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(Really) Know Thy Opponent: A Q&A with TheSportsGuru

With all due respect to Seth and his hillareous KTOs, I thought it would be good to talk to someone who really knows the Cavaliers.

So I e-mailed TheSportsGuru, who, besides being a co-host of the SB Nation Sports Report and the webmaster of SB Nation Denver Bronco blog Mile High Report, is a Cleveland resident who blogs for the Cavs at Fear the Sword.  And you thought I was crazy with blogging...

Anyway, my answers to his questions should be up in the next couple days.  Here are his answers:

Pradamaster: You've said to anyone that's listened that you don't believe LeBron James is an elite player.  Why don't you think he is?

TheSportsGuru: I have always qualified that by saying LeBron is an elite talent.  I'd be a fool to say otherwise.  However, for a player like LeBron, who is compared to Michael, Bird, Magic, or even Oscar Robertson, he needs to be more.  LeBron is too good of a player to shoot 69% from the free throw line.  LeBron is too good of a player to allow his team to lose 10 games to non-playoff teams.  LeBron is too good of a player to settle for outside jumpers at the buzzer.  When I think of the elite players in the league, even today, a player like Kobe Bryant, you get the sense that Kobe enjoys beating you.  If he beats you by 5, he wishes it was by 6.  If he beats you by 30, he wishes it was 31.  He has that fire, that killer instinct.  I have yet to see that from LeBron.  

That said, LeBron has been as focused as ever the past 10 days or so knowing he needed to win all 4 games to try and avoid the Heat.  They did and LeBron was a huge part of it.  He needs to sustain it in the playoffs, especially since the Cavs supposedly have the "easy road" to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The team feeds off LeBron, and when he is chucking up jumpers, they do the same.  When he is active, moving without the ball, and going hard to the hoop, they do that as well.  When he realizes that he needs to bring it every night, he'll be damn-near unstoppable.  Until then, he is a great player, not an elite player.

PM: The Cavaliers are a phenomenal rebounding team, as they're third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and second in lowest defensive rebounding percentage surrendered (see Knickerblogger).  What makes them so tough on the glass?

TSG: First, having a 7-3 center doesn't hurt.  Z is really underappreciated when it comes to his rebounding, and along with Drew Gooden, they are extremely active on the glass.  Second, Anderson Varejao is an animal.  He gets more rebounds that he doesn't deserve than anyone in the NBA.  This Cavs also have a lot of size on the floor all the time.  Their starting lineup, with Hughes in at the point, averages 6-7 across the board. LeBron, whether he is playing the 2 or the 3 has always been an active rebounder and the Cavs do a great job staying active.  I think the threat of a Cavs fast break opportunity, or worse yet, a LeBron dunk, plays a role as well, with teams focused on getting back on defense.  In the end, it still is a question of effort, and when the Cavs bring it they are tough to beat.  When they don't, well...

PM: Throughout the year, guys like Larry Hughes and LeBron have complained that the offense should be more up-tempo.  What's your response to these claims?

TSG: At the time those comments were made, I agreed with them.  Mike Brown had two much control of what was going on, and didn't let his play makers make plays.  Another factor, and something that still is a problem with the Cavs, is LeBron and Larry Hughes just don't fit together.  To both their credits, they are trying, but this is not a match made in heaven by any stretch.  Larry's game is to slash to the basket.  That's LeBron's game as well.  When they both are on the floor, one of them has to do something they aren't comfortable doing and that is shooting long-range jumpers.  When they are hitting, the Cavs are tough to beat.  But neither guy is going to be confused with Michael Redd or even Gilbert Arenas.  Things have gotten better with Larry at the point, because it has allowed LeBron to do what he should be doing on half of every Cavaliers possession, posting up on the block.  There is no one in the NBA that can guard LeBron down low, and once he realizes he is unstoppable down there he move much closer to that elite status.  Of course, being able to get out and run depends directly on playing defense, getting stops and creating those opportunities.  At times, the Cavs just don't do a very good job in that regard.

PM: Cleveland's fourth in the league in defensive efficiency, despite not having one guy who you would consider to be a DPOY candidate.  What makes them so tough defensively?

TSG: Mike Brown has to get a lot of credit there, getting this team to play defense on a somewhat consistent basis.  The Cavaliers are quick and athletic at nearly every position, and when they are playing defense with effort can make it tough on anyone to score.  What the Cavs lack in pure bulk they make up for in athleticism.  Ilgauskas, and Drew Gooden are long, creating issues for guards that drive the lane.  With LeBron and Hughes out on the wing they do a good job of closing on perimeter shooters.  As a team they have gotten much better at back-side help, as well as stepping out on the pick and roll.

PM: Generally, how do you feel about Mike Brown as a coach?  Do you think he's the right guy to lead this team to the finals?  Why or why not?

TSG: For me, the verdict on Mike Brown is still out.  I think he is a great defensive coach, and I think his strategies are sound.  What he isn't however, is a good X's and O's coach, nor is he a very good preparer.  Coaches in the NBA are responsible for a couple of things.  Making adjustments in game, and getting your team ready to play on nights they really don't want to.  Mike Brown fails in both of those.  

I have kept track the last month or so the Cavaliers success coming out of timeout situations.  On average, the Cavs score, or get a defensive stop, coming out of a timeout or to start a quarter about 23% of the time the last month.  That is when a coach makes there money, drawing up a play to get a stop or get a score during a timeout and way too often the Cavs have taken a bad shot, or played horrible defense, and that falls on the coach.  

The second responsibility, getting your team ready to play on nights they do not is purely evident by the number of games the Cavs lost to non-playoff teams.  When you lose over 1/3 of your games to lousy teams the coach is responsible.  I haven't come to a complete conclusion here, but something tells me the Cavaliers win despite Mike Brown, and not because of Mike Brown.

PM: Bonus question (sorry): What's your series prediction, and who's a guy on Cleveland that you look to be your X-factor, both in this series and going forward?

TSG: An X-Factor?  I am going to go with Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  In fact, I think he is the key to the entire playoffs for the Cavaliers.  When he is effective, the Cavs are really, really tough to beat.  More  specifically to this series, Z had an awful playoff season last year, and it all started with how Brendon Haywood owned him during the Wizards series.  That fact hasn't been lost on Ilgauskas, who is playing his best basketball of the year right now.  I look for the Cavs to go to Z early and often to try and get him into a positive flow, not only for the series against Washington, but for the rest of the playoffs.

Prediction: The Cavs just aren't consistent enough to get a sweep, but are just too tough for a depleted Wizards team.  I'll take the Cavaliers in 5.


Again, major thanks to TheSportsGuru for giving us a better idea about the 2006/07 Cavaliers (since we all know about the 2005/06 version).