The NBA returns to action tonight, after what was plausibly a forever-long break. OK, it was only a week, but to diehard fans hungry for professional basketball, it was an eternity.
The Cleveland Cavaliers – rested, with momentum, with half of an entirely new rotation – will return to action at home The Q against a long-time rival, the Washington Wizards. The matchup provides a good excuse for forecasting ahead toward the 2017-18 playoffs.
The NBA’s All-Star Break has never been the exact “mid-way point” of the season. In practice, the break represents more of the 70-percent mark of the regular season schedule. The Cavs currently sit 34-22, third in the Eastern Conference. They’re only a game-and-a-half ahead of the fourth-place Wizards, at 33-24. Both teams are missing All-Stars (John Wall and Kevin Love) who suffered late January injuries that sidelined each playmaker for six-to-eight weeks.
For historical context, here’s how LeBron James’ teams have finished the regular season over the last 12 seasons of his career (all consecutive playoff appearances and first-round series victories):
It’s wild to consider – among all the other incredible LeBron James achievements – that he’s gone nine consecutive seasons with top-2 Eastern Conference regular season finishes and only three total first-round defeats. Over these last nine seasons, LeBron’s teams have repeated first-round opponents only once.
In fact, LeBron’s last first-round loss at all was Game 4 against the New York Knicks on May 6, 2012. Carmelo Anthony scored 41 points in that game. New York’s other players that day were J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Mike Bibby, Landry Fields, Steve Novak, Josh Harrellson and Jared Jeffries.
LeBron’s Eastern Conference playoff dominance has been historical. Which makes us all wonder … who will be the next victim this coming mid-April? It seems worthwhile to check out what the major projection systems are saying for how the rest of the NBA regular season will shake out.
It seems most likely the Cavs will finish at the No. 3 seed. If all goes smashingly well, it’s plausible they could jump up to No. 2 and continues LeBron’s streak. Some likely first-round opponents thus are Washington, Indiana, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Due to star power, Milwaukee seems like one team the Cavs wouldn’t want to face. Beyond that? Could certainly be another sweep on the horizon for LeBron in late April yet again.