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NBA Movers and Shakers

   by Al McMordie - 02/22/2010

The big week in the NBA as far as trades was followed Showdown Sunday, featuring four of the top teams facing each other. The Big Showdown in the East saw the Cavaliers lose their third straight game as Orlando chopped them down, 101-95.

Cleveland fans are probably pulling their hair out, but they need to be patient. The Cavs have been on a roller coaster, acquiring big man Antawn Jamison, but losing longtime favorite center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Then they lay an egg against the Bobcats, 110-93, and stumble in a loss at Orlando with the whole country watching.

Maybe it was a bad idea breaking up a team that had the best record in the league before Jamison arrived? No. It was worth the gamble. A rough spot after a big trade like this is worth the gamble. After the game in the locker room, several players were teasing and having fun with Jamison after his terrible 0-of-12 shooting effort. I don’t think Cavalier fans were laughing, though.

Jamison admitted he was nervous, playing with a new team with big expectations basically in his hometown with lots of friends and family at the game. So right there serious handicappers should take note: Teams don’t play as well on paper as they do on the court. You might think adding Jamison would allow the Cavs to get even better right away, but that’s not the case as teams take time to gel. Plus, this was not just any ordinary game for Jamison – it was his first game in a new uniform and he wanted to impress his new team and fans. But that added pressure came at a cost – a 0-for-12 cost! That was also Cleveland first road game in 20 days! Yes, situations do matter, both straight up and against the spread.

So how did he do in this second game? Jamison was terrific, 19 points, 8 rebounds on 9 of 14 shooting coming off the bench. He will help the Cavs a lot. The problem was the defense allowing over 50% shooting. Cleveland defense has been a concern for over a month now.

Also understand that adding Shaq and now Jamison is a proactive way for the Cavaliers management team to appease (and hopefully resign) LeBron James. James has free agency on the horizon and the Miami Heat and NY Knicks have been freeing up cap room with James in mind. They need to win NOW to have a shot at keeping James.

In January, management had discussed different players who could be acquired, and asked Shaquille O'Neal and James what they thought of Antawn Jamison, Amar'e Stoudemire, Troy Murphy and a few others. Those players also were aware that Zydrunas Ilgauskas could be part of any deal, because of his contract that expires at the end of the season.

The discouraging news from Sunday was that Shaq made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points, and James had 33 points and nine rebounds while Jamison put up excellent numbers for the Cavaliers, who still lost to Orlando. The Cavs need to focus on fixing that defense.

Orlando has to be feeling very good about their chances. They have added Vince Carter and have a healthy Jameer Nelson (remember Nelson was injured and barely played in the 2009 playoffs). The Magic won in six, but it could have easily been in five if not for LeBron's fade-away, buzzer-beating, 3-point miracle in Game 2 of the conference finals.

"Cleveland was the No. 1 seed last year, too, and didn't win it," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy pointed out Sunday.

Out West, while all the focus is on the Lakers and Nuggets, the Utah Jazz have quietly been playing the best basketball in the NBA, on a sizzling 16-2 SU, 13-2-3 ATS run.

The Jazz have yet to play their best basketball on this recent road trip, too, yet are winning any way. They committed a combined 43 turnovers in beating Houston and New Orleans and let a 27-point lead slip to just 10 in the fourth quarter against Golden State.

Jerry Sloan credited Andrei Kirilenko's play since returning to the starting lineup as the difference for the Jazz in winning 16 of 18 games since Jan. 9. In turn, Sloan cited Kirilenko's improved build and ability to finish at the rim as making the biggest difference in his play.

"He can attack the basket in there now because of I think his energy and his strength, whereas before he was looking to get a foul," Sloan said. All of which make the approaching playoffs and stretch run that much more interesting.


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