The 2016-2017 regular season was one of the weirdest regular seasons I’ve been witness to, and not only that, but this has been one of the weirdest regular seasons in the career of one LeBron James. He has been on record many times saying that this is one of the weirdest regular seasons he’s been a part of.
Not only did the team have a month where they won 90% of their games (February), but they also had two months where they finished below .500 for the month, and in March they lost 10 games, which, as you’ll remember, is one more game than the Warriors lost all of last season.
Throughout the season, all of the national pundits have been heard saying, save for one Stephen A. Smith, that the Cavaliers and LeBron James are as vulnerable as they have ever been, in terms of not making it to the NBA Finals. LeBron James knows what it takes to get to the mountaintop. He’s won three NBA titles now, and oddly enough, the national media has seemed to have forgotten that the East has zero, count em’, zero teams who can put a lineup on the floor that will beat anything that features James, Irving, and Love. Not Wall, Beal, and Porter, not Thomas, Bradley, and Horford, none of them.
The East is full of teams who are good enough to get to the second round of the playoffs and sniff the conference finals, but none of them are good enough, top to bottom, to beat a Cavaliers team that is both healthy and focused, and if anything will be the downfall of this team, it is the latter.
James wants to win above all else - he is chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan, the man who he has been compared to since his days as a teenager while he roamed the halls of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. Winning is the only thing that James is after at this point in his career. The numbers, the accolades, the publicity is all less important than bringing home the title at the end of the season. He will no doubt do all that he can to get his team to be in the best position to win come June, assuming they get to the Finals.
So what has been happening with this Cavaliers team this year? Is it merely that they’re disinterested with the regular season? Are there real defensive problems with this team? Can they really just flip a switch in the playoffs and start playing hard again? It’s not that simple, honestly. Yes, this team, like many of James’ teams in recent memory, had gotten entirely too bored with the grind of the regular season. Does this mean that they’re fine? No, it doesn’t. The number of times they have taken plays, quarters, and games off on the defensive end has allowed bad habits to form, and they will need to break those by the time the games actually begin to matter.
The Cavaliers will certainly benefit from the fact that they will now have to engage their ‘playoff mentality’ - it will allow them to, if you’ll allow me to make a musty reference, turn their caps around, ala Sly Stallone in the film Over the Top, and become that different team that they need to be. This can be a real thing, I believe. I truly believe that once the playoffs start they’ll play harder and they’ll actually start playing defense when they need to. In the Finals, that will be all 48 minutes, but in the earlier rounds, they should be able to coast on talent alone.
But Ben, they lost the top seed in the East to Boston, that’s got to be a big deal, right?
Absolutely not. The second seed allows them to get an easier first round matchup, at least one that they’ve had success against this year. The Cavaliers did not lose to the Pacers once last year, and they had issues against the Bulls this season for whatever reason. Granted, I understand that this can mean absolutely nothing, ala the Hawks in 2014-2015, but it also allows James to sidestep his good friend Dwyane Wade in the first round. Having the Pacers in round one, I would be absolutely shocked if the Cavaliers lose more than one game in the first round. LeBron James teams haven’t lost a first-round game since I was in high school in 2012. Just to put that fact in some greater perspective for you, in the 1,811 days since James last lost a game in the first round of the NBA playoffs, he has won three titles, Jeremy Lin has been on 5 NBA teams, and the Cubs won a World Series.
The time has come for the NBA playoffs to start, and if anyone thinks that the Cavaliers are vulnerable, just remember this: last year, the Warriors had what many have said is the greatest regular season of all-time. They came into the playoffs, got to the Finals, and were up 3-1 in the NBA Finals. Klay Thompson said that LeBron James got his feelings hurt, James merely laughed, won the next three games, and beat the Warriors. If ever a team with LeBron James was vulnerable, it was last season in the Finals down 3-1, yet they came back. It’s far too soon to be counting this team out, so please, don’t do it.