Well it’s been a pretty turbulent year for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Going into the season, many including our own Nick Whitfield, believed the Cavaliers to have their deepest roster in years, which in theory would allow them to casually stroll through the not-so-good Eastern Conference. And after an opening night victory over their former superstar point guard, Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, totalling an 18-7 record over their first 25 games suggested it was business as usual in the land. Once again, Lebron James was putting on an unparalleled show, and with his former Miami Heat sidekick, Dwayne Wade in tow, a comfortable walk to the postseason was on the cards; just as Nick had predicted. But my word, how quickly things change, it went from bad to worse – with half the roster traded – and by the time All-Star Weekend hit the Cavaliers were sitting at a not-so-comfortable 34-22. The post All-Star break was a little easier for the Cavaliers, it’s also been a lot more fun and after a long road trip, which saw them post yet more inconsistent and unconvincing performances, their final stretch saw them juggle for seeding out East.
Cleveland’s biggest strengths remain practically unchanged from 2017, or in their case, strength. Offense. They spread the floor well and shoot the three at a high rate, ranking top five in three-pointers made and top ten in field goal percentage. But they also supplement their perimeter game with a dominant, top ten ranked mid-range game. They’re also top five in mid-range field goal percentage. It is an offense capable of beating anyone, any night, and thanks to LeBron James’ presence, many of their knock-down shooters are often left wide-open. In the Playoffs, Cleveland’s accuracy from the mid-range should shine through, as teams inevitably become more aware of where shooters are on the floor and how to adjust to them, across each seven game series.
The Cavaliers’ weaknesses this season have been plain for all to see and even the relatively new NBA fan will realise, this isn’t good news. In the Playoffs, when the game becomes more of a grind, defensive hustle counts for more than just transition baskets; it can fundamentally alter the shape of a game and even a series. If a good team moves the ball against Cleveland, great looks will undoubtedly appear. They can’t defend the pick-and-roll, in particular the roll man and their isolation defence is pretty non-existent. They don’t force many steals or make many blocks and they’re next-to-useless defending the paint; which in the Eastern Conference, with the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and others running at them, is pretty terrifying. And even though they may have marginally improved since turning over its roster at the deadline, they’re still in pitiful shape on the most important end of the court. That pitiful shape by the way, translates to second worst in the league and would make this – a LeBron James led team – the worst in Playoff history; and the worst team we’ve seen in the postseason since the 2002-03 Milwaukee Bucks.
The significance of another solid postseason run and a fourth straight Finals appearance might just make Lebron James stay this summer. A Finals victory, however, would remove all doubt. It simply cannot be described as any less than pivotal – not just for the Cavaliers as an organization, but for the league as a whole. If Cleveland fails to deliver this June, the entire league will be thrown out-of-shape, because LeBron James is just that good. As Nick Whitfield wrote in October, it still seems unlikely that without good fortune or injuries, this roster will have enough to overcome a full strength Golden State Warriors team in a possible Finals match-up. But a lot has changed this season. The signifcance is at an all-time high and as their recent win over Toronto showed – the 48 in Detroit in 2007 and the 2012 Game 6 dismantling of the Celtics in Boston – you can never count out the King It is now or never to #DefendTheLand.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
If it hadn’t have been for a turbulent season, Lebron James would probably be looking at his fifth Most Valuable Player Award: tying Michael Jordan. This season Lebron James has achieve the unthinkable, thoroughly cementing his legacy as a generation’s greatest player and perhaps, the greatest player of all-time. Now, with the Playoffs ahead of him, the whole world watches and waits for that tweet – Zero Dark Thirty- 23 activated. #StriveForGreatness
THE ONE TO WATCH?
When Larry Nance Jr. was traded from the Lakers, many expected him to be a solid role player. And he has been, but the honest truth is, his time has now come. In the Playoffs, when the game slows down, it becomes a game of inches, and hustle plays and underappreciated statistics come into play. As a player known for his endless energy, non-stop hustle, defensive impact and high-flying dunks, Larry Nance Jr. should be the player to watch and could end up being a real difference maker for the Cavaliers in this run.
Written by Matthew Wellington – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.