Line of the Night (11/12): Mo Williams

After last week’s home loss to the Bulls sent the Cavs 3-3, it wasn’t clear how this team would respond having to play the next three games on the road. After a win against the Knicks, the Cavs upended the Magic in Orlando, and defeated the Heat, 111-104, last night in Miami. That’s an impressive stretch, for sure.

Mo Williams was the key to the last two wins. He scored 26 points (on 12-20 shooting) against the Magic, and posted 25 points, four rebounds and three assists against the Heat. Over the two games, he hit 9-12 shots from long range.

Williams has to be careful that he’s not deferring too much to Shaq. Mo is the team’s second-best player and needs to stay aggressive. It’s nice to dump it into Shaq from time to time, but he’s not going to score 25-30 on a semi-regular basis and be that complementary scorer that LeBron needs. That is Mo’s job.

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Bulls upend Cavs, 86-85

After an 0-2 start to the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were riding a three-game winning streak into Thursday night’s home game against the Bulls. Here are the highlights:

The Cleveland faithful might think that LeBron was fouled on his last drive, but after taking a couple of looks at it, I think it was a clean play. The defender is entitled to his space, and he’s allowed to jump in the air as long as he doesn’t jump forward. This is called the “principle of verticality,” which means that a defensive player is entitled to his vertical cylinder. Joakim Noah’s defense on the play wasn’t a perfect example of this (as his body was drifting toward the basket a bit), but it was a good defensive play. LeBron was in a tough spot and obviously jumped into Noah looking for the call and the refs didn’t bail him out.

There are a couple of other things to take from this game:

1. Mo Williams’ ineffectiveness
He was 4-13 from the field (including 1-7 from long range). He did have six assists, but Mo is a scorer and he needs to be more efficient than this.

2. The Bulls’ balance
Chicago had seven players score at least seven points, and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 15. Derrick Rose didn’t shoot the ball well, but still scored 14 points and dropped 11 dimes.

The Cavs drop to 3-3 with the loss, while the Bulls are 3-2.

Magic advance to Finals

Orlando rode a strong first half performance to an 18-point halftime lead, and held off the Cavs’ late charge to win Game 6 (103-90) and clinch a date with the Lakers in the Finals.

Dwight Howard had arguably his best game of the series, posting 40 points (14-21 from the field, 12-16 from the free throw line), 14 rebounds and four assists. The Magic overcame substandard shooting from Hedo Turkoglu (3-12, 10 points) with fine play from Rashard Lewis (6-13, 18 points) and Mickael Pietrus (5-10, 14 points).

For the Cavs, Game 6 was more about their failure to have an answer for Howard than it was about getting poor play from LeBron’s sidekicks. Delonte West (9-19, 22 points) and Mo Williams (6-12, 17 points) both played pretty well and shot a combined 5 of 7 from long range. Anderson Varejao (7-12, 14 points) also had a solid game. However, the rest of the Cavs shot a combined 5 for 17 (29%) for 12 points.

James had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and shot just 40% from the field. Most players would be reasonably happy with a night like that, but the Cavs needed more from LeBron in an elimination game on the road. Still, he averaged 41.2 points (on 50% shooting), 8.6 rebounds and 8.2 assists in the series, so it’s hard to fault his play.

Looking ahead, the Lakers match up pretty well with the Magic in that they have a couple of big men in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that will try to slow down Howard. Bynum in particular needs to play well and it’s not clear that his stamina is strong enough to play a ton of minutes. Gasol isn’t strong enough to handle Howard one-on-one, so when Bynum is on the bench, the Lakers will probably have to throw some double-teams at Orlando’s big man. Meanwhile, Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus will be asked to watch Kobe. If they can slow him down and the Magic continue to hit their threes, they’ll have a good shot to upset the Lakers.

Check back later in the day for a complete breakdown of the challenges that the Cavs face over the next year or so as they try to pick up the pieces and re-sign LeBron.

Mo Williams guarantees a series win

Down 2-1 with Game 4 in Orlando tonight, Mo Williams is still confident that the Cavs are going to advance to the Finals. He’s so confident that he’s not afraid to give the Magic some bulletin board material in case they need a little extra motivation.

“Guarantee we’re going to win the series? Yeah, yeah,” he said. “We are down 2-1. But there is nobody on this team and definitely not myself that says we are not going to win this series. Yeah, it is going to be tough. We know that. We get this game tomorrow, go home, still got home-court advantage.

“We don’t see ourselves losing two out of three at home.”

There’s a difference between being guaranteeing a series win and being confident that you can pull it off. Once Williams used the word “guarantee,” he took his confidence to another level — one that might ultimately fire up the Magic and hurt Cleveland’s chances.

Without LeBron’s amazing shot in Game 2, the Cavs would be facing elimination tonight. They have been thoroughly outplayed and simply don’t match up very well with the Magic. Williams’ statement that the Cavs are the “best team in basketball” sounds hollow right now, especially from a guy who is shooting 32% from the field in the series. He really needs to play well tonight to help his team (and to back up these words).

Magic triumph in chippy Game 3

The so-called “shot that saved Cleveland” didn’t seem to affect the Magic in Game 3. The heartbreaking Game 2 loss would have sent most teams into a tailspin, but Orlando has been resilient all season long, and like any championship-caliber team, the Magic look forward not backward.

Game 3 was the most physical of the series thus far. The officials called 58 fouls and the teams shot a combined 86 free throws. Dwight Howard shot 19 of the Magic’s 51 attempts, and made 14. That’s a 74% clip for a guy who shot 59% on the season.

Free throws also had an impact on the Cavs. LeBron James made 18 of 24 attempts (75%), but missed five attempts in a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter that, had he made them all, would have had his team trailing by one instead of six with two minutes to play. Even the most diehard Cleveland fan would admit that LeBron was getting to the line more than he ought to be in the final quarter. He got just about every call when he went to the hole, drawing a questionable blocking foul on Mickael Pietrus, and drew a foul on the retreating Howard at the rim. Then Howard fouled out after cleanly blocking LeBron’s three-point attempt with 0:36 to play. In short, LeBron is getting Jordan-esque treatment from the refs, even on the road.

He posted 41 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, two steals and an amazing block, but shot just 1 of 8 from three-point range. The Magic’s plan is to encourage LeBron to shoot the long ball. If he happens to get hot, then they’ll just have to live with it. The Cavs didn’t have much else going offensively. Mo Williams scored 15 points on 5 of 16 shooting and Delonte West pitched in with 12 points. The rest of the Cavs combined for 21 of the team’s 89 points.

The Magic had a more balanced attack with five players in double figures, led by Howard’s 24 points.

With the loss, the Cavs find themselves in a hole once again. They do not want to go down 3-1 in the series, so while Game 4 isn’t quite a “must-win,” it’s damn close.

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