Why The Cleveland Cavaliers Should Want To Play The Miami Heat In The Eastern Conference Finals
I’ll be honest. I was looking at the two playoff matchups that the Cleveland Cavaliers could face off against in the Eastern Conference Finals, and from a strictly analytical perspective, the Toronto Raptors were an easier matchup for Cleveland. There are a lot of reasons to believe that Toronto might be the better matchup up, the loss of Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto’s best player for possibly the entire post-season, DeMar DeRozan playing more like a stopgap than an All Star at shooting guard, rumors of more internal turmoil than the Blatt-era Cavs. But, despite all of that, it’s Miami, not Toronto, which would be a better Eastern Conference Finals matchup for Cleveland. Miami changes the dynamic of teams that Cleveland has to face, and that just might be best for Cleveland whilst the prep for the true showdown against the Western Conference’s best.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for Cavs Nation, “Beasts of the East” opened with a statement about my thoughts on the Eastern Conference. “If you were to have asked me at the start of the season who the Cavs biggest rival in the East was going to be, I would have said with 100% certainty the Miami Heat.” Now tied 2-2 with Toronto in a fight for the Eastern Conference’s oh so coveted ECF Finals seat, I may just be right with that prediction. The reworked Miami, involving more of the young players like Gerald Green, and newly signed Joe Johnson is the closest you can be to a contender without genuinely being one. Cleveland shouldn’t fear Miami, they should accept the challenge, as this is simply one more step towards a championship. I’d like to see Cleveland run a perfect gauntlet to the NBA finals as much as anyone else, but if sacrificing one loss is what it takes to perfect this squad and win a championship, I’ll take that deal any day of the week.
Bright Lights, Big City
The biggest argument against playing Miami in the ECF might just also be the most compelling reason. The media attention a Miami-Cleveland series would garner would be absolutely immense. Sure in the western conference you have two of the three western conference contenders playing in what many pundits are calling “the first of two finals,” but imagine ESPN’s hype built around a Wade-James matchup.Amigo vs. Amigo, former teammates leading their respective teams to war against each other. This would be a media sensation. And where better to introduce Kevin Love to the real playoff spotlight, to remind Kyrie Irving what the big stage looks like, to test LeBron’s resolve, than what will likely be called a grudge match between the two legends of the modern NBA. Cleveland’s had it pretty easy up to this point in their playoff run, maybe just a big of resistance might be what they need.
Cleveland currently is losing the series against Miami 3-4 since LeBron’s return, and that will surely bring Miami confidence, but that’s nothing to be concerned about as Cleveland Fans. Sure was LeBron a bit stunned by the Miami return when he first came back? Of course, that was where he spent the past four years, won two championships, and really made his legacy as a great player. Are those same nerves going to catch up to him this time around, maybe, who cares? Was Stanley Johnson in LeBron’s head during the Detroit Series? It sure looked like it by how aggravated LeBron looked, did it affect LeBron’s play? No, the man averaged almost a triple double, scoring 20+ a game during that series. Playoff LeBron cannot be faltered. Take away his team he only steps up more, LeBron is unfazed. Miami fans want to tell me that I’m just lying to myself, and convincing myself that Cleveland is going to win the series? You’ve seen it in action, LeBron CAN NOT be stopped. Ever.
Beat ‘em on the Boards
This one is really just a general point. It doesn’t matter Cleveland is going to win the rebounding battle no matter which team they face. Even healthy, Tristan Thompson is one of the best rebounding bigs in the game. Take away Hassan Whiteside? Can you imagine all those second and third chance opportunities. The way the Cavs have played the boards, an offensive rebounding onslaught is not far from reach.
Tristan might not be the best offensive Big Man, but boy does he rack it in on the boards. Taking away the best big man on Miami leaves them going to Amar’e Stoudemire as a primary option. Don’t get me wrong, Stoudemire is a good option, but he’s no first option. He might keep up with Tristan in the first quarter, but he’s 33, and big men really expire after about age 30. Add in Channing Frye for the occasional minutes which forces the Miami Bigs to leave the paint, and you’ve just wrote an invitation for a one man trip to LeBron Dunk Town.
Past meets the present
Who is the primary defender for LeBron James while he faces Miami? Is it an elite defender like Stoudemire? Is it Wade? Nope, it’s former Cleveland Cavalier Luol Deng. Deng has shot a very average 12-2-6 this season, shooting three pointers at a 34% clip. Is Deng a bad player? No. Is Deng even the defender that Thabo Sefolosha was? Absolutely not. Maybe Kyrie will be caught up by Dragic, and maybe Udonis Haslem will slow Kevin Love up, but Deng holding the monster that is LeBron James, well that’s just crazy talk.
Maybe Wade beats Smith. Maybe Stoudemire will outplay Thompson, but can you say with certainty that any role player on Miami will even be able to keep up with any of the Big Three? Very, very, unlikely. I like to think that this series will be competitive. I like competitive basketball, even if it is at the expense of a Cleveland blowout game, and Wade is still very, very good (I mean this was the guy that was putting up Steph Curry stat-lines before ESPN started talking about how Steph Curry’s stat-lines have never been done before) but Cleveland wins the matchup in so many different positions that really, there shouldn’t be a question as to who wins the series.
Miami is good, but they’re aging. Miami is the Boston in 2009-2010. You underestimate them, you get blown out. Cleveland fell for that trap before, and to quote The Who, “We won’t get fooled again.” Sure, Toronto might be the “easier” matchup, but Miami is the team Cleveland wants to face if it’s truly hell-bent on pulling a Space Jam 1, and defeating the Hyped Up Western Conference.