By Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
A 12-15 record following the All-Star Break. Four straight losses to end the regular season. A frantic roster shuffle right before season’s end. A mere 3.5 point winning margin so far in the playoffs against a No. 7 seed.
None of these represent signs of a team ready to compete for an NBA title. But maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers know exactly what they’re doing.
Think about it. The Cavs play in the Eastern Conference, they are relatively healthy and they now know what it takes to overcome adversity on the road to a championship.
With the Chicago Bulls up 2-0 over the Boston Celtics and heading home, that No. 2 seed isn’t looking so bad for the Cavaliers. They very well could end up with home field advantage throughout the East Playoffs, and in addition, they get to put off playing a tough Washington Wizards team until the Conference Finals.
Also, the Cavs steered clear of that Chicago team that is currently uprooting top-seeded Boston. The Bulls took care of all four matchups with Cleveland this season and won by an average of 10.5 points per game.
Instead, the Cavaliers have a much more favorable route which will most likely include the Indiana, Toronto and Washington.
However, defending the title will require a much tougher task than just weaving through the East. It is also going to involve taking down a powerhouse from the Western Conference.
Cleveland finished with a 51-31 record, which put it 10 wins shy of the Spurs and 16 wins short of the Golden State Warriors, who finished an NBA-best 67-15. Cleveland went a combined 1-3 versus the top two teams in the West.
So what can fans really expect from the defending champs? Back-to-back NBA titles.
Cleveland is healthy and loaded with talent. Some people seem to forget that LeBron James is undoubtedly the best all-around basketball player in the world. It’s not even a conversation.
Pair him with one of the top point guards in the league and a stretch forward who can provide 25 points and 15 rebounds any given night, and Cleveland has itself a pretty nice core.
When the Big 3 is clicking, there is no better trio in the sport. Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers marked the first time in team history that three Cavs players each scored at least 25 points in a playoff game, according to USA Today Sports. If James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can continue similar production throughout the rest of the postseason then the Cavs will be in great shape.
Outside of the core pieces, Cleveland boasts one of the best 3-point shooting rosters in the league. The Cavs finished second in the NBA in both 3-pointers made (1,067) and 3-point percentage (38.4) behind the Rockets and Spurs, respectively.
Notice, there was no mention of the Warriors at the top of the 3-point ranks. James and Irving are phenomenal when it comes to driving to the bucket and dishing out assists, so if the role players can heat up from behind the arc then it’s Cleveland’s Larry O’Brien Trophy to lose.
Add physical rebounder Tristan Thompson into the mix and this Cavaliers team, when healthy, is pretty darn good.
It’s not a team that cares about the 82-game regular season slate, as displayed by its mediocre 51-31 regular season record. LeBron & Co. are solely focused on defending their NBA title. Want proof? Just look at the team’s regular-season defense compared to the defense that it plays in the playoffs and especially in the Finals. The Wine & Gold has proven that it can lock down the other team’s best scorers when it counts.
After winning Cleveland’s first NBA Finals in 2016 and coming back from a 3-1 deficit in order to do so, the team now knows what it takes to win a title.
They are smart enough to know it won’t be easy, but talented enough to get the job done and overcome the adversity thrown at them.
The only thing left to see is if the Cleveland Indians can join their neighbors in the banner-raising festivities this time around.