With six minutes left in the fourth quarter Bill Walker hit a three to give the Knicks their 74th point of the night. That basket cut the lead to 36, and matched the total (74) the Cavaliers scored in the first half. Part of me wants to stop right there. There’s no real point in belaboring the fact that the Knicks are a god-awful team. We all know by now that they’re allergic to defense, and continue to insist on shooting jumpers every 7 seconds despite the fact that they don’t have all that many jump-shooters on the roster. They’re an embarrasing group that has to come back in the fourth quarter (down by upwards of 40 points) to lose by 31 (124-93), and I can’t see how anybody would make the choice to join them next season. With that said, I will stop there, and speak on the Cavs moving forward.As much as I was discouraged to hear the reports that Shaq will be out for 6-8 weeks earlier in the day,
I was that much encouraged by the electricity with which the Cavaliers took the court tonight en-route to their 4th straight win overall and 8th straight against the Knicks. J.J stepped into that starting center role for the first time since high school – which sounds like a long time but its only about 3 years ago – and had his best game of the season totalling 17 points and 9 rebounds as an active presence in the paint throughout his 23 minutes of work. Likewise, Delonte (15-3-3) came out and played probably his best minutes of the season as well – punishing Eddie House, dunking on T-Mac’s face, and assisting the likes of LBJ (though it didn’t count) and Anderson up at the rim. The Cavs are going to need those two guys, and now more than ever they are also going to need some quality minutes from Leon Powe who looked good himself going for 8 points 4 rebounds. Antawn Jamison continued to impress with 17-12, and LeBron was his usual self after being named player of the month again earlier in the day, tallying 22-7-7 basically all in the first half before sitting for the majority of the second. In summation all was well tonight as the Cavs had two guys with double-doubles (Andy 14-10 along with Jamison) as well as those aforementioned five with double figure points.
All that said, if the Shaq injury doesn’t still concern you a bit I think it should. I would love to say that Shaq being sidelined will allow him some adequate rest, and in the meantime allow some other guys additional minutes to improve their play and confidence for when called upon in the playoffs. In fact I did say that yesterday afternoon…when I thought Shaq would be out for a few weeks. With him not coming back for possibly two months however, I do worry a bit about the Cavaliers style of play moving forward in the meantime. To be clear, the Cavaliers are at their best when Shaq is in the line-up, especially when he’s in the line-up playing the way he was just prior to his injury. But when he’s in the line-up, they don’t play the style of play they did tonight – baseball style outlet passes down the court, run-outs on everything – they run situationally and focus on beating you in the half-court. Now a lot of that fast break stuff was due to the Knicks tonight to be sure. You can’t help but run when the Knicks are coming down and sending 15 foot jumpers off the rim 5 seconds into the shot-clock, I get that. But one things that’s true – no matter how you look at it – is the Cavaliers are a different team without Shaq, and they’ll be that different team for the two months leading up to the playoffs – without Shaq. And then, just as the playoffs start, Shaq will come back, and they’ll be forced to adjust to being a different team again. And that adjustment – just as the second round gets under way – is what worries me about the whole thing…not that there’s anything you can do about it now.