GamBlog LogoPicks Of The Week – January 22, 2008

Matt is back with this week’s picks. Congrats to Matt and his wife on the birth of their first child, a healthy baby boy. But not even the birth of his son could stop Matt from making this weeks picks, so here he is with the picks. As always, have fun with these, these are not gambling picks, just picks for the fun of it.

mjgreg’s GAMBLOG
featuring our picks of the week

NBA Edition

Phoenix Suns (30 – 12) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (23-18)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Friday, January 25, 2008
7:00 PM EST

Back on November 4th, the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by 11 points in the desert. However, you have to remember that was the third game of the season and the Cavs were without the services of Anderson Varejao. The Cavaliers come into this game riding a 5 game winning streak (their longest of the season), while the Suns coming off of a loss have only lost back to back games twice this season. The key for both teams is actually pretty simple. The Cavaliers need to slow down Steve Nash, and the Suns need to contain Lebron James. While the key is simple to recognize, it won’t be nearly as easy to carry out on the hard wood. I see the Cavaliers of the last few weeks continuing to keep up their intensity on the defensive side of the ball and the Suns finding ways to exploit it. That being said, Lebron will keep this game close and give the Cavs a chance to make a run in the 4th quarter. I anticipate the spread being around minus five or six in favor of the Suns. This is a tough decision that I just can’t seem to take my heart out of. I’ll take the Cavs and the points, but will be pleasantly surprised if they pull out the victory.

Official prediction:

Phoenix Suns – 100
Cavaliers – 96 (+6)

mjgreg’s current record ATS is 2-0


Miami Heat logoCleveland Cavaliers (21-18) vs Miami Heat (8-29)
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, FL
Monday, January 21, 2008
8:00 PM EST

It’s always fun when LeBron and Wade meet up and square off. Traditionally, their matchups against one another have been highly competitive and a blast to watch. Will this change now that the Heat find themselves in the midst of a 13 game losing streak, or will the challenge of facing his good friend cause Wade to elevate his team to a much needed streak-snapping victory?

Starting Lineups

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Larry Hughes (9.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 28.8% 3pt, 7.94 PER)
-G Sasha Pavlovic (7.1 ppg, 1.6 apg, 27.6% 3pt, 5.89 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, 30.15 PER)
-F Drew Gooden (11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 13.17 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 18.01 PER)

Miami Heat:

-G Jason Williams (8.9 ppg, 5.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 12.41 PER)
-G Dwyane Wade (24.4 ppg, 6.7 apg, 25.0% 3pt, 22.17 PER)
-F Dorell Wright (6.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 14.14 PER)
-F Udonis Haslem (12.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 0.4 bpg, 13.40 PER)
-C Shaquille O’Neal (14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 18.53 PER)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Offense (96.4 ppg, 44.5 rpg, .434 FG%, .717 FT%, 19.1 apg, Efficiency-100.7, Rank-20)
-Defense (98.5 ppg, 41.8 rpg, .461 FG%, Efficiency-103.4, Rank-17)

Miami Heat:

-Offense (93.3 ppg, 38.8 rpg, .460 FG%, .693 FT%, 19.8 apg, Efficiency-99.0, Rank-27)
-Defense (100.1 ppg, 41.4 rpg, .464 FG%, Efficiency-105.3, Rank-25)

Game Notes

The Cavs find themselves playing yet another team that plays no defense. Additionally, the Heat have no offensive identity, they don’t rebound well, and they just don’t win games in general. On paper, this is a team the Cavaliers should beat handily (and there just aren’t many teams I would say that about). But that’s on paper. In real life, on tyhe court, the Cavaliers, and LeBron in general, tend to bring out the best in Dwyane Wade. The Cavaliers have struggled to defend the perimeter all season, and with the Cavaliers sure to focus so much attention on Wade, some open shots will be there. In general, though, this is an offensively challenged team and if Cleveland plays with the kind of defensive intensity they are capable of, they should really be able to limit the Heat’s output in this game.

For the Cavaliers, they will look to get continued good play from the bench. Varejao will be key in helping the Cavs dominate the smaller Heat lineup on the boards, as well as defending Shaq. Daniel Gibson, who has hit a 3 pointer in 25 straight games (2nd only to Mark Price’s 34 stragith in franchise history) and who is 3rd in the NBA in 3 pointers made and 3 point percentage, must continue to get his shots in. LeBron needs to just be himself and stay agressive, while Z and Gooden need to take advantage of some big time scoring chances when Shaq goes to the bench (which he does quite frequently these days). The Cavaliers will lose this game only if one of two things happens…..either Dwyane Wade has a Superman game, which he does from time to time, or the Cavaliers overlook the Heat and don’t come out with energy.

