With the 2017-18 NBA regular season coming to a close, the Cleveland Cavaliers have locked up the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference with an overall record of 50-32. They will face off in the first round against the Indiana Pacers and will try to make their fourth consecutive NBA Finals trip.
Even before the playoffs begin in The Land, there have been plenty of storylines for the Cavs. Long story short, it was full of drama, thanks in part to Isaiah Thomas. But, there were plenty of positives to this season as well!
The team’s bench, which was one of the worst in the league last year, instead finished near the top. Kevin Love opened up about the problems he has been dealing with his whole life and became an ambassador against the stigma of mental health. Finally, LeBron James has arguably put in the best season of his vaunted career and should be the league’s Most Valuable Player over James Harden.
Speaking of James, he also has quite the laundry list of playoff accomplishments as well. He has three NBA Championships to his name, along with three Finals MVP awards, with the most important one coming when he won Cleveland’s first title in over five decades.
With this year’s playoffs, a lot of people are counting James, and the Cavs, out before it begins. Professional loudmouth Stephen A. Smith firmly believes the Philadelphia 76ers will reach the NBA Finals:
(Note: Smith has been wrong for the last six seasons on his NBA Finals picks.) But, Smith is not alone as the Eastern Conference has gotten better while the Cavs have dominated.
As mentioned before, the Cavs’ season has been filled with drama thanks in part to Isaiah Thomas. While Thomas may have been a sleeper agent for the Boston Celtics, at the trade deadline the team elected to blow up the roster. When the dust settled, the Cavs got a whole lot younger after acquiring Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. from the Los Angeles Lakers and Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz. The Cavs also have two other youngsters on their roster in Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic who have been part of the youth movement.
With the Cavs leaning heavily on players without true playoff experience, it makes sense why some people may doubt the team. Nance, Clarkson, Zizic, and Osman all have never played in the playoffs and Hood only has played in a handful of postseason games. But, while the team’s bench is green, they have a King to lead them to the promised land.
King James has been doubted his entire career and this season is nothing new for him. In his first season back, no one expected a core of him, Love, and Kyrie Irving to make it to the NBA Finals. Everyone believed the Atlanta Hawks were the odds-on favorite to represent the East. Instead, James and the Cavs clipped the Hawks’ wings and swept them to their first title tilt with the Golden State Warriors.
The following season, the Cavs and James again saw adversity throughout the season and in the playoffs. When the reached the NBA Finals, they quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole against the Warriors. Most Cavs fans know what happens next, but in Game 7 James made a career-defining play on Dubs forward Andre Iguodala:
After that, the rest is history. The Cavaliers won their first NBA championship and James cemented himself as the greatest athlete in Cleveland sports history.
Two seasons later, the Cavs were again dealing with adversity and drama. First, Kyrie Irving broke the hearts of every Clevelander by asking to be traded and was eventually shipped to the Boston Celtics, a huge rival. The team brought in Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the coveted 2018 Nets pick for Irving. On top of that, they also brought in a bevy of veterans, including James’ best friend in Dwyane Wade. The team seemed loaded and primed to make another run through the Eastern Conference.
Instead, the team stumbled out of the gates and quickly became a nightmare to watch every night. This was in part to the team missing Thomas for a while, but when he returned things were even worse. The hip injury appeared to have done quite a bit of damage to Thomas who during his time with Cleveland slopped up 14.7 points on 36.1% shooting.
Thomas kept forcing the issue and was also sparring with his teammates and the coaching staff. Things seemed to reach a boiling point when Thomas, along with Wade, supposedly spat venom at Kevin Love during a team meeting. This results in this infamous moment happening:
— Anthony™ (@AnthonyG729) January 27, 2018
Things obviously had to change, and as mentioned before the team did that. After the deadline, the only player from the Irving trade that remained was Zizic. Gone were Thomas, Crowder, Wade, and plenty others, and all the youngsters came flocking to The Land.
While this move was a slam dunk for general manager Koby Altman, it also created more drama. Most teams do not decimate their roster and still compete for a championship, especially with one lacking this much playoff experience.
But, despite all of this, James has led the “new” Cavaliers to another Central Division title, and arguably a much better team compared to earlier this year. But, analysts like Smith still doubt this team and the new meme is to pick against the Cavs.
This is not this team’s or James’ first rodeo when it comes to adversity. This roster may be green, but it is also tailor-made to play alongside James. Clarkson, Nance, and Hood are all perfect players to match up with James due to their athleticism and three-point shooting ability.
If there are times the youngsters shrink in the brightest lights, that is 100% fine because James can pick up the slack. Experience is a great equalizer, especially when your equalizer is the greatest player of all time.
So with everyone doubting him, yet again, James will have to lead the Cavs to their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference title. It is beyond foolish to ever doubt him, but, people continue to do so. If the Cavaliers make a serious title run, and this team has a ton of potential to do so, it will cement James’ legacy. He already is the greatest Cleveland athlete of all time, but if he wins a title with this fresh-faced team it will keep him up with Michael Jordan.
The Eastern Conference has been ravaged by injuries, and the Sixers appear to be the Cavs’ biggest threat. Like the Cavs’ youngsters, the Sixers have zero playoff experience and may wilt when it matters most. The Cavs have King James on their side, and will be able to balance out the lack of experience. When the team clobbers the Eastern Conference yet again, it will only cement James’ status as the greatest of all time.