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Cavs Prove They Can Win Without LeBron James

Mar 8, 2010 – 11:30 PM
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Pat McManamon

Pat McManamon %BloggerTitle%

LeBron James and Mo WilliamsCLEVELAND -- Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers can win without LeBron James.

They proved it Monday night, becoming the first team in the league to crack 50 wins with a two-point, 97-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, a game that was far more exciting than a game without James, Shaquille O'Neal and Tony Parker probably ought to be.

The Cavs' record in their last 10 without LeBron? One-and-nine. This win was their first without him in three years and it came over a team that is the seventh-best in the West.

The Cavs will take it happily. Take the reigning MVP out of any lineup and see what happens.

Monday night this is what happened:

Manu Ginobili moved into San Antonio's starting lineup and had an unbelievable game, scoring 38 points and coming within a toe on the line in the final 14 seconds of tying the game.

Ginobili started fast, scoring 14 in the first quarter. He made seven 3-pointers, ran the offense, had two key steals and seven rebounds. He scored 12 in the fourth quarter, but just missed the 13th point he needed when his frantic, try-to-find-a-shot, step-back three with 14.2 seconds left turned into a two when his toe touched the line.

"He's a competitor that's just ridiculous," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Delonte West again proved to be one hard-nosed and tough-minded competitor.

The past two seasons, West was Cleveland's second-best playoff player. With James out the past two games, he came through again. In a loss in Milwaukee, West scored 27 points. In the win over San Antonio, he carried the Cavs in a key stretch in the final minutes, scoring six of Cleveland's eight points and coming up with a key steal as the Spurs tried to go to Ginobili.

Were James on the floor, it's safe to assume he'd have been guarding Ginobili in the final minutes. With James off the floor, the assignment went to West.

The balance the Cavs have had to strike with West since his offseason arrest for weapons possession has been evident the past three games.

He missed a win over New Jersey (part of his "process" to recover), played excellent against Milwaukee and came through at key times against San Antonio.

West will not deliver a title to the Cavaliers, but the Cavaliers need him if they are to deliver a title to Cleveland.

• The Cavs have had their share of injuries, and they held their breath with another when Antawn Jamison limped to the locker room in the third quarter.

Jamison did not return because of stiffness in his left knee but said after the game he had a similar problem earlier this season and the knee responded to rehab and treatment.

"It's not anything to be really worried about," he said.

Jamison's absence meant the Cavs played the entire game without O'Neal and James and much of the game without Jamison. The five on the floor at game's end: West, Mo Williams, Jawad Williams, J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao.

• What will the Cavaliers be like if James decides to play elsewhere in 2010-11? The last two nights were a sneak preview. They lost to the Bucks and then struggled to beat the seventh-best team in the West at home.

This reality is probably why Cavs fans wake up in a cold sweat when they fall asleep convinced James will not stay in Cleveland.

"You look for effort on both ends of the floor, and I think we got that. And I thought we got it for the most part in the Milwaukee game, too."
- Mike Brown
• What was good about winning this game without James?

"The one thing you always look for is effort," coach Mike Brown said. "You look for effort on both ends of the floor, and I think we got that. And I thought we got it for the most part in the Milwaukee game, too.

"The second thing that you look for is you want to make sure that the guys keep trusting one another. On both ends of the floor, you don't have anybody go solo and try to take the game over themselves. You want to try and get whatever you can out of the flow and if you're rolling, great. If not, then you have some capable teammates.

"That trust factor was a big thing for me and I thought we got it in both games."

Six Cavs scored in double figures, with Jamison and Williams the high scorers with 17 and Varejao scoring 11.

• Williams remains a player to watch. By his own admission, he struggled badly in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Then he struggled so badly in the game without James in Milwaukee that he put an apology on Twitter.

Monday he finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists -- and some big plays down the stretch.

"After that game in Milwaukee, you just have to put that game behind you," Williams said. "Mentally I had to put it behind me and go forward. I'm not going to have too many games like that."

Williams' approach is correct, but he is an emotional guy who cares a lot about what happens. Not many guys have the courage to apologize on Twitter, but not many guys feel the need to apologize on Twitter .

• The Spurs?

"LeBron wasn't playing, Shaq wasn't there and Jamison didn't play the second half," Ginobili said. "So we blew a big one, and we are kind of upset with that."

Two key plays did the Spurs in. The first came when Ginobili toed the three-point line. Then with nine seconds left, the Spurs were down three and Popovich drew up a play during a timeout that had Roger Mason wide open. Mason took a pass from Ginobili, but missed the shot -- his eighth miss in eight three-point attempts.

"He was the guy to go to," Popovich said. "That's what he does."

While the Cavs should have James back Friday night in Philadelphia, the Spurs continue to try to figure things out without Parker. Will it take them a while?

"I certainly hope not because we don't have a while," Popovich said. "It will take whatever it takes."
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