Vegas Line

Miami +3.5
Over/Under 187

San Antonio SpursCleveland Cavaliers (20-18) vs San Antonio Spurs (25-11)
SBC Center, San Antonio, TX
Thursday, January 17, 2008
8:00 PM EST

Ready or not, it’s rematch time. A rematch of the team that crushed the Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals in a heartbreaking sweep. The good news is this game finds the Cavaliers playing some of their best basketball of the season (although, admittedly, that’s not saying a whole lot). The Spurs have won 3 in a row, while the Cavaliers have won 2 straight and 8 of their last 10.

Starting Lineups

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Larry Hughes (9.4 ppg, 2.4 apg, 29.3% 3-pt, 8.17 PER)
-G Sasha Pavlovic (7.2 ppg, 1.7 apg, 28.4% 3-pt, 5.81 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.5 apg, 30.36 PER)
-F Drew Gooden (12.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 13.39 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 17.96 PER)

San Antonio Spurs:

-G Tony Parker (20.1 ppg, 6.6 apg, 0.7 spg, 21.13 PER)
-G Michael Finley (10.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 12.54 PER)
-F Bruce Bowen (5.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 7.24 PER)
-F Tim Duncan (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 24.78 PER)
-C Fabricio Oberto (5.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, o.3 bpg, 15.79 PER)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Offense (96.6 ppg, 44.5 rpg, .433 FG%, .717 FT%, 19.1 apg, Efficiency-100.6, Rank-21)
-Defense (98.7 ppg, 41.9 rpg, .461 FG%, Efficiency-103.5, Rank-18)

San Antonio Spurs:

-Offense (97.9 ppg, 41.7 rpg, .458 FG%, .755 FT%, 22.2 apg, Efficiency-107.0, Rank-6)
-Defense (92.0 ppg, 39.4 rpg, .456 FG%, Efficiency-100.2, Rank-5)

Game Notes

As I mentioned, the Cavs are playing well right now. In particular, LeBron James has been on a monstrous tear as of late. In his last 7 games, LeBron is averaging 33.4 points, shooting 52.9% from the floor, netting 9.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. Even more impressive has been LeBron’s 4th quarter performances, where LeBron has turned into an absolute mercenary. Over those same 7 games, in the 4th quarter LBJ is averaging 12.6 points on 56.9% shooting. For the season, LBJ leads all NBA players in 4th quarter scoring at 9.6 ppg (2nd is Joe Johnson at 6.5 ppg). In fact, for the season, LeBron has more double digit scoring 4th quarters (15) than anyone else (2nd is Kobe with 11). Bench production has been up as of late for the Cavaliers as well, as over the last 4 games the bench is averaging 39 points per game, led by strong performances by Daniel Gibson, Andy Varejao, and Devin Brown.

Believe it or not, the Cavs have won their last 3 regular season matchups against the Spurs. Big Z has been a big part of the reason, averaging 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game over his last 9 games against the Spurs. The good news ends there. The Cavs have to go from one extreme to the other, going from Memphis’s defense to the Spurs’ defense. The Spurs are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and they boast one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses. The Spurs are great at adapting to any style of game, and they will look to stifle LeBron with Bruce Bowen while taking advantage of the soft defense of the Cav’s perimeter defense. Just as he did in the NBA Finals, expect Tony Parker to look to abuse the Cavs with his penetration. If the Cavs want to have a chance in this game, they must control the boards, cut off Parker’s penetration, and find creative ways to get LeBron going on offense. If the Cavs can run some pick and rolls with LBJ and either Z or Andy early, and then hit Gibson and maybe even Damon Jones for some timely 3 pointers, the Cavs just might be able to find some success. Either way, this game will be a nice measuring stick game to see where the team really is at this juncture of the season.

Vegas Line

San Antonio -7.5
Over/Under 183.5

Memphis GrizzliesCleveland Cavaliers (19-18) vs Memphis Grizzlies (10-27)
FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 8:00 PM

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the Cavaliers this season. With the deep playoff run by the Indians and the exciting Browns season, I must admit that I’ve left the Cavaliers fall to the back burner a bit. So allow me to introduce a new feature to the Cleveland Sports Authority site: Game Previews. Just a brief look at the upcoming games. I hope you enjoy these.

