Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boozer rhymes with loser

Don't look now, but the Detroit Pistons have won 11 consecutive playoff series in which they've won the first game. Couple that with the fact that teams with a 1-0 lead and home-court advantage in Game 2 of a best-of-7 NBA series have won 222 series while losing just 35, and it looks like we'll be waiting a lot longer than the rest of these playoffs before feeling good about the Cavs again.

So here's a few things to take solace in while waiting for the Cavs to play pavement to the Detroit steamroller:

1) Carlos Boozer will be knocked out of the playoffs even sooner than the Cavs.
-- Yes, it looks like another Pistons-San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals matchups, what with the Spurs dismantling Boozer's Utah Jazz in the first two games of their series. The Spurs won Game 1 by eight and Game 2 by nine, nearly identical results. The Jazz will have to win four out of the next five to advance. San Antonio had only one stretch this season where it lost that many games. The Spurs lost their last three games of the regular season and the first game of the playoffs. But for two of those games, they rested their best players. So don't count on it happening again. Boozer will have to content himself with his big contract, cause he ain't getting a ring.

2) The NBA Draft Lottery ensured the Cavs will remain among the elite of a weak Eastern Conference.
-- Thanks to some bouncy Ping Pong balls, it looks like Ohio State big man Greg Oden will wind up with the Portland Trail Blazers and Texas' Kevin Durant will head to Seattle. That's right, make those Western Conference teams even stronger!

3) No choosing between the Cavs and American Idol.
-- Not that there would be any choice of course, but the NBA will allow you to watch both. Especially if you are a teen-aged girl or pussy-whipped. Game 2 of the Cavs-Pistons series won't be played until Thursday because the NBA did not want to compete with the American Idol finals.

4) Higher draft pick for the Cavs.
-- Oops, maybe not -- they traded their first-round pick away!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The shot not heard round the world

It's not the shot that was the problem for the Cavs in their Eastern Conference finals opener against the Detroit Pistons Monday night. It's the Cavs' attitude.

That, and the fact that it was a Cleveland team taking the shot to try to win a playoff game in the final seconds. Which is why when Michael Jordan takes The Shot it is capitalized, and when Donyell Marshall takes the shot it is not.

Just remember, LeBron James driving the lane, drawing the attention of the entire defense like he's a magnet and the opponents are made of metal, then dishing to the corner for a game-winning three-ball try is an established part of the Cavs' repertoire. James connected with Damon Jones on such a play to beat the Toronto Raptors by a point last March, just a few days after matching up with Flip Murray on almost the exact same play in a win over the Chicago Bulls. Then there was Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs last year, when Larry Hughes found Damon Jones alone in the corner for a 23-footer to decide the series in the Cavs favor by a point.

All three treys came on the road with less than five seconds to go. So don't pretend LeBron's pass to Donyell Marshall was a surprise. It's part of a pattern.

Of course, so is not winning a championship since 1964. But maybe that's got something to do with the attitude being displayed after the Pistons took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, giving them an 86.4% chance of advancing to the NBA Finals based on past results (which of course are no guarantee of future success).

Consider LeBron's comments. Apparently he hasn't figured out yet that he doesn't live in Cincinnati, he lives in Cleveland, since he said, "We're OK with this loss tonight." And head coach Mike Brown said it's only one game. Well guess what, Coach, there might be only three more left with that line of thinking. Even Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the elder statesman of the team who might very well be running out of tomorrows, took the loss in stride: "I'm disappointed we lost, but we've got a lot of bullets left."

That's good to hear. Usually our teams have no bullets left after they shoot themselves in the foot every time they get into the playoffs.

Let's face it, Charles Barkley is right. The Cavs need a point guard and the Cavs need a shooting guard. To surround LeBron James with average-to-decent players, ask him to do everything, them blame him when he can't, is ridiculous. Sure, we'll hear the same rhetoric every time, that LeBron made the smart basketball play, that LeBron trusts his teammates, that LeBron would do it again next time, etc., etc. But he can't do it all, and he won't do it all. Why do you think Donyell Marshall's on this team? In two seasons with the Cavs, he's tried 666 treys and 498 regular field goals. It's the 3-pointer, stupid!

But if your 3-point shooter can't make the 3-pointer, and your superstar still takes the blame after coming within one assist of a triple double -- well, then your probably a Cleveland team. And just think, if Donyell Marshall hits the trey, LeBron gets his triple double.

Instead, we're left with the old college try and a 1-0 deficit.

So debate the pass vs. the shot all you want. Rail against our bad fortunes. Curse the Detroit teams that have had our number of the past few years. But what you should really be concerned about is the attitude that a team in Cleveland can just take a close loss instead of being upset that it didn't step on its foes throat when it had the chance. After all, second chances here are few and far between.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You just keep telling yourself that

You tell yourself not to worry about the New Jersey Nets' victory over the Cavs in Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals. After all, only two of the previous 114 teams to lead an NBA series 3-1 and play Game 5 at home lost the series. The Nets have a better chance at beating gravity than beating the Cavs!

Then you tell yourself that Cleveland teams have a way of defying the odds. By losing Game 5, the Cavs have reduced their chances of winning the series by nearly 30%. Teams up 3-2 in an NBA series and playing Game 6 on the road are 50-20 all-time in winning the series, and just 42-28 (.600) in Game 6 itself.

