November 22, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
43°F

Cavs look for answers

Rick Noland

The Gazette

INDEPENDENCE — Expect the Cavali-ers to try anything and everything at the defensive end when they host the Orlando Magic tonight in Game 5 of the East-ern Conference finals.

Whether any of it will work remains to be seen, but Clevel-and can’t allow the Magic to come any-where close to its 17-of-38 shooting from behind the 3-point arc in Game 4.

“You can’t take away all their options,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “You’ve got to hope they miss somewhere. Right now, they’re doing a good job of not missing.”

To put it mildly, the Cavaliers are not doing a good job defensively. That’s why they trail 3-1 and are in the unenviable position of trying to become just the ninth team — out of 183 — to overcome such a series deficit.

When the Cavaliers have played 6-foot-11, 265-pound Orlando center Dwight Howard straight up, he’s dominated inside, which is why he’s averaging 22.4 points and shooting 61.5 percent from the field.

When they’ve fouled Howard, a 60.1 percent shooter at the line during the regular season, he’s connected at a 71.1 percent clip.

When they’ve tried to help, Orlando has gone bonkers from behind the 3-point line, where it is a sizzling 42-of-98 (.429).

Perhaps most troubling, Cleveland has been totally unable to defend the Magic’s high pick-and-roll play, which has resulted in lobs to Howard, layups for 6-10 point forward Hedo Turkoglu or left the Cavaliers scrambling to recover as Orlando expertly swings the ball for another open three.

“We’re breaking down in areas we haven’t broken down in all year,” said Cleveland small forward LeBron James, whose team is giving up 104.3 points a game.

A big reason for that is Orlando’s uniqueness at the offensive end, but there are a few things the Cavaliers might try in Game 5:

 Take James off Rafer Alston: Having their 6-8, 250-pound superstar defend the inconsistent Magic point guard worked perfectly at the outset of Game 1, but Orlando quickly adjusted.

Cleveland might be better served to have Mo Williams or, better yet, Delonte West hound Alston’s every move. In that way, the Cavaliers can pressure him as he brings the ball up the floor and perhaps force him to make decisions on the run.

Create a few pressure situations and Alston, who had 26 points and made 6-of-12 3-pointers in Game 4, might revert to being the point guard who was a lousy .346 shooter from the field overall in 33 career playoff games prior to this year.

Not only that, it would al-low James to use his size and quickness against Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis, who are a combined 16-of-31 on 3-pointers in the series.

Of course, there’s also the chance the Cavaliers will continue to challenge Alston to make open shots, believing he’s not nearly as good as his 14.8 scoring average and 43.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc (10-of-23) indicate.

“Do we expect Rafer to go 6-of-12 from the 3-point line with a bank?” Brown asked in a tone that answered his own question. “You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”

 Force Howard to beat them: James has scoring totals of 49, 35, 41 and 44 points in the series, but the Cavaliers have just one win.

Why not play Howard straight up? If he gets the ball 10 feet from the basket, let him try to make a jump hook or put the ball on the floor. If he gains a bigger advantage, foul him.

“The problem with Dwight is, that’s where your fouls start to pile up,” Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “Before you know it, all your big guys are on the bench.”

Does it really matter? Ilgauskas (10.8 ppg), Anderson Varejao (7.8), Joe Smith (3.5), Ben Wallace (2.0) and Darnell Jackson, who has yet to see action, have not exactly been vital cogs in the offense. Let them all use five or six fouls, clamp down on Orlando’s perimeter players and challenge Howard, who went 21-of-28 from the line over Games 3 and 4, to carry the offense and continue to make free throws.

“If he gets dunks, we’ve got to try and wrap him up and make him make two free throws,” James said. “Dwight has done a great job making his free throws, but we all know, statisti-cally, he might miss one. We all know he’s not going to miss any dunks or layups.”

 Count on the Magic to start missing threes: Or-lando is not only shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, almost everyone is hitting at a sizzling clip, which is why it has a whopping 126-72 edge in 3-point scoring.

In addition to Alston, Lewis is 11-of-19 (.579), Turkoglu is 5-of-12 (.417) and Mickael Pietrus is 10-of-24 (.417). Courtney Lee (3-of-12) and Anthony Johnson (2-of-6) haven’t been quite as good, but the Magic is mak-ing an average of 10.5 3-pointers while attempting 24.5 a game.

“Orlando’s shot the crap out of the ball,” Brown said.

There’s an adage that if a team lives by the three, it can also die by the three, so there’s always the chance Orlando could go ice cold in Game 5.

But do the Cavaliers want to take that chance? If Orlando stays hot for one more game and gets any-where near the 38 attempts it got in Game 4, most of which were very clean looks, Cleveland’s season will likely be over.

 Scrap many of Brown’s basic defensive principles: For four years, the Cleveland coach has repeatedly drilled his players on “shrinking the floor.”

It’s way too complex to go into great detail, but the basic philosophy is to pro-tect the paint while steering the opposing ballhandler in a certain direction so the Cavaliers have a good idea where the next pass is go-ing. Even if help is required after dribble penetration, another Cleveland player should be in position to help near the 3-point line.

The concepts are unbe-lievably sound and Brown teaches them as well as anybody, which is why his team led the league in points allowed and 3-point percentage defense during the regular season.

Orlando, however, is a unique team because it has Howard in the low post and can surround him with four great 3-point shooters.

Included is Lewis, a power forward who has repeatedly taken inside players like Varejao and Wallace out of their comfort zone. Their mind-set is to put a hand in Lewis’ face and not get beat to the basket, when in fact it should be the exact opposite. They have to force Lewis, who is a surprisingly poor finisher, to put the ball on the floor and try to make a driving layup.

The Cavaliers are also conditioned to help against dribble penetration. That only bails out Lewis because it gives him an open teammate behind the 3-point line.

Turkoglu, meanwhile, has made a living running the high pick-and-roll with Howard. Cleveland defend-ers have been trying to fight over the top of the screen, which has allowed Turkoglu to get to the hole or, when help arrives, kick out to open players on the perime-ter.

As good as Turkoglu has been in averaging 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the series, he’s shooting a woeful 14-of-40 from inside the 3-point line (.350). Given those numbers, the Cavaliers might be better off going under the screen and forcing him to make 17- or 18-footers on a consistent basis.

It’s a lot to ask a team to alter something it’s done — and done so well — all sea-son, but the Cavaliers will likely explore every option they have in Game 5.

After all, if they lose, there will be no options left.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.