CAVALIERS ROLLER COASTER
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, two things are certain this season.
1.) LeBron is, at the very least, the MVP of the Eastern Conference. And now he's got that Jordan-esque ability to dominate fourth quarters at will.
2.) Without him, they suck. Bad.
After those two assertions, nothing else is certain. Nothing.
I have to say that, overall, I'm pleased with the Cavaliers. They went a respectable 2-1 on their quick west-coast swing and have won 11 of 14. That run has catapulted them back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, which after Boston and Detroit is quite up-for-grabs. They lead the league in fourth quarter comebacks (18) and recently stole two games on the home courts of Kobe Bryant's Lakers and the upstart Portland Trailblazers (LeBron second-greatest individual performance in the NBA, in my opinion.) They spent the first chunk of the year without Anderson Varejao, who hurts his foot just as he returns to last year's form. Sasha Pavlovic's holdout and lack of conditioning has led to him being either ineffective or injured all season. In short, the Cavaliers have been ravaged by injuries, and James' banged up ankle can be added to the list. But all of those injuries, combined with tremendous inconsistency from impact players like Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes, leave most of us Cavalier fans laughing and saying, "Either they're going back to the Finals, or they're getting swept in the first round--if they get in at all."
To illustrate my point, look at the last five games:
The Cavs were throttling Phoenix at home a week ago. After scoring an astounding 69 points in the first half, they had an 18-point lead, which they blew. They regained a marginal lead and blew it, as well, before losing to the Suns on a well-executed play for Shawn Marion. Their offense looked as good as I'd ever seen it, but they were outscored by one of the best teams--if not the best team--in the West. (Trust me, I hear all about how good the Suns are out here in the desert.)
They hop a jet plane to La-la land and invade the Staples Center by using their patented smart, boring half-court offense--when it's executed properly--as well as stadout play from James and stingy defense to defeat the Lakers. They go up to Portland, where the young Blazers completely out-play them, except for LeBron, who carries the team to victory.
Then last night, in a game epitomized by Donyell Marshall forgetting to put his jersey on, the Cavs lose to the NBA's bottom-feeder, the Seattle Supersonics. Even with Kevin Durant, even on the second night of a road back-to-back, there is no way you can justify a loss to the Sonices.
Unless, of course, the team is without LeBron. See points 1 and 2 to begin the post.
The Cavaliers really are the worst team in the league without LeBron. With him, with committed defense and a with a few open shots made by Hughes, Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Boobie Gibson ... well, the Cavaliers are capable of beating anyone. In either conference. With this team on all cylinders, they really can and do beat anyone. But can that happen in April?
I'm not certain. Not even a little. Let's hope that Mike Brown and the fellows who don the wine and gold are a little more certain than we are.