Running with Zaza

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Hawks End Cavs' 11 Game Win Streak

What better way to kick-off an eight game home stand than to beat Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavs. The Hawks arrived back from last night’s victory against Miami at 3 AM this morning. The Cavs were coming off a big win last night as well. Would any of the players have any energy left for tonight’s game? Where would the energy come from?

The answer is playing against Lebron James. He will embarrass you if you are not ready to play. Even on television, and you could feel the energy in the gym. Everyone wants Lebron in 2010 because he electrifies his teammates, the other team’s players, and the fans. A sellout crowd of 19,200 showed up in Philips Arena to see Lebron try to extend the Cavs winning streak. The Atlanta Hawks treated the fans to a great game and a huge home victory.

The Hawks have only lost at home once all year and that was to New Jersey. They are now 8-1. Mike Bibby came out in the first quarter determined to get the team off to a positive start. He succeeded. The Hawks jumped ahead and held the lead after a 31 point quarter. With everyone in Coach Mike Woodson’s rotation making a contribution, the Hawks led the Cavs by nine points at halftime.

I have not watched that many Cavaliers’ games this season. You see highlights of Lebron every night, but I have not watched a whole game. The biggest surprise for me was how disruptive Lebron is on the defensive end of the floor. Despite what you hear from NBA analysts, Lebron has not been known for his defense. I would argue that his focus for most of his five years in the league has been on the offensive end of the court—maybe playing with Team USA this summer has changed his focus a little bit. He was all over the court against the Hawks.

A great example occurred in the middle of the 2nd quarter. There was a loose ball tipped off a rebound from a Hawks’ jump shot. Joe Johnson and Mo Williams went for the ball at about half speed, when Lebron came flying from the baseline and snatched up the loose ball. Lebron moved so much quicker than the two smaller players that it amazed the crowd. It was the kind of awesome, athletic move that made the fans in Philips arena respond with an audible and collective gasp.

In the past two games, the Hawks are pushing the basketball more. With Josh Smith back in the line up, they are a much deeper team and they can play a faster game. During a key 2nd half fast break, there was a loose ball that the Cavs came up with after a scramble. The Cavs’ Moe Williams took a 3 point shot in transition that missed. Bibby snagged the rebound and hit Joe Johnson who passed to Horford for a pretty finger roll lay up. On the transition for the Hawks, the ball never touched the floor with a dribble. The teamwork and solid fundamentals helped the Hawks to a victory in this game.

The 4th quarter was a back and forth duel between Lebron and Joe Johnson. The Cavs’ Delonte West gave Joe Johnson trouble again in this game, but for some reason West did not guard Johnson much in the 4th quarter. That hurt the Cavs as Super Joe not only had 11 points, but he keyed pretty much every other Hawks’ basket. These two stars went at it, but it was the Hawks’ great supporting cast that came through to win the game. Bibby, Horford, Marvin Williams, and Josh Smith made key plays down the stretch to preserve the victory. The Hawks’ are at home for the next two weeks. The fans and the city are energized. If Coach Woodson keeps telling them to push the ball in transition and the team defense continues to execute like it did tonight against Lebron, the Hawks will celebrate the New Year in style with a winning record for the 2008 part of the season.

Here are four quick hitting observations on the state of the Hawks and Cavs:

The Cavs are on this win streak without Zydrunas Ilgauskus, but they need Big Z. The Cavs miss his scoring ability. He is literally a big, big man that sets solid screens and plays great off Lebron. Big Z is the only player on the Cavs other than Lebron that creates mismatches for the opposing team.

Posterization = Optimization. Will Josh Smith ever learn that his athletic ability can not make up for poor foot work? Last night, the Heat jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead against the Hawks, and they still were leading 16-5 when a play happened that might be one of the turning points of the Hawks’ season. Wade drove down the lane and thunder dunked on Josh Smith. (It was the same type of posterization dunk that Wade put on Emeka Okafor of Charlotte earlier in the week.) Smith played much better after that play. Tonight, with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Lebron faced up Josh Smith at the top of the key and just bulled past him for a thunderous dunk. J-Smooth was beaten off the dribble by Wally, Lebron, and even Varejao. Hopefully, being posterized every game will make Smooth more focused.

Hawks’ fans have to be excited, because in this game Al Horford was the best big man on the court and Zaza Pachulia was the second best. Zaza and Horford do the little things on the defensive end of the court that are missed by the casual fan. They showed hard on screens, played big in Lebron’s passing lanes, and came to double Lebron if he picked up his dribble. They also came up with tough rebounds and set solid screens on the offensive end.

The Hawks and Cavs challenge every shot. All game long, players were running at jump shooters. This effort happens when your best players are playing hard on the defensive end. Lebron was flying all over the court and he was running through screens. For the Hawks, Bibby was down inside trying to block Varejao’s shot! He was boxing out Ben Wallace. Marvin was rebounding and playing tough defense against Lebron. The bigs for both teams were showing hard on ball screens. Defense is about effort and the effort was definitely in evidence tonight.


Post a Comment 1 comments:

tha DJ said...

"A sellout crowd of 19,200 showed up in Philips Arena to see Lebron try to extend the Cavs winning streak."

i resent that statement, i swear to God u seem like more of a hater than a fan sometimes

good coverage tho

December 15, 2008 at 3:41 PM

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