Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Fracture Heard 'Round the World

Delonte West fractured his right wrist, and Matt Moore hit me up on gchat: "This is really big. This changes the Cavs. A lot."

I'm willing to go a step further: this changes everything. On the surface, the Cavs lose an undersized starting two guard who would seem to be easily replaced by some combination of Sasha Pavlovic, Wally Szczerbiak, and Daniel Gibson. But he's more than that. Moore described him as a catalyst, and I think that's a fair description. When you tune in to The Muppet Show (not that you, y'know, would ever watch The Muppet Show), you expect to see Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo all working in harmony. Kermit is the motherf*cking star, and it's his show. But when there's no "wocka wocka wocka," everything just seems a little off. Everything that Mo Williams has done for this team on offense is magnified by West's passing and shooting abilities, and having a capable weapon that isn't a serious liability on either end. I wish I could say that the Cavs' improvement was because Wally or Sasha suddenly became more well-rounded players, but it's just not the case.

I'm going to put something out there that I've been trying to keep to myself for the last few weeks: prior to West's injury tonight, the Cavs were the best team in the NBA. I'm not exactly sure when it started, but I know for damn sure that this is where it ends. For now, at least. They showed that heads up against the Celtics, and they've been on a tear that even L.A. should be envious of. 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency. 1st in defensive efficiency. The best damn player in the league. A combination of undeniable penetration, great inside-out play, and defensive intensity. This team had something to prove going into this season, and though they still had their doubters, they've proven plenty to me.

But with Kobe v. LeBron just days away, West's injury significantly alters the league-wide landscape. Bummer. The Lakers are undeniably the team to beat with West and Big Z sidelined. So now we're looking at what I consider to be a 180 in regard to the expectations for Monday's match-up, from hotly contested slugfest to a Lakers walk-off. This team looked downright foolish against the Bulls, and were shown up on the defensive end by Rose getting deep into the lane and capitalizing on turnover after turnover. We've pretty much sent LeBron the MVP in a gift basket, filled with potpourri, summer sausage, and fresh in-season fruits, but the next few games should give us an interesting look at just how much his supporting cast does to help him out. It probably won't do anything to change my nonexistent, unimportant vote, and odds are that Delonte will only be out for a relatively short period of time. But with a loss to the Bulls already in the books, I'm eager to see what the shorthanded Cavs are capable of.

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