Justice Is Served

May 7, 2010 11:56 AM

Are we witnessing the elimination of the Cavs?


General manager Danny Ferry constructed this team to beat the Magic, but Ferry could never have imagined that this Cavaliers team wouldn't get to avenge the playoff loss last season to Dwight Howard and his teammates.

The Magic is doing its part, rolling through the Hawks on its way to another berth in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leading that series, 2-0, Howard & Co. seems assured of its spot.

Not the case with Ferry's Cavaliers. They take the floor tonight in Boston facing more questions than the governor of Arizona or the CEO of BP. To list some of those questions in no particular order, let's start with coach Mike Brown.

Never the most ingenious coach in scheming offenses, Brown has made curious decisions in the playoffs. His insistence on using Shaquille O'Neal instead of J.J. Hickson is a puzzler. Shaq's immobility and his inability to steer clear of foul trouble bogs down whatever strategies Brown does plot. Using the 38-year-old Shaq and not Hickson slows the offensive rhythm, limiting what freelancing teammates can do.

Now, what teammates can do is suspect these days as well. Ferry is waiting for Mo Williams to show consistency throughout a postseason. Williams has had more ups and downs than the Dow Jones. Don't bother to mention how he's allowing Rajon Rondo free reign with the ball. Rondo goes wherever he wants, much to Brown's chagrin.

No reason to dwell on Williams. Neither is there much purpose served in talking about how Antawn Jamison hasn't been the scoring threat he used to be with the Wizards. Jamison has no long history of playoff performances, and he's never been on a team with talent like this. He came here to complement the team's star, and he might be handling that task OK.

But with the star injured, Jamison needs to be more than OK. He needs to be a dominant force, a player capable of scoring 30-plus points on occasion. He's been nowhere near that force, which has compounded Ferry's (and Brown's) headaches now that it seems LeBron James' right elbow isn't improving.

And there stands chief concern. In rebuilding this team since last season ended, Ferry could not have imagined James not playing at his best. With the bum elbow, James has seen his game limited. He can't shoot from deep - at least it doesn't appear as if he can.

Absent the outside portion of his sleek-as-a-Ferrari game, James has found the going difficult with the inside part of it. Trying to drive through the hacking hands and the flashing elbows of an aggressive Celtics defense has been a rough go for James. He hasn't been the same LeBron James who controlled play with his unparalleled talent.

Listen to James closely, and you get no hint how bothersome the elbow is. He will play through the pain, he vows. What star wouldn't, though? But if he can't play like the LeBron James who won the MVP award this season, he'll be the same disappointed LeBron James who ended last season without an NBA title.

For whatever Ferry has built here, LeBron James is the person who makes it work. Shaq, Jamison, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon play off James, so do Williams, Hickson and Delonte West. They are his Scottie Pippens and his Bill Cartwrights. All are nice pieces, but they offer less to Ferry if he can't count on his bell cow.

With the series tied a game apiece, Ferry might not be in panic mode just yet. Tonight in front of a bellicose Boston crowd, he will get a clearer sense of where his level of worry should be. If his Cavaliers lose the way they did Monday might, he should ratchet his worry level to Code Red.

Not having LeBron James play like LeBron James will surely push Ferry and the angst-riddled Cavs fans into panic mode and beyond.

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