Max Mandel's Blog

Max Mandel

Dec 11

Getting to know the opponent: Q&A with

By Max Mandel Posted in: Blazers, Cavaliers
While every NBA fan is familiar with LeBron James and Shaq, it's important to recognize the talent that surrounds those two in Cleveland. When the Portland Trail Blazers face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, it will be important that the Trail Blazers are able to limit guys like Mo Williams, J.J. Hickson, and Anthony Parker, as there is really no way to fully contain a guy like James. In order to get a better sense for how this Cavaliers team compares to some of the great teams of the previous years, we decided to check in with Joe Gabriele of

I am a Trail Blazers fan: Even though the Cavs are off to a 15-7 start, it seems like this group hasn't fully jelled or found the chemistry that made last season so successful. What do you think is the biggest reason behind the inconsistency we have seen so far this year?

Joe Gabriele: There are a few factors. For one, the Cavs have made some major lineup changes. Only two starters – LeBron James and Mo Williams – are still among the starting five from last year’s 66-win team. And the addition of Shaq has made for an adjustment period. LeBron has really never had a low-post presence who demands the ball and fills the paint like Shaq. And Delonte West has been working himself back into the rotation, but it’s been a gradual process.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: The Shaq trade was one of the big stories of the NBA offseason. It seems that Shaq has fit in nicely with LeBron and the team, but what has been your take on his contributions and impact so far?

Joe Gabriele
: Personally, what Shaq did on November 11 in Orlando has made his acquisition worth the price. In that game, he put Dwight Howard on the bench with two fouls about three minutes into the game. Howard – who almost single-handedly knocked the Cavaliers out of the Eastern Conference Finals – finished with just 11 points and seven boards. But the Cavaliers also lead the league allowing points in the paint – around 33 points per game. And that’s obviously a direct result of the Diesel.

I am a Trail Blazers fan
: One of the pleasant surprises this season for the Cavs is the improvement of J.J. Hickson. What does Hickson bring to the table that recent power forwards haven't, and what type of ceiling do you think Hickson has in this league?

Joe Gabriele: J.J. has an unlimited ceiling. He just turned 21 in September and is still learning the pro game. He’s an explosive leaper, but relies mostly on his athleticism right now. He’s still reluctant with his jumper and likes to do most of his work around the basket. Hickson in the starting lineup also allows Anderson Varejao to come off the bench, where he can work with Zydrunas Ilgauskas, with whom he has a natural court chemistry.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: During the offseason, the Cavs made a clear attempt to improve the athleticism on the wings and off the bench. What types of impacts have guys like Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker made so far?

Joe Gabriele: Anthony Parker has been invaluable, pressed into the starting lineup as Delonte works himself back into form. A.P.’s been in the top five in three-point shooting for most of the season and has been rock-solid on both ends. Jamario Moon got off to a little slower start than Parker, but his length, quickness and relentless dedication to the defensive end have been just what the doctor ordered. Plus, they’re both great guys and excellent in the locker room.

I am a Trail Blazers fan: After seeing some truly great teams in Cleveland over the past four years, how do you compare this team in terms of potential and talent with some of the previous teams in Cleveland?

Joe Gabriele: It’s a very unique team, mostly in the addition of Shaq. He takes pressure off LeBron, not just on the court, but off. And he allows the Cavaliers to change “looks” – they can go extra-big or extra-small around O’Neal. And this team is simply deeper than any team Cleveland’s had in the past. Daniel Gibson is as healthy as he’s been in the last two years and Leon Powe – who’s killed Cleveland in the past – will be part of the rotation in a couple months. If the Cavaliers can avoid the injury bug, this is as good a team, on paper and on the floor, that Cleveland has fielded since drafting LeBron in 2003.


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