Pump Up Music: Motorhead -- "Ace of Spades"
The Big Picture: The Bobcats are coming off two impressive wins and the Cavaliers are coming off three straight victories. I'm still on board the Cavs Will Win It All Bandwagon, even though the Shaquille O'Neal experiment isn't going as swimmingly as they'd hoped, but that's primarily because I wouldn't bet against LeBron James in any scenario, at this point.
At this stage of his career, Shaq should be a depth player in Cleveland. What I mean by that is that while he's perfectly capable of starting and producing for a lot of teams in the league (for instance, Boston would swap out Perkins for him instantly, cost aside), on this particular team, he should only get big minutes when the matchup determines it or Zydrunas Ilgauskas is unable to split minutes with him. They haven't missed a beat without Shaq the past few games, and he's questionable for tonight's game, so we'll see if the Cavs play it safe with the Older Aristotle and sit him out again.
As for the rest of the team, I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: The Cavs have the personnel to play any style successfully. They've got shooters, runners, and bangers. They don't play any single style better than anyone else, but they can hang with any kind of game that's dictated to them. The thing is, I'm convinced that if they embraced an up-tempo game, they'd be playing to their strengths.
Specifically, I'd play LeBron at the nominal power forward position along with Mo, Delonte, Parker, and a center,or if they want more size, Moon at small forward with Parker moved to guard. Basically, I get why they didn't want to trade Z for Stephen Jackson, but from a purely basketball point of view, I'd be slobbering over the chance to play S-Jax at the three with LBJ at the four, and I think Cleveland missed an opportunity to upgrade significantly when we snatched Cap'n Jack before they could.
Key Matchup: I'm not too concerned with any of the individual matchups in this game. We know Crash and S-Jax are going to have their hands full with LeBron, and there really isn't anything they can do about it. A Shaq/Z combo scares me a lot more than a Z/Sideshow Bob combo because Varejao doesn't provide the kind of offensive variation from Z that Shaq does. Similarly, Boris Diaw is reasonably equipped to deal with J.J.Hickson or Varejao.
If I had to pick one to worry about, I'd choose the point guard battle. Mo Williams is a much more comfortable point guard to watch than any of the guys we throw out there at the position. First, it should be noted that Raymond Felton has had his minutes cut over the past few games in favor of more minutes for Ronald Murray. Felton is probably the best defensive PG we have, but I'm not sure that Murray's defensive deficiencies outweigh the offensive potential he brings. The hell of it is that Murray can't be trusted to actually be productive on any given night. Such is the gift and the curse of the gunner. It would be nice to have confidence in Felton's offense, but his entire career has eroded that confidence. It would be nice to think about turning to D.J. Augustin, but D.J.'s regressed so dramatically this season that I'm not entirely sure that sticking him out there is necessarily the best course of action any more.