In mid-February, the Cleveland Cavaliers (39-16) went into the All-Star break holding a three-game lead over the Boston Celtics (37-20). Fast forward to just over a month later, and the two are tied atop the East, with the Cavs at 47-25 and Celtics at 48-26.
Coming down the home stretch of the regular season, Cleveland and Boston will now be fighting back and forth for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage in the East playoffs. Keep in mind, the Washington Wizards (2.5 games back) and Toronto Raptors (3.5 games back) are lurking and getting closer and closer as well.
With Cleveland seeing their lead over Boston quickly dwindle away, is it time to panic? Let’s be honest: The Cavs are struggling right now. With just a few more weeks until the postseason, the wine and gold need to regroup, especially defensively. Whether it’s effort, not caring during the regular season, or something that may not be known, it would be nice to see the Cavs play at a playoff level prior to the postseason.
So now begs the question: Do the Cavs even care if they get the top spot in the conference in the postseason?
No matter what some players may say, the answer is most likely “yes.” While they should be able to beat any team in the East in a best-of-seven series, their easiest path to the Finals would be if they have home court. Not only would it give them the best chance to win each series, but home court would also give them a better opportunity to beat their opponent in fewer games, which would give them more rest as the postseason goes on. Also, consider that the 28-8 at home, but just 19-17 on the road. Comparatively speaking, Boston is 21-17 on the road. During the Cavs’ championship run in 2016, they proved they can beat the NBA’s best teams away from Cleveland and that home-court advantage doesn’t really matter that much. But with the East seeming to be more improved this go ’round, will it matter in 2017?1
At 32 years old, Cavs do-it-all star LeBron James has played 37.6 minutes per game (66 games), which is second-highest in the league, only trailing Raptors’ Kyle Lowry (37.7). That mark is his highest since the 2013-14 season, when he averaged 37.7 minutes per contest. Heading down the stretch, James was expected to play fewer minutes with the expected to hold a substantial lead in the East. But with the Cavs struggling as much as they have and Boston playing well, James will now be forced to play as much as he has been thus far, in order for the wine and gold to hold the top spot in the East ahead of the postseason.
Outside of the minutes their stars have played, the Cavs biggest reason to panic would be due in part to their defense in the last few games, or lack there of. Following Saturday night’s loss against the Wizards, Cleveland’s defense allowed at least 105 points for the fifth-consecutive game, a feat that must come to an end sooner rather than later. Whether it’s the fact that the Cavs may be bored of the regular season, not trying on defense, or just entirely not communicating correctly.
Now up just a half-game over Boston, the Cavs are 2-3 in their last five while allowing 117.2 points per game in that span. Inexcusable.
— Josh Poloha (@JorshP) March 26, 2017
While it may be time to panic, at least somewhat, some Cavs players, including James, have stated that the team will “flip the switch” once the playoffs roll around. But, is it really that easy? As a fan, the hope is there, but as a realist, is it possible? Following Saturday night’s loss, James told the media that his team will play much better come playoff time. Keep in mind, he also said that he would shoot much better from the free-throw line in the postseason as well, an area where he has struggled mightily so far this season.
The Cavs may be the best team in the East, but if they were in the West, their 47-25 would make them just the fourth-best team in the Western Conference, which means that they would have to play the Golden State Warriors (or whoever wins the West) if they were to advance into the second round of the playoffs. They should be able to beat any team in the East whether they have home-court advantage or not, but why even take the chance? Take care of business the rest of the season, get home-court, and you will be in prime position to get back to the Finals for the third-straight summer.
- For what it’s worth, the Cavs are 2-1 against Boston so far this season, with both wins coming at home and their lone loss away from home. [↩]