Starting Lineups (with PPG, RPG, APG, and Player Efficiency Ratings [league average=15.0])

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-G Larry Hughes (9.7 ppg, 2.7 apg, 8.33 PER)
-G Sasha Pavlovic (7.2 ppg, 1.7 apg, 5.71 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.5 apg, 29.71 PER)
-F Drew Gooden (12.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 13.26 PER)
-C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (13.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 17.92 PER)

Memphis Grizzlies:

-G Mike Conley Jr (7.9 ppg, 4.4 apg, 14.15 PER)
-G Mike Miller (16.4 ppg, 4.0 apg, 16.18 PER)
-F Rudy Gay (19.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 17.20 PER)
-F Pau Gasol (18.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 20.47 PER)
-C Darko Milicic (6.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 9.23 PER)

Team Efficiency Stats

Cleveland Cavaliers:

-Offense (95.6 ppg, 44.4 rpg, .430 FG%, .719 FT%, 19.1 apg, Efficiency-100.0, Eff Rank-21)
-Defense (98.1 ppg, 42.1 rpg, .459 FG%, Efficiency-103.2, Eff Rank-17)

Memphis Grizzlies:

-Offense (100.6 ppg, 41.6 rpg, .459 FG%, .752 FT%, 20.7 apg, Efficiency-102.9, Eff Rank-15)
-Defense (104.9 ppg, 43.9 rpg, .471 FG%, Efficiency-107.4, Eff Rank-28)

Game Notes:

This road game takes the Cavaliers into Memphis to take on a team with some bright young players, but a team that, frankly, plays no defense whatsoever. Rookie Mike Conley is still learning on the job, but showing some promise as of late after being slowed down by injury earlier in the season. 2nd year player Rudy Gay is having a breakout season. Mike Miller is a lethal sharp shooter when on. Pau Gasol is his steady and solid self. Where the Cavaliers can have an advantage early on is in post scoring. Z and Drew need to get established early, and the defense needs to do a good job extending on the Memphis shooters. The question will be, as always, who can guard LeBron and can the Cavs take advantage of double teams and hit open shots. Rudy Gay will have some problems with LeBron, but Gasol has the length and athleticism to help. The pick and roll with Varejao will create some opportunities as well.

The Grizzlies are a team that has won 3 in a row, but has still struggled to find its identity this season. As some of these young players continue to develop, the team should eventually find its way and be a more competitive team. For now, though, this is a game that the Cavaliers must take advantage of. They are coming off a nice 3 day rest and kicking off a road swing. This is one the Cavaliers will need to take advantage of and find a way to come out with a ‘W’ if they want to continue to show signs of a life as a team hoping to maintain its status as an Eastern Conference contender. The Cavaliers have won 3 in a row and 5 of the last 6 against Memphis, and they need to keep that string going.

Vegas Line

Memphis +2
Over/Under 197

Mike BrownCavaliers Extend Head Coach’s Contract

Mike Brown doubters, get used to him. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The Cavaliers announced today that they have extended his contract through the 2010-2011 season.

GM Danny Ferry said in a statement,

“Mike Brown brings his high character, work ethic and talent as a coach with him to work every single day. He has been, and will continue to be, important to our continued growth as a basketball team as we work towards a championship. Dan Gilbert saw this in Mike Brown on his 1st job interview two and half years ago and it is evident today more than ever.

While the stats show that Mike has been the most successful head coach in Cavaliers history, it is his great leadership and his un-flinching focus on our core values and identity that continue to make him the right guy for the job.”

No further details about the extension were released.

I don’t know what it is about Cleveland, but all the sports teams seem to be in such a hurry to sign their mediocre coaches to extensions. Lets be honest here, does anyone really think Mike Brown is the reason this franchise has experienced the level of success it has in the past 2+ years? Or does it maybe, just maybe, have a lot more to do with a certain LeBron James?

Just as with Eric Wedge and the Indians, RAC and the Browns, and now Mike Brown with the Cavaliers, the Cleveland sports franchises are consistently winning in spite of some seriously questionable decisions on the part of their coaches. In no way am I saying that Mike Brown should have been on the hot seat…..he shouldn’t be. LeBron seems to be ok with the guy, and that’s really the most important thing. But why the rush? Why not take some time and make sure that these guys are really the guys who can lead the Cleveland sports franchises into a Championship era.

Mike BibbyDealing With The Quiet Period In Cleveland Sports

Lets face reality. You can only say ‘the Cavaliers are a fatally flawed team’ so many different ways. With still a month to go before pitchers and catchers must report for spring training, all is deafeningly quiet on the Indians’ front. The Browns just got knocked out, and with the exception of working on an extension for Romeo Crennel and the chance of Coach Chud getting a head coaching position with someone else, not much is going to happen until free agency starts.

