It is almost time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to take their team off cruise control.
In what has seemingly been a deja vu to the regular season dominance of a year ago, the Cavaliers are once again about to embark upon a playoff run that could determine the future of the franchise.
Unlike other teams that are entering the playoffs, the pressure to win an NBA Championship has never been greater for the 2009-2010 Cavaliers. The fans know it, the front office knows it, the city of Cleveland knows it, and worst of all, the players know it as well.
The fate of the Lebron James era in Cleveland could very well rest on the performance of the team in this year's playoffs. It is not fitting for a King to continue to come up short in the post-season.
For a King to be a King, he must have the rings.
It is the measuring stick that all NBA players use to measure their careers. Not how many MVP awards they have won, All-Star games they have headlined, or scoring titles they have won: It is all about the number of championships.
To this date, Lebron has zero.
In order for the Lebron and the Cavaliers franchise to finally reach the top of the NBA mountain, the following players will need to take their game to another level come playoff time:
Where has the Mo from 2008-2009 gone? The former All-Star has seemingly fallen out of the offensive plans since his injury earlier in the season. While he stood on the sidelines cheering his team on, the Cavaliers' offense was transforming before his very eyes. A team that admittedly never ran plays for their post, quickly changed into a team averaging over 60 points per game from their front court players.
The addition of Antawn Jamison has quietly moved the ball out of the hands of Mo Williams and his sweet pull-up jumper, and into the hands of Jamison, Hickson, and Powe. In order for the Cavaliers to reach the next level, it will take the re-emergence of Mo Williams in the offense. The team has always been at its best when it is able to spread the floor, and unless Mo can regain form soon, the Cavaliers may be destined for more playoff disappointment.
I am going to cut big Z some slack here. He has not played basketball for over a month, he has gone from a featured part of the offense to an after-thought, and the once glorified mainstay at the Cavaliers center position has given way to the likes of Shaq, Anderson Varejao, and J.J. Hickson as the season has gone on.
Still, through all of the changes the Cavaliers have undergone, big Z is going to be one of the most important pieces in the playoffs. His ability to spread the floor with his 16-18 foot mid-range jumper is key to the Cavaliers offense. The loss of that shot was one of the things that seemed to be missing in his absence from the team. Another thing that was missing was his rebounding ability and defensive presence. The Cavaliers desperately missed the second and third opportunities on the offensive end that Z provided through his "volleyball" act that Clevelanders have become accustomed to. If the Cavaliers want to advance to the NBA Finals this season, big Z will have to regain form quickly, even if he is only playing 15-20 minutes per game.
When the lights shine the brightest, Lebron puts on his best show. Nobody is going to doubt James' ability to take over a game. He is undoubtedly the leader of the Cavaliers, the ring master of their circus, and head of their "family" household.
However, it seems that when Lebron's teammates are in a slump in the playoffs, he loses trust in them and tries to play one on five. When Lebron falls into this habit, other teams' defenses gobble him up. They force him to become the jump shooter that he is not, and cause him to force shots that he would not normally take.
In the 2009-2010 season, Lebron has matured as a shooter and has not been as prone to the mental mistakes of not trusting his teammates like in the past. In order for the Cavaliers to win a ring this season, Lebron will have to continue to trust his teammates, and remember that when the game is on the line, he is the most dominate finisher in the game.
Television commercials are made with the game-winning three, but NBA Championships and legends are made through proving that nobody can stop you. And when Lebron puts his head down and goes to the basket, there is not a player in this league that can stand in his way.