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Here come the Cavs

12.30.09 at 1:50 pm ET

A small detail from Tuesday night’s NBA games. The Cleveland Cavaliers slipped past the Celtics by a half game for the best record in the Eastern Conference. At 23-7 the Celts are still up a game in the loss column (Cleveland’s 25-8) and hold a few percentage points if you want to get technical about it.

This isn’t about that. This is about how the Cavs are hitting their stride. Earlier in the season, when Cleveland was losing three of its first six, there were questions about how well Shaquille O’Neal was really going to fit alongside LeBron James, and if Delonte West could get his life back together, let alone his game.

Safe to say they’ve figured it out. The Cavs have won 10 of their last 11 with a road loss to the Mavs serving as the spoiler and it’s not just that they’ve been winning. They’ve been destroying teams.

An 18-point win at Phoenix. A 15-point win at the Lakers on Christmas Day, which had the benefit for Celtics followers of watching Laker fans lose their minds. A 25-point win over the Rockets and last night, they were +11 over the Hawks after pulling away in the fourth quarter.

By the way, all those games were on the road except for the Houston game, which they played two nights after beating L.A. and then they went back out again for a game at Atlanta, and will finish off a home-and-home with the Hawks tonight. Remember that whenever people start to complain about their schedule. It’s rough for everyone.

So, how are they doing it? Well, LeBron’s still LeBron, which is to say the best player in the game and Mo Williams is knocking down shots at a healthy rate. Beyond that is something ESPN’s John Hollinger points out today (Insider). With O’Neal, Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskus and the emerging J.J. Hickson, the Cavs have a huge front line.

Throw in LeBron who is built like a tank and the Cavs are forging their identity as a physical team that will try to pound you in the paint. Add to that their two under-the-radar additions — Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon — have added some length to what was a lilliputian backcourt.

The Cavs are one of the top rebounding teams in the league and one of the best defensive units. They’re still not the best, however. That title belongs to the Celtics in terms of defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). The two teams don’t meet again until March 14 and a whole lot can happen between then and now, but if they’re not keeping an eye on each other just yet, they will be soon.

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