Gameday Preview Charlotte Bobcats at Cleveland Cavaliers

Pump Up Music: Robert Randolph and the Family Band with Rob Thomas -- "Voodoo Chile"

The Big Picture: The Cleveland Cavaliers have won 12 of their last 13, including a sleepwalking victory over the Nets last night, and are settling into their role as championship contender. I'm in Cleveland for this game, and talking with intense Cavs fans here, they all agree on one thing: those teams that throw vanilla at the Cavs won't be able to beat them in a playoff series. Boston can't expect to run a half court offense with curl screens to Ray Allen, or Paul Pierce posting up on the elbow, and expect to score any points, for instance. They're better off committing to the three as a main part of their arsenal, or giving Sheed more minutes instead of Perkins so they can commit to a fast break offense with the trailing center who can hit the three.

For the Bobcats, who don't have nearly the man by man talent of the Celtics or Cavs, why should we expect them to be successful by playing the game entirely in the half court against superior talent and allowing the opponent to set up a defense? Both the Cats and Cavs play slow paced games, but it probably benefits the Cats more if the game speeds up, which sounds crazy, given that Cleveland has LeBron James. However, Charlotte has even more guys who would probably benefit from at least occasional bursts of frenetic pace, including Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, and D.J. Augustin, whereas the Cavs' beneficiaries after James are benchies the likes of Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson.

Key to Victory: Obviously, it's a good start if the Bobcats can keep LBJ at or below his season averages. We'll probably see Gerald Wallace guarding him most of the time, though Stephen Jackson will get his shots in, too. Under no circumstances should Boris Diaw try to guard him. When the Cavs go small and play LeBron at the nominal four, this is the conundrum they force on opposing coaches. Guys like Josh Smith can take on the challenge, but someone like Kevin Garnett, or even Boris Diaw, is too slow to handle LeBron off the dribble. But everyone and their third cousins know this is the challenge facing anyone who plays Cleveland.

Specific to the Cats, they've got a problem with the center situation. (Understatement alert!) Shaquille O'Neal is still a handful for any opposing center, but he's not the dominant force he used to be. I didn't think Mike Brown would be able to balance his playing time with Zydrunas Ilgauskas's and Anderson Varejao's, but things seem to be clicking rather nicely. If the Cats had Tyson Chandler still in the mix, I'd feel a lot better about their chances on the blocks. The one to one matchups seem to imply rotating between DeSagana Diop on Shaq, Nazr Mohammed on Z, and Diaw on Varejao, all in all still rather unappetizing. What's likely to happen, though, is Larry Brown will ride Mohammed until he gets in foul trouble, then he'll ride Diop until he gets into foul trouble, at which point we could see Boris trying to guard Shaq. At least it'd be interesting, no?

Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Buckeyes fans are out of their minds. I'm annoyed by people who wear Tar Heels blinders, but some of the crap I've seen here is flabbergasting. The gloating after Terrelle Pryor threw for 266 yards -- which NOBODY foresaw -- and Jim Tressel unveiled an aggressive gameplan -- which NOBODY foresaw -- is astounding.

Also, in three days, I've had my fill of "Hang On Sloopy".

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