This leaves us Cleveland sports fans with precious little to talk about these days. What we’re left with is trying endlessly to figure out what’s “wrong” with this Cavaliers team. The funny thing is, the answer is easier than any of us want to admit. The problem with this team is the players. LeBron is out of this world. He’s without a doubt the best all around player in the NBA and can elevate a team more than anyone else. The problem is, outside of LeBron, the only other consistently good players are…….

And that’s precisely the problem with this team. Z has his games, but after his great start to the season, he has slowed down significantly, perhaps in part due to the extreme minutes he was playing early in the year. Daniel Gibson is a solid player, but doesn’t get enough shots. Anderson Varejao is having a nice season now that he is readjusted to the NBA pace, and he has brought the energy and rebounding spark we had all hoped, with the bonus of an improved offensive game. Drew Gooden is good when he wants to be, but has never been a player who could give you 100% on a game in-game out basis. Devin Brown is a nice complementary piece at best. That’s it. You’re getting absolutely nothing out of anyone else on this roster. If LeBron has an off game, who is there to pick up the slack? And that’s what’s wrong with the Cavaliers. They have the 4th highest salary in the NBA, and it’s spent on bloated long term contracts for underperforming players. Until those contracts can be shed, this team will continue to be what it is…a team that LeBron can carry to victory on any given day (just like today’s game against Toronto), but a team that is not a serious threat to win a 7 game NBA Championship Series.

In the spirit of improving this team, however, much has been written this week about the Bibby trade rumors, particularly with the Kings having been in town Friday night. This subject has been beaten to death, but I figured I would chime in with my thoughts.

The Bibby rumors have been written about in over 10 articles this week. The standard opinion, of course, is that the Cavs don’t have the pieces to get this deal done. That’s the opinion of Bob Finnan with The Morning Journal, as he writes,

“But Bibby and Thomas add up to around $20 million. The only way the Cavs could pull that off would be to send Larry Hughes to Sacramento, or get a third team involved. That’s where things get sticky. Hughes, despite a few bright spots from time to time, is playing perhaps the worst basketball of his career.”

This is an opinion shared by Scott Howard-Cooper of the Sacramento Bee as he writes,

“The speculation season officially began Friday night for Mike Bibby. He entered the Kings’ locker room before the game against the Cavaliers to face a semicircle of local reporters and another round of questions about Cleveland as a possible trade destination – even if it took everyone conveniently forgetting that the Cavaliers would have trouble putting together an attractive offer.”

For his part, though, Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon-Journal isn’t so sure it’s quite as tough as some might think to move some pieces to Sacramento in order to acquire Mike Bibby, writing,

“A year ago, Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie was determined to get back a starter-quality point guard if he traded Bibby. That was the problem — the Cavs didn’t have one to trade and couldn’t find one in a three-way deal that Petrie wanted. That has changed somewhat with newcomer Beno Udrih showing promise with the Kings in Bibby’s absence. Petrie has also made it known since then that his goal is to clear salary-cap space for the summer of 2009.

All of which brings the Cavs back into the game without the need of a third team. Nearly the Cavs’ entire roster has contracts that will be up after next season, giving them all sorts of trading pieces if the Kings make that a priority. The Kings would be interested in moving a player signed past 2009 in addition to Bibby. Most likely it would be Kenny Thomas, who is signed for two more seasons and can’t get off the bench.

If the Cavs want Bibby bad enough, they do have the ammunition to give the Kings what they want. It would take a package that would probably involved a talented big man such as Drew Gooden, a prospect such as Shannon Brown or a draft pick and contracts expiring in 2009. The Cavs have numerous ones, especially Eric Snow, Damon Jones or even both.”

For what it’s worth, a deal of Mike Bibby and Kenny Thomas for Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, Damon Jones, and a draft pick does indeed work under NBA rules. So Bob Finnan isn’t totally accurate when he says the deal would have to include Larry Hughes to make up the slary difference. It wouldn’t. This would indeed be a fairly attractive trade for the Kings on a couple different levels. Rather than having Hughes’ contract for 2 more years after this, they would be able to get rid of Snow and Jones after just 1 more year. Plus, they would be rid of Kenny Thomas’s contract, while acquiring a solid power forward in Gooden and an additional draft pick. So you can see how this would be somewhat intriguing for the Kings to think about, assuming they are convinced that they can build a team around Kevin Martin and Beno Udrih.