You tell yourself not to worry, the Detroit Pistons lost Game 5 in the same situation, and no one's forecasting gloom and doom for them. Heck, they were up 3-0 in their series, a lead more secure than Florence ADMAX, the supermax prison in Colorado which houses the Unabomber and several al-Qaeda members .

Then you tell yourself that Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz had little trouble closing out the Golden State Warriors in their fifth game. And you throw up.

You tell yourself that LeBron James limping off the court at the end of the game was nothing, he was just worn out and had given up his body a moment earlier by diving for a loose ball on the sidelines.

Then you ask yourself just what the heck LeBron James was still doing in the game at that point since the outcome was already pretty much determined -- especially when his eight-months' pregnant girlfriend had been taken to the hospital on a stretcher at halftime?

You tell yourself you didn't expect the series to go less than six games anyway, by golly, this is where you expected it to be anyway!

Then you tell yourself that you live in Cleveland, and by golly you're going to forget that part of it when Game 6 rolls around.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Looking ahead

Bring on the Pistons!

That's what we're all thinking now, after the Cavs beat New Jersey in Game 4 of their best-of-7 series to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Heck, it's pretty much what the Cavs have been thinking all season long, ever since losing to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. That's why the Cavs seemed to sleepwalk through certain games this season, infuriating fans with losses to the Charlotte Bobcats (twice), Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks (twice), and Boston Celtics. That's why LeBron James said before Game 4 against the Nets that teams can't take plays off in the playoffs, but maybe you can do that a few times during the regular season.

But who in their right mind in Cleveland ever looks ahead?

That's why we'll all still be nervous Wednesday night when the Nets come back to The Q for what should be their final game of the season. Even though the Cavs have gone 7-1 in the playoffs, even though they've won 11 of their last 12 dating back to the regular season, even though LeBron James is averaging 28 points per game in the playoffs (most of anyone still playing), we're still worried that the Cavs will go back into sleepwalking mode with a snap of the fingers.

But even the biggest Cleveland sports cynic should be swayed by the evidence supporting the notion to mark this series against the Nets in the win column already. Consider:

* Teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLB with a 3-1 series edge and Game 5 at home are 407-38 all-time in those series, a 91.5 winning percentage.

* NBA, NHL, and MLB teams playing in a quarterfinals series with those conditions are even better, 92-3 all-time for a 96.8 series winning percentage.

* NBA teams with a 3-1 series edge and playing Game 5 at home are 112-2 all-time, a 98.2 series winning percentage.

So there it is. Based on the history of this situation in the NBA, the Cavs have a 98.2% chance of winning. Of course, the inner beaten-down Cleveland sports fan in us will paraphrase Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber and ask, "So you're telling me there's a chance the Nets will win?" After all, we expect to get rivered here in Cleveland.

But really, there's only a 1.8% chance that the Cavs and Pistons WON'T match up in the Eastern Conference finals; just a 1.8% chance that the Cavs WON'T get their chance at revenge. After all, the Pistons are in the exact same situation as the Cavs: Game 5 at home, up 3-1 in the series. It looks LeBron and company should get their bags packed for a trip to Detroit.

And of course in the other half of the bracket lurks our Benedict Arnold, Carlos Boozer. His Jazz are also up 3-1 with Game 5 at home. So they are virtually a lock to make the Western Conference finals.

Boozer vs. the Cavs in the NBA Finals? Well, don't look ahead that much.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thanks to Oakland Athletics designated hitter Jack Cust, Indians closer Joe Borowski cussed, Tribe manager Eric Wedge cussed, everyone in the Indians dugout cussed -- heck, an entire city cussed.

Curses, foiled again.

This time it actually was a blown save, since Borowski came into the game with a two-run lead instead of a four-run lead. Since that disaster at Yankee Stadium, Borowski had picked up saves in seven of nine appearances, giving up just two runs in 8.1 innings pitched.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, up comes Milton Bradley. Still mad that Eric Wedge dismissed him at the beginning of the 2004 season, Bradley stroked a game-tying homer off Borowski with two outs in the ninth. Two more hits knocked out Borowski and brought in reliever Fernando Cabrera. Then came Babe Ruth, errrrr, Jack Cust, who socked his sixth homer in 26 at-bats to win the game for Oakland.

All this after Borowski retired the first two in the ninth and put two strikes on Eric Chavez. It's the second time this season the Tribe's closer has melted like string cheese in an oven after getting to this point. How many true championship contenders have blown more than one multiple-run lead in the ninth with two outs, no one on, and an 0-2 count on the batter. The Tribe has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory twice in such fashion this year.

It's not all bad. The Detroit Tigers were pummelled last night, leaving the Tribe just a game and a half out of first place in the AL Central with the league's third-best record. But how many games can a team just give away like quarters to a beggar and expect to compete for a playoff spot? Hey, teams lose games in the ninth. Happens all the time. Even Mariano Rivera's wheels have come off a bit this season. But with two outs, no one on, an 0-2 count on the batter, and a multiple-run lead? That just can't happen.

And it better not again.