch with any of those guys you played with in Israel?
Anthony Parker: Yeah. We still stay in touch and talk, I still have a lot of friends overseas. Some still play for Maccabi, and some play for other teams, but you know we had such a strong bond and whenever you have a championship team you develop a closesness on the court, but we also had a close-nit group off the court. As a result, we have friends all over the world now which is a great experience for me.
StepienRules: Is there a part of you that wishes you were named to be in this year's three-point contest?
Anthony Parker: Well we'll see, I would love a shot at it. Its something that I've never done, and always watched growing up, so it would be very exciting to be in it. But you know, we'll see what happens.
Danny Green and Cedric Jackson were seated courtside Saturday watching Jackson's alma mater get a 77-69 win over Youngstown State. After the game, Darnell Jackson came down to join them on the court, and they signed autographs for every kid that asked them too. As a basketball fan in Cleveland, I am a big fan of this. Credit Danny Ferry for helping to create this synergy between the Cavaliers, Cleveland State, and the community, and credit Cedric Jackson for being good enough for allowing him to do so.
And don't think for a second this won't impact CSU's recruiting in a major way. I don't care who you are, its gotta be cool playing college basketball with NBA players sitting courtside. Which is what I asked Sophomore Guard Jeremy Montgomery - who had 18 points on 4 of 6 from three - after the game:
"It means a lot, especially when one of the guy's are from your program. Ced worked a lot with me last year, and we're proud of him, where he's at, and I want to go out there and make him proud.
At one point in the second half, Montgomery hit a big three, and on his way back down the court pointed at Green and Jackson.
"When I hit that shot, I just wanted to let him know I appreciate all that, and show him some love."
Cedric Jackson was showing love too after the game, seen above signing an autograph.
If the NBA MVP had its own night like the Heisman trophy Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant would probably be in New York sitting front row in their finest suits as finalists at the end of this season. Seeing as how Lebron James out-dueled all three of them in consecutive games, and consecutive wins for the Wine and Gold, with a short handed squad I'd hold off on preparing my speech if I were them. In those three games Lebron James averaged 37 pts, 7 rebs, and 8 assists and shot 46% from the field. Kobe, Dwayne and Durant averaged a combined 32, 7, and 4 shooting 41%. Truly incredible numbers from the King but we've seen him have stretches like this before, some even statistically better. The other stars numbers are very solid as well so in this case we have to look beyond just the game stats to see how much more of an impact LB had in getting his team three straight wins in these games.
Photo Credit: Hector Gabino/ENH
What we saw from Lebron may or may not be the best basketball he's ever played. That seems to be the debate brewing here locally.