Justice Is Served

November 12, 2009 9:45 AM

Revenge for Cavs? Nah, just a good win

To think about revenge in November makes as much sense as checking your Christmas list in early May. For anybody whose name is on the list will have plenty of days left to show Santa if he's been naughty or nice. 
So LeBron James and the Cavaliers could dismiss the talk of revenge, giving it not a minute's thought last night in Orlando. Payback -- or revenge -- needed to wait until the games meant something more than a first-weeks-of-the-season win did.  To exact revenge, the Cavaliers must beat the Magic in May or June, not in November.
At this point, they were more than willing to settle for this 102-93 win -- a win in Orlando, too.
In that win, the Cavs showed what they weren't able to show when Orlando eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. They proved they could handle Magic star Dwight Howard in the paint.

And that's one thing the Cavs have to do: now and in their future. They went into the off-season with that as their goal, because LeBron could never hope to bring a championship to Cleveland if he and his teammates couldn't figure out a way to match up better against Howard.
At its essence, basketball between elite teams is a game of match-ups, and the addition of Shaquille O'Neal has given the Cavaliers an effective counterpunch to Howard, although no one knew with certainty beforehand how Shaq's presence might work against the Magic.
But it doesn't take Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller or Hubie Brown to explain why Shaq poses a serious threat inside. All people needed to do was watch the game last night closely. They would have seen how Shaq's incredible bulk pushed Howard hard, saddling him with early fouls. Shaq's ability to establish a low-post presence and score kept Howard from roaming free and contesting shots.
No, the aging Shaq didn't dominate Howard; no player in the NBA can do that. What Shaq did do to Howard was occupy his attention. With Howard under control, the Magic was easily beatable, and the Cavs obliged.
In a game that finally showcased what the addition of Shaq meant, the Cavs played at a high level; they looked razor sharp -- finally.
From coach Mike Brown down, they all had talked since the season began about how it would take "time" to stir Shaq into their offensive and defensive mix.
Time amounted to eight games - a fraction of an NBA season. Now, the Magic didn't have all its pieces. Rashard Lewis, a sharpshooting big man, was serving the final days of a 10-game suspension.
Would Lewis have mattered? Could he have helped counter Shaq inside or would Lewis have been needed mostly to contain LeBron and shadow the youthful J.J. Hickson, an emerging presence?
Answers to all these questions will have to wait. The answers wouldn't have come in one game. The two teams will meet a few more times this season, and destiny might bring them together in the postseason, a time when more is at stake than it is in November.
And revenge?
That's what the LeBron and the Cavaliers will be angling for, and their prospects of avenging that playoff loss in the conference finals look a lot brighter now that they know how Shaq will factor into their strategy.

(Photo of LeBron James by Associated Press)

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