If you haven’t heard, the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing that thing where they play bad basketball again. The defending champions are in the midst of a three game losing streak, their fifth this season of at least three games. Heading into the season finale against the No. 3 seed Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, the Cavs trail the Boston Celtics by one game for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. The Celtics are playing the Brooklyn Nets, the worst team in the NBA who will also be “resting” six players. So yeah…
The Cavaliers led the Celtics by five games less than two months ago, and their unexpected collapse has many concerned and questioning the ability of this team. They have stated over and over again that they are fine, saying they will “flip the switch” when they need too, but after a four-game winning streak prior to this current skid, fans, and even players, are beginning to feel the pressure. Cavs’ forward Channing Frye went on the record to say that he wishes the Cavs had ten more games, because there are still some things to figure out. Kyle Korver also acknowledged the teams inconsistent play, but says he thinks the team is just ready for the playoffs to begin.
While NBA pundits, fans, and players have all shown their concerns, there is one person who isn’t sweating this one bit. Actually, he loves this. That person is, of course, LeBron James.
If you don’t think LeBron is eating this up right now, you are crazy. James cares about his legacy. He cares about what people think of him. He cares about being the best basketball player ever. He left a city that hadn’t won a championship since 1964, watched them go from contender to worst team in the league while he won two titles in a city with way better weather, then he came back and said “it’s going to be a long process,” and managed to win a championship in his second year, after trailing 3-1 to the 73 win Golden State Warriors, in case you forgot. If you think for a second that coming back to Cleveland wasn’t in LeBron’s head the entire time, you are wrong. How incredible did he look after that? He may never win six titles like Michael Jordan, but he won Cleveland a championship. Who else can say that?
So here we are in 2017. The Cavs are playing terrible, everyone is talking about Russell Westbrook and James Harden and who should be MVP, ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight gives the Cavs the fourth best odds in the Eastern Conference to win the NBA championship, and everyone is freaking out. This couldn’t be going any better for LeBron. Everyone is counting his team out, everyone is too focused on Westbrook’s triple-doubles to realize that LeBron is putting together the best season of his entire career going for 25/8/8 on 55 percent shooting from the field, something that has never been done, and people are starting to count out the Cavs as title contenders. This is the absolute perfect time for LeBron to lace up his shoes, activate Zero Dark 23, and put forth a herculean effort to carry the Cavaliers to yet another finals appearance—his seventh in a row. And after the Cavs make the finals and people ask LeBron about how the Cavs were able to “flip the switch,” LeBron will play the old, “oh, I was never worried. I didn’t even realize we were struggling” card. And everyone will remember yet again how dominant LeBron James is. He lives for this.
I’ve been saying this all year, so I can’t go back on my word: The Cavs are going to go 12-0 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. I’ve come up with a simple algorithm to explain why I believe this. First, let me explain step by step.
- LeBron is a career 44-7 in the first round, and has swept the first round in four straight years.
- It’s still possible that the Cavs get the one seed, and since the Hawks have the fifth seed, it’s possible they meet in the second round, which, as we know, means the Hawks will get swept, because it’s tradition.
- The conference finals will likely come against the Boston Celtics or the Washington Wizards, neither of whom stand a snowball’s chance in hell to win a game against the Cavs.
So, if we do some math here, 1+2-3=0, which is exactly how many losses the Cavs will suffer in the East playoffs.
In all seriousness, LeBron won’t let the Cavs not make the finals. Playoff LeBron is a real thing, and teams should fear that. LeBron is more than likely going to play around 42 minutes per game during the playoffs. When LeBron is on the court, the Cavs outscore their opponents by 8.4 points, compared to being outscored by 8.3 points in the 11 minutes he sits per night. That means that the Cavs are really bad when James isn’t on the court, like horrific. With LeBron only sitting about six minutes per game, opponents chances are going to be limited.
The Cavs’ rotations are also going to be cut down. The playoffs, as we always hear, are all about match-ups. The Cavs won’t go on a regular rotation. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, James, Tristian Thompson, and JR Smith will all see increased minutes. Guys like Deron Williams, Derek Williams, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver, and Iman Shumpert will see their minutes reduced or increased depending on the match-up. If the Cavs square off against the Hawks, a team they like to fire away from three-point territory on, then you will see a lot of Frye and Korver. But if the Cavs are facing a team like Chicago or Indiana, who are more physical, then you may see some more Shumpert and Jefferson. Situation always dictates in the playoffs, and the Cavs have an incredibly deep bench, ready for whatever match-up they get.
The Cavs’ recent struggles are a combination of a lot of things. Twelve cities in March, five back-to-backs the final month of the season, lingering injuries, and a unit that has never really played together will always make for some struggles. Add in a team that has won a championship, and has made it to the finals as a two-seed and you’re going to get some inconsistent play. The Cavs are just bored. They know that the ultimate goal is to get to the postseason healthy. It doesn’t matter if they’re No. 8 or No. 1, they are there and they have LeBron, so they have a chance.
LeBron is aware of his surroundings. He will deny he pays attention to the media, or that there are any problems with the Cavs, but he knows what he’s doing. When LeBron raises the Eastern Conference Champion trophy for a seventh straight year, we will all feel silly for ever doubting that man and look up to him as a basketball god. And while he will never admit it, this is exactly how he wanted it to go. The questions about the Cavs will turn to “can the Warriors beat the Cavs?” The media will forget all about Russell Westbrook and James Harden, both of whom will be long gone from the playoffs, and will once again remember who the greatest player in the world is. People will credit LeBron for taking this broken Cavs team and carrying them to another finals, again. And LeBron will act like he didn’t know this was going to happen, all while everyone else reconsiders their crowning of Westbrook or Harden as the league’s MVP.
To quote the Sandlot, “Ohh, he knows what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”