Basketball Diaries - January 4, 2011

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On Wednesday night against the Raptors, the Cavaliers get their grizzled old veterans back.

The veterans I’m referring to are Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson. OK, neither one is old or grizzled. But they are the Wine and Gold’s elder statesmen. They retained their rookie nicknames and both play and look like kids. But, including playoffs, Andy’s played 489 games in a Cavaliers uniform. Boobie’s at an even 330 games as a Cav.

I can remember interviewing Gibson right after he was drafted as a 19-year-old – him explaining how he stopped working out for teams after his tryout in Cleveland. My first memory of the Wild Thing was watching him drive former Cavalier, Scott Williams, absolutely insane during a practice at Capital University in Columbus, where the squad held Camp that year.

Andy’s driven plenty of opponents crazy over the years. But he’s graduated from Scott Williams to heavyweights like Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard.

Anderson probably drove DeSagana Diop insane that October at Capital University, too. But that’s definitely not the reason he nailed Andy last Wednesday in Charlotte. Regardless, the blow fractured Varejao’s right cheek and he’ll be donning a protective mask against Toronto.

“(The mask) is not the best thing, but it really surprised me – it’s light, it’s not bad,” said Varejao. When asked if he might get frustrated with the extra gear and toss it (like his Lithuanian buddy did several years ago, Andy smiled, “There’s a chance for that too. But for now, let’s talk about keeping the mask on.”

Daniel Gibson suffered a thigh injury in that same game and missed the next two. In his absence, Manny Harris got a pair of starts and Ramon Sessions rediscovered his mojo. But, like Andy, Boobie returns to action on Wednesday night.

In the 12 games before Anderson Varejao was injured, he was averaging 10.8 points and 11.2 boards per contest.
Gibson has been the Cavaliers most consistent performer all season – taking ownership of his new role as a leader. The former Longhorn has failed to notch double-digits just twice in December, and just seven times all season. But over the last two games, he’s been watching his understudies man the fort.

“I think all those (young) guys played extremely hard,” said Gibson. “They all showed what they could do offensively as well as defensively and they were able to help us as we continue to move forward.”

In the past, these two were luxury items: young guns being brought along by veterans who’d been through the wars.

Now, both Varejao and Gibson are paying it forward to Cleveland’s new crop of young guns. Boobie is passing down the knowledge he’s acquired from a former MVP who took him under his wing. I’m not sure Andy is able to teach what he does. But the Second Team All-Defense performer has his own bag of tricks to burrow into an opponent’s fur. (See: Stoudemire, Amar’e)

This year, Gibson is averaging 13.7 ppg – almost six points higher than his career average. At 9.3 points and 9.8 boards per contest, Andy’s scoring is up almost two points and rebounding, up nearly three. The eighth-ranked rebounder in the NBA, Andy’s also blocking 1.27 shots per game.

The Cavaliers are struggling to find their identity (and to find wins). And after Wednesday’s home matchup with Toronto, they’ll play five very tough opponents out West.

On Friday night, it’s the high-octane Warriors at one of the best gyms in the league – Oracle Arena. On Sunday night, they’ll face Steve Nash, Vince Carter and the new-look Suns. The following week, they take on the World Champs on Wednesday before a very difficult back-to-back to wrap things up – on Friday night in Utah and Saturday night in Denver.

Wednesday night would be a golden opportunity to get healthy and find a groove. Because if the Wine and Gold thought the last two weeks were tough, they’re about to get a Western Conference wake-up call that’ll truly test their mettle.

Are the Cavaliers and their grizzled young veterans up to the task? We’ll find out in the next few days.

In honor of Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl, who was the last Ohio State Buckeye to play for the Cavaliers?

Yesterday’s answer: Manny Harris’ full name is Corperryale "Manny" L'Adorable Harris.


Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.