Pivot Points: LeBron's Cavs As Title Favorites? Sounds Like Last Year
Due to recent issues with the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Orlando Magic, the trend in the NBA has recently been to install the Cleveland Cavaliers as the new favorites to win the league championship.
Key injuries suffered by members of the above contenders, coupled with the Cavaliers' steady play over the past month, has given Cleveland fans reason for optimism. However, their joy may need to be tempered with a dose of reality.
It seems that the memory of last season's league-best 66 wins followed by the Cavaliers' subsequent flame-out in the playoffs has been all but forgotten, but it would serve the Cleveland faithful well to heed the lessons found in past failures.
How much has the Cavalier team really changed? Sure they added a few parts in Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker, plus some of the hold-overs have began to step their games up, but this team is fundamentally the same.
The only real difference in this team and last year's team is they have lost more home games this season, and they are privileged to the part-time services of a past-his-prime Shaquille O'Neal.
Oh yeah, and they beat the Lakers on Christmas Day, a win that Cleveland fans have based most of their assumption of future league dominance on, even though success in the regular season has fooled them before.
Cleveland fans seem to have a problem with perception in the long run and with good reason, as they have had many failures on the game's biggest stage.
Fans of the Lakers and the Celtics are seen as obnoxious, but at least their annoying tendencies are based on the concrete evidence of sustained success, something Cleveland is wholly unfamiliar with.
Even the Magic can claim one victory in the Finals while the Cavaliers' only recent trip resulted in a sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs while LeBron was still a young player.
Cleveland has been able to avoid injuries that have sidelined star players like Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, and Vince Carter, all of whom play a prominent role on their respective teams.
But take a closer look at the Cavaliers and you will notice that even though the proclamations of greatness have increased, Cleveland has done little in the standings to separate themselves from the pack.
They currently sit at 30-10, one half game behind the Lakers and one game above the Celtics, who currently own a victory against the Cavs on their home court.
As last season showed, the regular season is great for positioning, but the postseason is where the merits of your team or the lack thereof are exposed, and Cleveland is still susceptible to their past missteps.
The main problem that plagued the Cavaliers was their inability to guard versatile power forwards who were blessed with games that extended beyond the paint, and that is Cleveland's bane still.
Parker was a definite upgrade on the defensive end to guard players like Kobe Bryant, but Anderson Varejao still lacks the quickness and lateral movement to defend players capable of sliding to the perimeter.
The regular season will do little to expose that weakness, as games are played on a singular basis. But in the playoffs that flaw will be preyed upon and taken advantage of during the course of a series.
I'm sure I will receive backlash from this article mainly due to the fact I am a Laker featured columnist writing on a subject that will be perceived as critical by Cleveland fans.
I am aware of this, but the criticism will only serve to hide the inherent flaws that exist within the Cavaliers' scheme, something, if I may point out, that the Cleveland faithful will be slow to acknowledge.
What may seem to be pontification from a rival team's writer is actually an observation on problems that derailed the Finals matchup that Nike and everyone in Los Angeles and Cleveland were anticipating.
History has not been kind to the Cavaliers, and a tendency to project future success based on the merits of menial regular season games could prove to be crueler still.
There is a reason that few outside of Ohio and the legions of LeBron fans expect Cleveland to advance to this year's Finals. The answer can be found in the mirage of their 66-win regular season of last year.
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