For the Cavaliers, the question is whether Mike Bibby is really going to be the difference maker they would need him to be. Bibby is not a good defensive player by any means, his numbers have been declining the past couple years, and injuries have slowed him down even more. But when healthy, he is still a dynamic offensive presence and would give the Cavaliers a true point guard who could be a positive contribution to the team. In losing Gooden, the Cavaliers would lose a strong rebounding source, but it would open the door to increased minutes for Varejao to try to make up for the slack.

At the end of the day, none of this is really all that important. In this quiet season of Cleveland sports, we all seem to be looking for something, anything to write about. And in that context, we try to kid ourselves into believing that the Cavaliers have the ability to make a significant trade without taking on some seriously bad long term contracts. In a nutshell, it just isn’t very likely to happen. Just something to think about while we wait for baseball to start.

Larry HughesDespite Local Rumors, Hughes Unlikely To Go Anywhere

In case you missed it today, the Cleveland Plain Dealer had this little gem buried on their sports page: The Cavaliers have been talking to a couple teams about trading struggling guard Larry Hughes. According to Branson Wright,

“Larry Hughes’ time with the Cavaliers might be just about over. According to several league sources, the Cavs have contacted several teams about a deal involving the 6-5 guard.

One source said the Washington Wizards are one of those teams and another source said another team is in the Atlantic Division.

The trade deadline is Feb. 21.

“Hughes will be gone way before then,” said one source, who did not want to be identified.”

The line about iot being an Atlantic Division team is an interesting one, for sure. Were it 2 years ago, I would bet the team would be the New York Knicks. Larry would be a perfect fit for those Knicks teams, an overpaid and underproducing pseudo-star. But with the intense scrutiny and pressure that Isiah Thomas is under in New York right now, it seems unlikely he would make a move for Larry Hughes right now. You can count out Boston and Toronto, as neither team makes any sense whatsoever. That leaves New Jersey and Philadelphia, and more importantly, Jason Kidd and Andre Miller.

Let reality set in for a minute, though. Larry Hughes is not going anywhere. The Cavaliers front office can “shop” Larry Hughes around all they want. It doesn’t change the fact that nobody is going to take on a player who is shooting 32% from the field, averaging 9.8 ppg and 1.9 turnovers per game, has a 7.95 efficiency rating, and makes $12 million per year.

Brian Windhorst of the Akron Beacon-Journal doesn’t seem to think there are any active players in the Larry Hughes market, saying,

“According to several league sources, the Cavs have been calling around to investigate the trade market. They are not directly shopping any players — more getting a sense of who could be available. Most teams are in this mode right now.”

In the end, I’m sure the Cavs are probably begging teams to take Larry Hughes off their hands. It doesn’t mean the teams are seriously considering it. Don’t put too much stock or hope into that throwaway line about the Atlantic Division being in there. The Nets are not going to trade Jason Kidd for Larry Hughes, unless LeBron James is included in the deal. If there is a serious Atlantic Division trade partnet, I would keep an eye on the Sixers as the Cavs may try to see what it would take to get Andre Miller. The Cavs will volunteer Hughes for the deal, and after the Sixers are done laughing, they will consider a more realstic deal, perhaps involving guys like Damon Jones, Eric Snow, and Drew Gooden. Even then, I suspect any kind of trade would be a long shot because the Sixers will always be able to get a better deal for Andre Miller elsewhere.

The only kind of I could foresee involving the Washington Wizards and Larry Hughes would be a deal involving Antawn Jamison and his $16 million contract. Hughes and Damon Jones for Jamison is a deal the Cavs would definitely do from their end. From the Wizards point of view, if they suspect they will be unable to re-sign Jamison after this season, that could be some slight motivation to do the deal, as it would be a way to get a little something for losing Jamison. Furthermore, Larry Hughes and Gilbert Arenas are good friends, and Arenas has spoken publicly about his enjoyment of playing with Hughes, so perhaps the Wizards would see the addition of Hughes as a way of strengthening their case to Arenas as far as why he should stay with the team and not opt out of his deal.

It’s all likely just wishful thinking, though. Plus, after watching the Cavaliers play lately, it’s hard to believe that just adding a PG like Kidd or Miller would be the sole answer to the Cavs problems. Perhaps a dynamic offensive player like Jamison could be the answer, but it’s also easy to see Jamison falling into the role of Larry Hughes II. The truth of the matter is that the Cavs are so clearly more than just one “piece of the puzzle” away from being a real NBA Championship caliber team. That’s why it is so hard to quantify just what exactly the franchise can do to turn this team around.  It will be interesting to watch and see if moving Hughes becomes ‘Step One’ of the rebuilding phase, but I won’t be holding my breath.