All The King’s Men
By Jeff Dengate
SECAUCUS, NJ, Dec. 18, 2006 – The Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. said, during a break in the Candlelight Carol Festival last night, that a basketball coach does have significant influence on how a team performs, just as the directors and conductors did in guiding the musicians in their performance at Manhattan's Riverside Church in New York City.

Some forty strong and singing in harmony, the Riverside Choir and instrumentalists laid a lush background for soloists, who expertly belted out fresh takes on the spritual tunes of the season.

Now, imagine that lone voice, trying to fill the gothic-inspired, cavernous place of worship without the consistent presence of his (and her) supporting cast. It would seem rather lonely and unfulfilling, wouldn't it?

Such is the case with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers this season. No matter how much mastery the young King has over his instrument – the basketball – I am usually left wanting just a little more than simply another solo.

That's not to say it's all about LeBron in Cleveland this year; The Cavs have had trouble keeping all five starters healthy and on the floor. But when James, Larry Hughes, Eric Snow, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are all on the court for the opening tip, the Cavs are 8-3 this season.

Note the word "when," however, as Hughes has consistently been sidelined with injuries. A prized free-agent signing in the ’05 offseason, Hughes has been in a suit for more games than he has suited up for the Cavs. When he’s on the court, his impact is undeniable. On any given night he can put up 20 points, but it’s on the defensive end where he can change the game the most for the team. In his last season with Washington, 2004-05, Hughes averaged a league-best 2.89 steals per game, ahead of Allen Iverson’s 2.40.

Although he hasn’t put up those kinds of numbers in Cleveland, he’s still come up big at times, as he did last week in preserving a victory over the pesky Charlotte Bobcats. With Cleveland clinging to a two-point advantage with less than 30 seconds remaining, Hughes swiped a Sean May pass, which led to two free throws to stretch the lead.

Moments later, the Cavs got another key two points on a dunk by third-year player Anderson Varejao. The Brazilian has really turned up his play of late, pulling down eight-plus boards in all but two games in December. Before that, though, he was up and down as he tried to get consistent minutes, which should continue to come his way if he keeps producing.

Another player who could see his minutes improve is rookie Daniel Gibson. In early December, the speedy point guard from Texas scored in bunches and was hitting from beyond the arc at 50 percent. Since then, however, Gibson has found his way back to the bench and is getting only minimal burn. Although just a rookie and bound to be a bit inconsistent, he’s a capable fill-in for the aging veteran Eric Snow, who controls the ball and limits turnovers, but isn’t much of a threat as a scorer.

Gibson’s time is also impacted by the play of Damon Jones, who has played well thus far this season. Jones, who was non-existent in last year’s playoffs before hitting the game-winner to down the Wizards, has been finding the bottom of the net from beyond the arc this season and is getting shots elsewhere, as well. After hitting at least three triples in all but three December contests, Jones attempted only four shots vs. Orlando – none from downtown.

As you see, the current crop of Cavs has the talent to get it done, but needs to show it can do so on a consistent basis and not rely on James to do it all. More often than not, however, it seems that when James stalls, so does the team. One needs only to look at the Cavs’ recent losses for proof:

A week ago, in Oklahoma City, with James flanked tightly by Desmond Mason and failing to score in the entire fourth quarter, the Cavs went ice cold, going scoreless for nearly five full minutes and missing three triples in the game’s final minute. Final score: Hornets 95, Cavaliers 89.

Then on Saturday, in an 81-74 loss in Orlando, the Cavs held the Magic to only 12 first-quarter points and should have been able to cruise to victory. But the Cavs came out in the second and scored only eight of their own, falling behind at the break. In that quarter, James tried to force the action, coming up short – as in, nothing but air – on a triple try from the right wing early in the second period.

The next trip down the floor, James tried pounding the ball into the lane and, despite his incredible court vision, couldn’t find anybody to pass to so he tried to get off a short jumper. Problem was, Dwight Howard was waiting there to reject the attempt.

A few possessions later, James again took the ball at the rim, but had to alter his shot to avoid the outstretched Howard, who still managed to record the block.

It’s precisely times like these that the other Cavs need to step up and provide support for James if the Cavs are to stay afloat in the East and seriously challenge for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Back inside the Riverside Church last night, feeling the energy of the congregation and the vibes resonating from the choir, Rev. Forbes said, "It sounds like Christmas up in here."

Given a more consistent effort from Cleveland's rotation players, we all could be uttering a similar phrase in reference to the Q, substituting a different CH-word: Championship.