Posted Mar 7 2010 1:36PM
As much of a no-brainer the Antawn Jamison trade seemed to be for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there were a couple of questions that needed to be answered.
The first, of course, was whether or not they would be getting back Zydrunas Ilgauskas come March 22. That question has reportedly been answered.
The second was about how well and how quickly Jamison would fit in, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The 12th year forward hadn't been on a team that ranked in the top 18 of the league defensively since his rookie season. And as one of the Wizards' stars over the last five and a half seasons, he has to take some responsibility for that team's defensive struggles.
On top of that, when Jamison arrived in Cleveland, the Cavs were going through their worst defensive stretch of the season. In the four games prior to Jamison's debut as a Cav, Cleveland had allowed their opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field and score 116.0 points per 100 possessions.
They got away with it in wins over New York, New Jersey and Orlando leading into the All-Star break, but they were playing a level of defense that even the Knicks would be ashamed of.
The winning was part of the problem, according to Cavs head coach Mike Brown.
"We were giving up 100 and something points and 50 percent from the field, but we were winning," Brown said. "And when you're winning, it's hard to tell anybody anything at that time, because you feel pretty invincible as a group, which is what we did."
But in their first game after the break, a loss to Denver, that complacency came back to bite them. And a night later, in Jamison's debut in Charlotte, the Cavs played their worst defensive game of the season against one of the league's worst offenses, allowing the Bobcats to shoot 55 percent.
This was not Cavs basketball. Over a six-game stretch, they had allowed their opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field and score 116.0 points per 100 possessions. This is the time of year teams should be gearing up for the playoffs, and Brown was not happy with how his team was playing.
But after a loss in Orlando gave the Cavs their first three-game losing streak in almost two years, things started to turn around. And though they lost Shaquille O'Neal to a sprained thumb along the way (or perhaps because they lost Shaq along the way), leaving them without a center, the Cavs have played better defense over the last seven games. In going 6-1 (with the only loss coming without LeBron James on Saturday), they've allowed their opponents to score just 99.2 points per 100 possessions.
They've done it with Jamison, the guy who's never been on a good defensive team before, playing 37 minutes a game. The competition hasn't been great and the defense isn't quite at the level it needs to be, but it seems the new guy has acquainted himself well to defending at a high level.
"We threw him out there with no practice," Brown said of Jamison. "It was tough initially, but he's a pro.
"He's an intelligent guy. I think our schemes fit like a puzzle, so once you get a feel for it, it's pretty easy. But everybody on the team, we've been doing this thing for five years now, and we've got guys who have been here for a long time to talk him through it."
As with any good defensive team, it's about all five guys on the floor, a collective effort. Jamison's a better defender when you surround him with better defenders and a coach who gets them to play the right way.
"The biggest difference is the trust factor," Jamison said. "You know where you're supposed to be in certain spots. You know where your teammates are supposed to be.
"Just knowing that you have help, that's something that I've never experienced before, as far as being part of a good defensive team."
Offensively, Jamison has been even better. After going 0-for-12 in his Cavs debut, he's averaged 18.9 points and 8.0 rebounds, while shooting 53 percent from the floor. As a team, the Cavs shot better than 50 percent for five straight games before Saturday's loss in Milwaukee.
Jamison says that, on a scale of one to 10, his progress in getting comfortable with the Cavs schemes and terminology is at seven.
"There's still some things I've got to iron out. I'm still thinking too much instead of just playing. But I'm getting comfortable."
He's much further behind in learning his teammates' handshake and hug routines.
"That's something that I'm still trying to figure out," he said.
O'Neal's injury presents another question that the Cavs must answer come May. But Jamison's play in his first nine games in Cleveland has answered any doubts anyone may have had about the trade. And he seems pretty happy about it, too.
"Overall, this is probably the best situation I could possibly come into and be a part of," Jamison said. "And I'm just trying to take advantage of that."
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