By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Even during the NBA's All-Star break, the
Cleveland Cavaliers couldn't catch a break.
Carlos Boozer had a ball bounced off his head in a classless move by Golden State's Jason Richardson in the final seconds of Saturday's Rookie Challenge.
And Sunday, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas spent all but four minutes of his first All-Star game sitting and watching from the Eastern Conference's bench.
Mariah Carey, who serenaded Michael Jordan at halftime, got more face time than 'Z'.
"I'm sure 'Z' is disappointed," Cavs general manager Jim
Paxson said Monday. "I hope he takes it out on Indiana tomorrow night."
It has been that kind of year for the lowly Cavs, who will enter the season's unofficial second half with the league's worst record and little to play for. Except for improving their chances of getting high school phenom LeBron James.
At 10-40, Cleveland resumes its dreary season Wednesday night in Indianapolis against the Central-leading Pacers, who at 34-15 are at the other end of the NBA's food chain.
Cleveland is at or near the bottom in nearly every statistical category in the league. However, the Cavs are currently leading the sweepstakes to select James, the nation's top high school player and anticipated No. 1 pick in this year's draft.
If they finish with the poorest record, the Cavs would have a 25 percent chance to win the lottery -- and James.
Getting James, who is from nearby Akron, could salvage an
otherwise dreary 2003 for the Cavs, who fired coach John Lucas last month and have yet to win consecutive games.
Paxson met with interim coach Keith Smart, hired when Lucas was dismissed on Jan. 20, before the break to discuss what progress he wants to see from the young Cavs over the final 32 games.
"I'd like us to be competitive, but more than that, I want us to have an identity on both ends of the floor," said Paxson, echoing some of the comments he made when he fired Lucas. "Our goals have remained the same since the start of the season. It's getting our young players to buy into things."
The Cavs are 2-6 since the 38-year-old Smart took over. But
beyond the record, Paxson has seen signs that the NBA's youngest team is beginning to learn its lessons.
Smart, whose only previous head coaching background is in the CBA, seems to have the attention of his players. Cleveland's practices are more structured, and Paxson has been pleased to see additional offensive sets added to Lucas' skeletal playbook.
Smart has emphasized defensive pressure -- the Cavs are allowing a league-high 100.8 points -- and even Ricky Davis, the club's leading scorer and occasional ball hog, seems to be making an effort to guard his man.
"Keith has been trying to get the guys to make a commitment on the defensive end," Paxson said. "That's a big step for a young team."
Paxson is also encouraged by the growing confidence he sees in forward Darius Miles, whose first season in Cleveland has been slowed by a sore knee and broken jump shot.
Miles, acquired last summer in the trade for guard Andre Miller, is only averaging 8.7 points per game. But the 6-foot-9 Miles has been more aggressive offensively and seems more relaxed under Smart than he was with Lucas.
Paxson, too, seems comfortable with Smart. However, the GM isn't quite ready to commit to Smart for the long-term. Paxson appreciates how awkward it can be for Smart to impose his own identity on a team he might not be around to coach.
"What I've told Keith is not to worry about Xs and Os or wins and losses, but let's develop the identity of this team," he said. "I'm hoping we win eight of our last 12 and play well down the stretch for Keith."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)