The Cleveland Cavaliers’ early-season struggles appear to be a
thing of the past – not all that surprising considering they won a
league-best 66 games in 2008-09.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ turnaround from a slow start, on the
other hand, is quite surprising.
Cleveland has taken control of the Central Division by winning
four in a row and seven of eight, and looks for its eighth straight
victory over the improving Grizzlies on Tuesday night at FedEx
The Cavaliers (15-5) lost their first two games and three of
their first six as they adjusted to having new center Shaquille
O’Neal and dealt with the uncertain status of troubled guard
Delonte West, who was arrested on weapons charges during a
West has played in 12 games after sitting out the first three,
and when he’s played more than 10 minutes, Cleveland is 7-2. The
Cavaliers’ fourth-leading scorer (11.7 points per game) last season
had his most effective game since the Eastern Conference finals
Sunday, when he scored 21 points off the bench in a 101-86 win at
West had 14 straight points to start the second quarter – part
of a 29-0 Cleveland run that turned a seven-point deficit into a
22-point cushion. Two nights earlier against Chicago, West had
played five scoreless minutes.
“He started for us on a 66-win team last year,” coach Mike
Brown said. “We know what he’s definitely capable of. We’re going
to be patient with him. The team’s going to be patient, I’m going
to be patient and just continue kind of plugging along.
“When he gets his opportunity and he’s playing well, we’ll keep
playing him. But we won’t expect that every night.”
A wrist injury sidelined West for the Cavaliers’ seventh
straight win over the Grizzlies, 94-79 in Cleveland on Feb. 24. The
guard had 19 points Jan. 13 in the Cavaliers’ last trip to Memphis,
a 102-87 victory aided by LeBron James’ triple-double (30 points,
11 rebounds, 10 assists).
James, who had 51 points, nine assists and eight boards as
visiting Cleveland beat the Grizzlies (8-12) in overtime on Jan.
15, 2008, is averaging 35.4 points in his last five visits to
The Cavaliers have built a 5 1/2-game lead in the Central by
winning 12 of 14, while the Grizzlies are simply trying to work
their way out of the Southwest Division basement after a 1-8
They seem to be on their way. Memphis has won seven of 11 since
its ugly beginning, with the biggest improvement on the defensive
end. The Grizzlies allowed an average of 111.1 points in their
first nine games but have yielded just 100.0 in their last 11.
Their best defensive effort yet came Friday, when they held
division-leading Dallas to 35.2 percent from the field in a 98-82
“I’m just pleased with the way we’ve been able to come back,”
coach Lionel Hollins told the NBA’s official Web site. “… I told
them if you keep making noise like this, you start getting respect.
You get it from the referees, you get it from the fans, and most
importantly, you get it from the rest of the NBA.”
Rudy Gay’s 20.5 points per game lead the Grizzlies, but he
averaged just 11.5 on 34.4 percent shooting last season against the
A big game from Zach Randolph (18.2 ppg) would also help Memphis
as it seeks its first win over Cleveland since Nov. 5, 2005.
Hollins’ club is 6-3 when Randolph scores at least 20 points.