I've accepted the improbable mission of determining what maneuvers seem necessary in the quest to conquer the 2009 playoff edition of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In case you've experienced an out-of-sight, out-of-mind crisis regarding the Cavs, please note that they've triumphed in all eight of their games during this NBA postseason. We're also wading into this premise with the assumption that "conquering" LeBron James and his cronies entails defeating them over an entire series, and not just one game or one half or one quarter.
Anyway, since more than a week has separated us from actually witnessing Cleveland's team in action, a quick review is in order. While dispatching the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks as quickly as the league allows, the Cavaliers check in as a statistical bully.
Still the league's stingiest defensive unit, they're allowing a playoff-leading 39 percent shooting accuracy by opponents. Cleveland's own marksmanship is second among playoff teams at 47 percent, while their offensive and defensive efficiency check in at first and second, respectively.
Yeah, they're rollin'.
Friday's game -- East finals
- Cavs 96, Magic 95 (Tied 1-1)
Thursday's game -- West finals
- Nuggets 106, Lakers 103 (Tied 1-1)
- Playoff results, schedule
- 2009 NBA Playoff Central
- Smith: Cleveland fans savor "The Shot"
- Hench: Kroenke should fight back
- Behrendt: Nuggets play role reversal
- Kriegel: Why LeBron needs more help
- Postgame: Nuggets-Lakers, Game 2
- Eastern Conference finals, Game 2
- Western Conference finals, Game 2
To defend a Cleveland offensive attack that is more efficient than overpowering, we recommend putting less pressure in the passing lanes and keeping defenders in gap-and-help position against James. Playing denial on the wings requires help defenders to cover more ground to pinch on LeBron's drives and then recover to close out against his shooters.
And when LBJ does penetrate Orlando's defense, Dwight Howard the world's foremost shot-blocker will be waiting as a deterrent. It should be noted that even though James averaged more than 30 points in three games with the Magic, his shooting percentage was a pedestrian 43 percent.
Having Howard guarding the rim in theory, at least enables Orlando to stay at home against Cleveland's options in a drive-and-kick crisis.
Staying at home creates challenged shots against a Cleveland team that is 10th among playoff franchises for three-point accuracy (34.7 percent). The Cavs also are a bit human at the free-throw line, converting at a mediocre clip of 73 percent.
Now for the match-ups.
With starting three man Hedo Turkoglu lacking the foot speed to take on James or West (if the LBJ assignment goes to Courtney Lee), look for Orlando sub Mickael Pietrus to draw more work against the Cavs.
If Pietrus can make LeBron a bit less efficient (a hand up on every shot), the Magic can at least hope to parlay any potential Cleveland rust into a rare Cavalier home defeat (it happened a whopping twice during the regular season). Winning Game 1 is an obvious recommendation.
Taking the Cavs down a peg or two will be considerably more difficult when Orlando has the ball.
For starters, Orlando's offense must exaggerate normal spacing against a team defense that has embraced the lane-choking philosophy that Boston turned into an O'Brien Trophy.
As demonstrated in a 13-for-21 3-pointer performance in Sunday's Game 7 at Boston, Orlando has the requisite spot-up shooters to keep the driving lanes open for point guard Rafer Alston.
And if Alston is able to compromise a defense, Howard is available to finish off a dime or jam an offensive rebound against a smaller player in Cleveland's eager rotation.
Howard has a huge quickness edge over Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and a height advantage over Wallace; his most engaging battle will come against Varejao, whose mean streak and lower center of gravity could keep the offensively limited Superman from completely taking over inside. In the three regular-season dates, Howard scored a combined 55 points and grabbed a less-than-startling 44 rebounds.
Orlando also would be wise in attacking the defensive liability of Wally Szczerbiak. This means that if Wally is on the floor, Van Gundy should go with Lee in place of J.J. Redick (assuming James is guarding Turkoglu). Lee has the ability to take Szczerbiak off the bounce, collapse Cleveland's substantial help defense and create clean looks for the Magic's stable of shooters.
If nothing else seems to translate, Orlando at least enters the conference finals knowing it had enough gusto to take down the Cavs in two of their three meetings.
The variable could be compounded by the notion that the swagger-laden Cavaliers know it, too.
Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 18, 2009