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Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeing LeBron Up Close and Personal

Thanks to a loyal reader, my son and I had great seats to Friday night's game at the Wachovia Center between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The following are a few observations:

1. The Cavaliers' offense is terrific. I know that there are NBA bashers who contend that the bulk of the plays are clear-outs for the stars, but the Cavs really know how to whip the ball around the perimeter and find the open man. Their quick inside passing was impressive, too, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way they worked with each other. Credit to coach Mike Brown for getting a bunch of high-achievers to blend together for a fluid offense.

2. If the Cavs' Anderson Varejao could shoot the ball just a little bit, he'd probably be called Tim Duncan or at least rank among the elite power forward. The guys is a bit offense-challenged, but on that score the 76ers' center Sam Dalembert outpointed him. Poor Sammy just has a bad b-ball IQ, and while former GM Billy King did some good things on South Broad Street, inking Sammy to a long-term deal was not one of them.

3. That the 76ers got within 2 and kept the game within 10 was a tribute to their sense of teamwork, but they missed second-year forward Thaddeus Young. Put differently, it was painful watching back-ups Reggie Evans and Theo Ratliff trying to play offense. They might be good guys who are good to have on the bench, but they just can't play offense.

4. Signature play of the night was actually that of Sixer swingman Andre Iguodala, who isolated James with about 15 seconds to go before the half and then, as my nine year-old said, "served him" with an in-your-face jam a few seconds before time expired. Iguodala had 26 points to James' 27, but King LeBron rightfully said after the game that while he respects the 76ers' player, he was there to get the win.

5. It was curious to see the Cavs run several offensive plays with James standing idle on the right wing, as a decoy, not doing anything, not even setting a screen. He rests about a quarter of the game, so I don't understand Mike Brown's logic there.

6. I have sometimes postulated that the team that has more assists wins 80% of the time and, as a corollary, the team with the better assist-to-turnover ratio wins about that much of the time. Well, the Cavs had 24 assists to the 76ers' 12, and they had 10 turnovers to the 76ers' 7. Translated, the 76ers had many shots where someone brought the ball up and shot it, particularly Lou Williams and Willie Green.

7. As for Green, just an observation, but it's hard to see how you can go that far with a so-so 6'3" combo guard getting as many minutes as he does.

8. I'd like to see a stat called the "penultimate" pass, as I've always believed that the guy who gets the ball to the guy who gets the assist deserves more credit because he's the first one to catch a defense off guard and, as a result of his heads-up play, helps create a mismatch or overload that enables the guy who scores to get a shot off. The Cavs excelled at this, and that type of passing will bode well for a deep run in the playoffs.

9. The Cavs have a similar version of Theo Ratliff. His name is Ben Wallace.

10. The 76ers' Mareese Speights looked like the most athletic big man on the floor, but he seemed to have lapses on defense that kept him glued to the bench for significant periods. Say what you will about Samuel Dalembert, but he rebounded and defended with authority during some spurts in the game. It's just that he's such an offensive liability that opponents don't have to go full throttle guarding him.

11. The 76ers' public address announcer, Matt Cord, has a great voice, but he does the visitors a disservice by announcing their baskets in a low, almost dismissive voice. He won't make anyone forget Dave Zinkoff, except for the fact that few in the crows probably remember Dave Zinkoff to start with.

12. Why don't they have portable poles to accompany the 76ers' dancers? Seriously, why would your wife or daughter think that job is something to aspire to? While I know that the teams want to fill every free moment with entertainment, the 76ers should re-think the dancing girls.

13. On the other hand, the acrobatic team that dunks off a trampoline is most impressive. Those guys can get up there and tumble, and the dunks were memorable. It's a shame that a few of those guys can't tutor Dalembert on his hops.

14. The Wach Center is a fun place, decent concessions, a nice pavilion to hang out before the game, and, yes, crab fries. I also signed a petition to get the U.S. Post Office to issue a stamp commemorating Wilt Chamberlain. That would be nice to see.

15. The 76ers seem stuck in stasis-land, they'll win about half their games, make the playoffs, go out in the first round and then have a pick in the middle of the first round. Yes, they'll get Young and Elton Brand back, but they're still stuck with Dalembert's contract, might lose Andre Miller, lack a true point guard and project as too small if they go with Brand at center, Young at power forward and Iguodala at small forward. That said, they have some good talent on which to build, and GM Eddie Stefanski will have some decisions to make come this off season.

All in all, a really fun time at the Wachovia Center. The 76ers were entertaining, and LeBron was even better, even if he did miss every underhanded shot from halfcourt that he tried before the game.

He still entered doing the "thing" with the baby powder, but make no mistake, it wasn't magic (and, okay, he's not Magic), but on most nights, he's the King.


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