John Krolik is, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers in the blogosphere and Cavs: The Blog is a must-read item for people who want to get the best coverage of the Cleveland Cavaliers, with all due respect to Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer, who is one of the top beat writers in the NBA.
Not only does Krolik do excellent work at his site but he also writes for SLAM ONLINE and NBC Sports' ProBasketballTalk. And in the past, Krolik has written for FreeDarko. Impressed? Heck, I am.
A few days ago, I was able to ask Krolik a few questions to preview tonight's game between the Orlando Magic and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
I have to admit, owning League Pass Broadband has allowed me to catch up on the Cleveland Cavaliers here and there. As such, watching LeBron James defy the law of physics, make three-point 30-foot jump shots, and transcend the sport of basketball is a guilty pleasure. What will stop James from winning MVP awards every year, aside from the voters getting bored and picking somebody else?
LeBron's been ridiculous, and with age finally catching up to Kobe a little bit he looks like the runaway favorite to win another MVP award. (Kobe's game-winners and "playing through pain" mystique could come into play if he finishes strong and the Lakers are up there for the best record, though.) If he doesn't win the title this season, I think voters are going to start looking for ways not to give it to him. In terms of pure production, Chris Paul could have a chance to out-PER LeBron one year, but the Hornets would need to have a resurgence. If the Thunder are legit contenders next year, Durant will be a very sexy pick. Never count out Kobe, especially if he's healthy all of next season.
I think LeBron will deserve the MVP for a long time, but if you're not on the league's best team a lot of funny things can happen in the voting. And there are so many variables that go into having the best regular-season record. The season after Steve Nash's 2 MVP seasons was probably his best one, but there was no chance he was going to get it that year.
More after the jump.
Shaquille O'Neal has been playing good basketball for the past month or so, looking at the numbers and reading your reports. What's the scoop on Shaq?
Shaq's been a monster. He looks completely different from the player he was in the first month or two of the year. Everything has improved with him. They figured out how to use him on offense, and he's actually fit into the defensive system well. His teammates are getting him the ball where he wants it, and he's passing it a lot better. Also, he's clearly played himself into shape a bit. He was really struggling to score on one-on-one post ups early in the season, but now teams have to double him. His moves look more intuitive and decisive, he's going at the rim more when he backs down, and he's getting a lot more air under his hook shots. There was an adjustment period, and a lot of Shaq's struggles were nobody's fault but his own, but he looks like a great acquisition right now.
Cleveland is blazing a trail in the regular season, sporting the best record in the NBA at 42-11. The favorites to win it all, according to some. But everyone has seen this script before, namely last year, and we all know how it ended for the Cavaliers. What are some examples that suggest this year will be different?
The big thing is that the Cavs struggled against elite teams on the road last year, and they haven't this year. They're 2-0 against the Lakers after going 0-2 against them, and they already have road wins against the Magic and Hawks. They're a much more versatile team now, and can match up to any style instead of banking on their ability to impose their own style. Shaq's really helped in this regard. He played "Shaqrificial Lamb" against you guys in Orlando, and he really helped the Cavs control the paint against the Lakers. They're a much more versatile team, and much better equipped to handle the type of matchup problems that led to them losing in the ECF last season.
Stretch fours - still a problem for the Cavs? On a broader scale, what concerns you the most when the Cavaliers face off against the Magic?
I'm in the minority in that I never thought Varejao/Lewis was a terrible matchup for the Cavs. Varejao can't hit water himself, but he's got extremely quick feet for a power forward and does a good job. The issue was that the Cavs were forced to double DH constantly, which left forwards open on the perimeter. Hickson's still got a very long way to go in terms of his defense, but Mike Brown is never afraid to utilize the quick hook when JJ's getting burned.
What scares me the most about Orlando is actually their defense. They're #2 in defensive efficiency, and Dwight Howard shuts down the rim as well as anybody. LeBron likes going to the rim, and the Cavs' offense often becomes LeBron damning the torpedoes and going for it in late-game situations. LeBron was able to go off against the Magic in the ECF, but I do get worried about Howard being able to take his bread-and-butter away and the Cavs not being able to work offensively because of that.
I also worry about the threes, but at some point there's not much you can do about that. The Magic are going to take a lot of them. If they go in, they go in, and it's going to be bad. It's like worrying about nuclear war instead of worrying about a midterm. Focus on the more solvable problem.
I like to thank John for taking the time to answer my questions.