Whether it’s in the Eastern Conference semifinals or finals doesn’t matter, but here’s hoping the Cavaliers play the Boston Celtics in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers will win — and it could be fairly convincingly and impressively — but a best-of-seven series between these teams will be what playoff basketball is supposed to be all about: Two teams that don’t like one another at all.
Say what you will about Kevin Garnett (he’s a jerk) and Rasheed Wallace (he’s a washed-up jerk), but they are two of just a handful of players — and coaches — in the NBA who don’t kiss the behind of LeBron James.
That, in a nutshell, is what made Boston’s 117-113 victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday so entertaining.
In what was an otherwise meaningless game for Cleveland, which clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs when the Los Angeles Lakers lost later in the afternoon, there were six technicals, an ejection (Cavaliers coach Mike Brown) and more trash talk than you’d hear at a sanitation workers convention, if there is such a thing.
Garnett, of course, was at the center of it all, be it thumping his chest, grabbing his crotch or banging his head against the foam rubber around the basket support.
If you’re a Cleveland fan, and most of you reading this are, it smacked of poor sportsmanship and needless posing. But if you happen to be a Celtics fan — how anyone can root for Boston remains one of life’s great mysteries — the showboating Cavaliers had it coming.
“Cleveland does a lot of stuff — picture-taking and all kinds of stuff,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “LeBron was standing in our huddle (during a timeout). I thought that was a tech. So, I don’t know.”
Know this: A playoff series between the Celtics and Cavaliers will be, if not extremely competitive, very entertaining.
A few people didn’t like the 3-pointer James took against Boston with the Cavaliers down two in the closing seconds, pointing out he finished 0-of-9 from long range and had a pretty good opportunity to get to the hoop.
But if it had gone in, James would have been a hero and no one would have said a word.
We’re talking about a guy who had 42 points — 32 of them in the second half, when Cleveland rallied to take the lead after being down 22 — plus seven rebounds and nine assists.
“It felt like he had scored their last 60 points in a row at one point,” Rivers said.
In short, James takes a lot of shots that make you go, “Oh, no; good shot.” Sunday was no different, so don’t waste any time overanalyzing things.
Brown is going to earn every bit of his salary over the coming weeks, because the Cleveland coach will have some extremely tough decisions to make in regards to his rotation.
It looks like Shaquille O’Neal, who was supposed to be out until near the end of the first round of the playoffs with a thumb injury, might be able to play before the end of the regular season.
O’Neal is going to start. That much we know. What we don’t know is who else is going to play and who is not.
Three or four weeks ago, the starting lineup would have been a no-brainer: J.J. Hickson goes to the bench and, perhaps, falls completely out of the rotation.
Hickson, however, has played so well that there’s a chance — we said “a chance” — he might stay in the starting lineup. That would send Antawn Jamison, who has also played well outside of his free throw shooting woes, to the bench.
Making that move would be an extremely gutsy decision on Brown’s part, but there are several arguments for doing so. One, Hickson is developing into a productive blue-collar player who deserves to play. Two, the Cavaliers would already have three big-time offensive players — James, O’Neal and Mo Williams, if he doesn’t flame out in the postseason again — in the starting lineup. Three, Jamison, in an ideal situation, would provide a big-time scorer off the bench.
On the flip side, there are a number of negatives. One, we don’t really know if Hickson can produce in the playoffs. Two, Jamison looks very comfortable in the starting lineup. Three, starting Hickson and using Jamison and Anderson Varejao in reserve would leave virtually no minutes for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, let alone Leon Powe.
A compromise could be starting Hickson and giving him a role similar to what Kurt Rambis had with the Lakers years ago. Play him the first four, five, six minutes of each half, let him bang a bit, then basically sit him the rest of the time if he’s not productive.
In the end, Brown will likely alter his rotation — he probably won’t want to mess with his starting lineup — from series to series. Hickson will likely play more against a team like Toronto, Cleveland’s possible first-round opponent, while Ilgauskas could see more action later against teams like Boston, Orlando and the Lakers.
R & R
The Cavaliers have five games left in the regular season, and they mean nothing as far as playoff seeding or home-court advantage are concerned.
James said Sunday he would welcome a little rest. Williams, Jamison, Anthony Parker and even Delonte West could also get some time off.
That process could start as early as tonight, when the Cavaliers host Toronto. While that’s usually a bit early to sit guys, Brown might do it so he can have James, Williams and Jamison play a game or two with Shaq if he does indeed return for the last few regular-season games.
Ilgauskas will likely continue to play so he can get into a rhythm, while Varejao won’t be back in action until his hamstring is 100 percent healed.
The Cavaliers are last in the league in free throw shooting at .720, and it’s not just O’Neal (.496) and Jamison (.458 with Cleveland) that are dragging them down.
Varejao is a .669 shooter, Powe is at .625 and Hickson is at .678. Even sharpshooter Daniel Gibson, who has fallen totally out of the rotation, is at .694.
Jamison is among six division winners selected as finalists for the NBA Sportsmanship Award. Others picked were Atlanta’s Al Horford, Boston’s Ray Allen, Denver’s Chauncey Billups, Houston’s Louis Scola and Phoenix’s Grant Hill. The winner of the award, which is voted on by the players, will be announced after the regular season.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.