Wednesday , Apr , 06 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

What’s wrong with the Cavaliers?

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – Cleveland has picked the worst time of the season to struggle. The Cavaliers are trying to avoid falling out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

What's wrong with the Cavaliers?


The Cavaliers, who fired head coach Paul Silas on March 21st, are the seventh seed in the East and have just a two-game lead over No. 8 Philadelphia, which owns a slim one-game advantage over the ninth-place New Jersey Nets. Cleveland, which is 38-35 and has lost 14 of its last 24 contests, is scheduled to play six of its final nine games of the regular season on the road, where it is just 11-24.

Cleveland, which is 8-14 under interim head coach Brendan Malone, does have one of the top one-two punches in the league in superstar LeBron James and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Forward Drew Gooden, guard Jeff McInnis and the rest of the Cavs are solid supporting cast for the two All-Stars.

The 20-year-old James is having a great year and will get some votes for MVP this season. In fact, he was one of the favorites about a month ago. The recent tail spin by the Cavs is not going to help his chances to take home the hardware. Cleveland needs to get into the playoffs and possibly win a round for James to get his career to the next level.

No one doubts James’ abilities or statistics, as he leads the Cavs in scoring (26.5 ppg) and assists (7.2 apg) this season. He is third on the club in rebounding (7.0 rpg) and has started all 71 of the games that he has played in. The 6-8 forward has scored in double-digits in all but one contest in the campaign, and has registered 17 double-doubles and two triple-doubles. In his last 10 games, James is averaging 31.1 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Ilgauskas, who played in his second All-Star game this season, has also posted impressive numbers for Cleveland. The 7-3 center, who has started all 72 of the contests that he has appeared in, is averaging 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds. He is shooting 46 percent from the field and leads the Cavaliers in blocks at 2.18 per game.

The 29-year-old Ilgauskas has struggled lately, as he is averaging just 13.6 points and 8.7 rebounds in his last 10 games. The Lithuanian seems to have lost a step since the All-Star break and it is definitely putting more pressure on James to carry the team on his back.

Cleveland needs serious production from both James and Ilgauskas if it hopes to stay afloat in the East. Gooden, who is averaging 14.5 points and a team- high 9.3 boards per game, is a nice third option but he is not going to take a team on his back like his two All-Star teammates can.

James and Ilgauskas, who suffered a dislocated finger in a loss to New Jersey and could miss some crucial games, can continue to impress on the stat sheet, but the fact is that they are going to be judged on wins and losses. It is time for these two stars to take charge and get Cleveland on the winning track and into the playoffs.

This is a team that is currently out of sync in many ways. The Cavaliers are not moving the ball well on offense and they lack intensity on the defensive end of the court. There is a nice mix of young and veteran players on the roster. Guards Eric Snow and Lucious Harris have had experience in the postseason and should be able to help their teammates handle the pressure, while James, Gooden and Ilgauskas should be primed to get to the big stage.

The Cavaliers last appeared in the playoffs in 1998 when they were eliminated in four games in the first round by the Indiana Pacers. Their remaining games are all against Eastern Conference opponents, as they will host Milwaukee, New York and Boston and will visit Indiana, Philadelphia, Orlando, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. Every game is important and can have a huge impact on Cleveland’s playoff status.

Don’t count the Cavaliers in the playoffs yet, as they have a tough schedule ahead of them. If Cleveland is not careful, its squad may find itself on the golf course much earlier than expected.