Cavaliers need to re-acquire former center
Cleveland center Shaquille O’Neal is out of action for at least two months after having surgery on the right thumb he injured Thursday in a game in Boston against the Celtics. The Cavs now have an even bigger reason to re-sign former big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was dealt to Washington Feb. 17 in the trade that brought in power forward Antawn Jamison before having his contract bought out putting him on the free-agent market.
The 7-foot-3 inch, 260-pounder from Lithuania, who has played his entire 12-year career with the Cavs and averages almost 14 points and eight rebounds per game, is desperately needed by the Eastern Conference leaders. Many assume he will be back with the team anyway after a 30-day waiting period, but other teams, particularly the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets, have shown interest.
Atlanta, Portland and Utah also showed a desire to add Ilgauskas to their roster, but all signs pointed to a return to Cleveland even before O’Neal’s injury. Although he could sign with any team as of today, he must wait until March 22 to sign another deal with the Cavaliers and still be eligible for postseason play.
Any player released after today cannot be on the postseason roster of his new team, and even though Cleveland won’t admit it, the Cavaliers are in desperate need of Ilgauskas’ size in the paint, as Jamison isn’t a prototypical center. It will take less pressure off the shoulders of LeBron James and Mo Williams.
The New York Knicks make a trip to Quicken Loans Arena tonight (7 p.m. ET) to face a Cavaliers team looking for its fourth straight win and eighth in its last 11 overall.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Tracy McGrady will make his first appearance against Cleveland in his new uniform after being dealt by the Houston Rockets. This is the third and final meeting between the two teams this season with the Cavaliers winning the previous two 100-91 (Nov. 6 in New York) and 113-106 three months later at home. Cleveland has won seven straight overall in this series.
David Lee had 21 points and six rebounds in the November loss, a game in which Cleveland had 40 points after the first quarter and the Knicks 40 by halftime. Larry Hughes finished with 18 points, Danilo Gallinari 17, Al Harrington 14 and Wilson Chandler 11 in the loss. New York is 2-12 in its last 14 games overall.
Nate Robinson led the way with 26 points and six rebounds in the February loss after not playing in the November game with a sprained ankle, and Lee had 20 points and eight boards, but the Knicks still trailed by 20 after the first quarter and at the half. Harrington (16), Gallinari (13) and Jared Jeffries (12) were other double-figure scorers in the loss.
Lee enters March fourth in the league with his 11.5 rebounds per game and won’t have to contend with Shaquille O’Neal inside after the future Hall of Famer was lost for at least two months with a right thumb injury. The former Florida Gator has averaged 20.5 points per game in the teams’ two meetings this season and looks to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ lack of size with the absence of O’Neal and Ilgauskas.
LeBron James was close to a triple-double with 33 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the November victory but wants to take better care of the basketball after committing seven turnovers. Mo Williams finished with 12 points, and Daniel Gibson added 11 in the win. Gibson is second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 48 percent, second to Washington Wizards’ Mike Miller.
The reigning Most Valuable Player was unstoppable and once again came close to a triple-double with 47 points, eight assists and eight rebounds and even added five steals for good measure in the February victory. The Knicks won’t have to deal with him this evening, but they had no answer for O’Neal and his 19 points. Anthony Parker and J.J. Hickson added 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the win. Cleveland is only 5-3 in its last eight games including its current three-game winning streak.
I know it took a rocket scientist to pull this name out of the hat, but the NBA’s leading scorer (30 points per game) is averaging 40 points, 8.5 assists and eight rebounds against the Knicks this year. He is fourth in the league with 3.5 turnovers per game, but it’s a stat most will overlook. Look for New York to pull out all of its magic tricks in attempting to stop James tonight with the lack of a big-time presence in the paint outside of Jamison. If the Knicks can hold James to his average, then they have accomplished something. Jamison should get his fair share of touches inside, and Williams is a player to watch should the Knicks put all their focus on the other two areas.
Cleveland is six games ahead of second-place Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings and is well on its way to having home-court advantage at Quicken Loans Arena throughout the playoffs. The Cavs would host the Charlotte Bobcats if the playoffs began today and would face the winner between the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors in the second round should they advance, who they are a combined 4-0 against but are surprisingly 1-2 against Charlotte this season. Keep it in mind.
By: Tyler Clifton
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