Around the NBA: Can Cavs cut it against elite teams?

Chris Beaven

Mike Brown’s not quite mad as hell.

But the Cavs head coach is definitely not going to take it anymore when it comes to the way his team is defending.

“It’s tough to see,” Brown said Friday after the Cavs completed their worst defensive week of the season.

Brown also happened to be talking after the Cavs completed a 3-0 week spent entirely on the road that clinched their first Central Division title since 1976.

“I told our guys this has to be the best, worst three-game road trip I’ve ever been on in my life,” Brown said.

It wasn’t long ago that three road wins in a month was an achievement for the Cavs. Brown knows that. But he also knows this team has evolved to the point where anything less than an NBA title will be a disappointment.

“I am proud of the guys,” Brown said. He’s impressed how they have “fought and clawed and earned every bit” of what is soon to be the best regular season in the team’s 39 seasons.

“But in the same breath, you have to have the big picture in the back of your mind,” Brown said. “And the big picture for us is not just winning the Central Division championship; not just finishing the regular season with the best record. ... It’s winning at a high level, and playing the right way so when we go into the playoffs we can attack our No. 1 goal.”

And as the Cavs return home for today’s 6 p.m. game with the Knicks, Brown sees no bright spots on defense.

“You name it and we’re bad at it right now,” he said.

About the only thing the Cavs showed their coach was they can “turn it up and get some stops” once the fourth quarter arrived. They know that won’t cut it against the East’s elite -- the Celtics or Magic (who visit Tuesday night).

“We can’t allow people just to be in a comfort zone all night,” LeBron James said. “... It’s getting too late in the season for us to continue to play that way ... that’s not how we play basketball.”

Too much

A big negative to the way the Cavs defended last week was the minutes Brown needed to play James. Simply put, they lose all three games if James doesn’t average the 44.7 minutes he played a night out West. Brown likes to keep James around 35 minutes, but knows with the No. 1 seed on the line, the Cavs can’t afford to give away games.

“Right now I’m allowing LeBron’s minutes to get out of hand,” Brown said, “because we are not good defensively ... and right now LeBron has been our safety valve.”

The week, though, certainly enhanced the case for James as league MVP. He put up two triple-doubles before dropping 51 points on the Kings. He took over the key stretches of each game on both ends of the floor, delivering big shots, big blocks and big defensive stops.

“He is a beast,” Clippers forward Al Thornton said after a nightmarish defensive night trying to stop James.

It’s been a long, lonely, lonely time

Even by Cleveland standards, 33 years is quite a gap between division titles. Since the Cavs last won their division, the Indians have won seven division crowns and the Browns five.

“Thirty-three years, right?” James asked Friday. “(That’s) way before I was born, before Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) was born. To put a banner up and to be Central Division champion is something we should be very proud of, the city of Cleveland should be proud of it.”

Actually, Ilgauskas was a few months from turning 2 in his native Lithuania when the Cavs last won the division. Ben Wallace and Lorenzen Wright are the only other Cavs who were walking (more likely crawling) the planet the last time they won the division.

24-second clock

- Mo Williams definitely has become one of those guys you want taking a shot with the game on the line. He was in the final seconds of a brutal shooting night against the Clippers when he buried a game-winning 3 Tuesday.

“The great thing about Mo is he never thinks about the last shot he missed or even the last shot he made,” James said. “He gets refocused and regains composure. (Tuesday) he missed shot after shot, but you know when it to comes down to it he will come through for you.”

- Larry Hughes, who comes to town with the Knicks today, offered to the New York Post his thoughts on the possibility of James heading to New York as a free agent in 2010:

“I think it would be a tough situation for him to actually leave everything. It’s set up for him there, being from the area (and) taking that team as far as he’s taken them. He’s the face of the organization. He’s the face of sports in that city. It would be tough.”

Hughes added that he thinks James is keeping all his options open. Hughes said he and James text-message twice a week and remain friends despite things not working out for Hughes in Cleveland.

To read more about the Cavs, visit Chris Beaven’s blog at

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