Since everyone seems to fear the concept of criticizing a 60 win team, it looks like I’ll have to be the first to say it: the Cavaliers have overachieved.
I’ll admit that their 13-game winning streak had me a bit nervous. They were scoring 100.5 ppg while holding opponents to an average of 91.3, nearly a double digit gap.
It was quite an impressive run, but still I never feared Cleveland. I do however fear the power of momentum and although it took a surprising amount of wizardry and an overwhelming dose of magic, momentum has all but left the Cavaliers as they cling to a one game lead in the race for homecourt throughout the playoffs.
On one hand the Cavaliers are still a commanding 36-1 at home, the number 1 seed in the East is signed, sealed and delivered in their favor, and they still have one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
On the other, this team has gone a combined 2-6 against the league’s top 3 teams (based on win percentage) the Lakers, Magic and Celtics and they are still completely vulnerable on the interior, due in no small part to the fact that Zydrunas Ilgauskas scores the majority of his points from mid range, and grabs the majority of his rebounds off of long bounces.
I attribute most of Cleveland’s success to the weakness of their division, the overall weakness of their conference and their ability to capitalize on both. With that said, I have to commend the Cavaliers for their consistency.
Outside of the Washington, Cleveland has just about beaten all the teams they were supposed to beat and you won’t find anything on their resume resembling the Lakers’ inexplicable failure to prevent a season sweep to the lowly Bobcats, or like the Celtics 2-7 downward spiral that came immediately after their NBA record 27-2 start.
Appreciate the Cavaliers consistency. Appreciate all the other things they have accomplished too, just realize that their consistency includes the fact they consistently lose to the other elite teams around the league and when you take that into consideration it’s hardly granted that the Cavaliers are going to just waltz into the NBA Finals, even with homecourt advantage.
After all, it isn’t guaranteed that the Cavaliers will continue their dominance at home throughout the playoffs or even for the rest of the season, particularly with the Celtics coming to visit a little more than a week from now.
My point is that the time for everyone to pretend that the Cavaliers’ are the best thing since sliced bread has come to an end. There is a formula to beating them.
When you think about it, how the Lakers blew the Cavaliers out at home, and later became the first team to beat them on the road isn’t exactly a secret….or at least it shouldn’t be.
They got in LeBron’s face, collapsed the lanes, made him into a jumpshooter, sent him to the line frequently and forced his teammates to pick up the slack. LeBron’s supporting cast members were able to hang around the Lakers for the first half of both of their encounters, but in the end LeBron’s 19.5 average in the two games wasn’t enough for Cleveland to remain within single digits of the Lakers by the end of either game.
In analyzing sports, sometimes we like to overcomplicate things, but often the truth is fairly simple.
Sometimes beating a team requires no more than limiting their best player, particularly when the team is built around them and until the Cavaliers have proven that they can consistently win without LeBron dominating like a couch potato playing rookie difficulty on NBA Live, there is no reason to seriously game plan for anyone else on their roster.
As long as that statement remains true, the Cavaliers will NOT reach the NBA Finals, with or without homecourt.