By RICK NOLAND
Assistant Sports Editor
CLEVELAND – Sasha Pavlovic started in place of Delonte West on Friday night, but Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak will also play key roles when it comes to replacing the injured shooting guard.
“Delonte’s toughness and what he’s been able to do for our team is unmatched,” Cavaliers small forward LeBron James said. “There’s nobody that can step into his shoes, but people have their own shoes. They’ve got to fill their roles.”
West suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right (non-shooting) wrist Thursday night in Chicago when he crashed to the floor after trying to block a shot by Derrick Rose. West was examined again Friday at the Cleveland Clinic by Dr. Peter Evans and will be out of action five to six weeks.The 6-foot-3, 180-pounder had started every game at shooting guard, averaging 12.3 points on .467 shooting, 3.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists while supplying great grit and toughness at both ends of the floor.
West, who also received two stitches near his left eye after an ugly fall on his head late in the first quarter, actually joined the Cavaliers in their layup line prior to the start of the second half in Chicago and wanted to go back in the game.
“I didn’t know he did that,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He’s tough. That speaks volumes.
“It wasn’t about woe-is-me or a pity party. He showed the ultimate confidence in his teammates after the injury by staying on the bench and supporting them and cheering.”
Pavlovic, who began Friday averaging just 3.3 points on .414 shooting from the field and .458 at the line (11-of-24), got the starting nod against New Orleans, his first of the season, largely because Brown doesn’t want to disrupt a bench rotation that includes Gibson and Szczerbiak.
“He’s started for us before,” Brown said of Pavlovic. “He’s a veteran. He’s been instrumental in what we’ve done at the two-guard position, so we’ll give him an opportunity.”
Brown hasn’t ruled out starting Gibson or Szczerbiak alongside point guard Mo Williams, but his preference is for Pavlovic to make the most of his chance so the Cavaliers can maintain some continuity while West is out. Pavlovic did that early against New Orleans, scoring eight points in the first period.
“I never like to change,” Brown said. “I’d like to find something and stick with it.”
West’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Cavaliers, who begin a four-game West Coast swing Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Cleveland, which is off to a franchise-record 10-1 start against West teams, plays in Portland on Wednesday, at Golden State on Friday and in Utah on Saturday.
The Cavaliers are also without starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who is expected to miss the rest of January with a chip fracture in his left foot, but power forward Ben Wallace returned to the lineup against New Orleans after missing the previous two games due to the flu.
“We feel this team is extremely deep,” Brown said. “It gives guys an opportunity to step up and play some minutes. We don’t feel we have to go out there and change anything drastically. … We get paid to win ballgames. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Added James: “We’ve got to be focused. You never want to see one of your brothers go down, especially with Delonte having a career year. … It’s going to be tough on everybody. Everybody has to step up.”
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ZZZZZZZ: The Cavaliers got some good news on Ilgauskas, who has been cleared to resume basketball activity next week and is no longer wearing a boot. The 7-3 center has missed the last six games after what was originally diagnosed as a sprained ankle – he missed three games from Dec. 12-17 with that injury – didn’t continue to heal when he returned to action. An ensuing MRI then revealed the small chip fracture. The veteran center was examined Thursday at the Cleveland Clinic and visited Dr. Mark Myerson at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore on Friday. Myerson performed the successful foot operations that prevented Ilgauskas’ career from ending early this decade. Ilgauskas is progressing as expected, but is still about two weeks away from returning to action.
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MOVING UP: The Cavaliers allowed 7.4 points per game less than they did in their first 37 contests last season (89.3-96.7). Cleveland also held opponents to a .350 lower shooting percentage from the field (.420-.455). Both were the largest improvements in the league.
Noland may be reached at email@example.com or 330-721-4061.