I'm not big on extrapolating larger truths from a single game or moment, but that doesn't mean that, like everyone else in the world, I'm not hard wired to do just that. Seeing the Bobcats' win over the Cavaliers in person filled me with more confidence in this team, as currently constructed, than I've felt all season. Let's lay it out:
1 -- Gerald Wallace illustrated exactly how he's taken a step up this season into All Star territory. Against LeBron James and, occasionally, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Parker, he defended with passion and intelligence, and he played offense with restraint marked by brief bursts of violence. But on top of being Ron Artest on defense, he's rebounding out of his mind. Maybe that's partly a function of Boris Diaw's total inability to rebound and the step down from Emeka Okafor to Tyson Chandler, but he's filling that void.2 -- Stephen Jackson is no offensive force, but he's good enough on offense for our purposes. The Ron Artest comparison makes sense, here, too. Good, occasionally infuriating, but over the course of the season, probably more plus than minus. Where he separates himself from the likes of Artest is how intelligent he is. LeBron won't back down smaller guys, for some reason, but whenever Parker or, bless him, Delonte West tried to guard him, Jax went straight to the block and dared those shorter guys to guard him. Shane Battier and Ron Artest got tons of pub last year for their defense. What about Crash 'n Jax? They can guard any pair of wings in the league and Shut. Them. Down.
3 -- Raymond Felton is finally a top twelve point guard in this league. It's not obvious, because a lot of his value is still tied up in defense, but he's become a plus defender and has improved on offense enough to warrant a starting job in the league, somewhere. That's worlds of difference from before the season. When he plays with restraint and intelligence (those two words again...), he makes his teammates better. However, even as good as he's been this year, if he wants 9 million dollars per year, we shouldn't be the ones to give him that money; we'll be far better off with D.J. Augustin running point and sinking that money into reserves and/or extensions and/or international scouting.
Watch the game again on League Pass, and I think all of these larger trends will be borne out in this one game. This doesn't mean we're on The Right Track as an organization. I still think the org's priorities, as we can determine from the outside, are out of whack. On this current track, we've got a higher one-season ceiling than we had two years ago, but we've also got the same floor, and we've also pushed back our championship window a couple years, since we'll have to rebuild again after this core gets blown up and cycled out.
But damn, it feels good to beat the Cavs.
Cleveland really is a fantastic city, if you're willing to look past the weather and the stereotypes. My best friend and college roommate, Aaron, lives there now, working for ESPN Cleveland, so we spent a good amount of time watching sports, hanging out at the radio station, browsing the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and eating world class meals. Yes. World class meals in Cleveland.
When I wasn't with Aaron, I was with our friend, Pete, proprietor of Cleveland Frowns. Not only did Pete and his friends take me and the Official Girlfriend of Rufus on Fire in to their houses for a pre-Browns-game spread and Wii session, but we had some of the most illuminating conversations about basketball and football I've had in years. I've said it before, but even if you're not a Cleveland sports fan, Frowns is a fantastic read, because it's a sports philosophy site as much as a fan site.
Much thanks to Aaron and Pete for the fantastic weekend.