The Cavs are 9-0 this post season after throttling Toronto in Cleveland last night. So, will they go 16-0 and become the only team to ever win 16 playoff games without a loss? Probably not. But will they beat Toronto? How badly? And can they beat Golden State or Oklahoma City. What is my analysis?
Strengths of the Cavs:
1. The Cavs have LeBron -- LeBron is the most versatile player ever to play the game. It is not a close call. Review THIS ENTRY and you will see the statistical backup. LeBron is the #1 player in both regular season history and playoff history in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) which means he has created more wins for his team in the regular season and playoffs than any other player. LeBron is getting old, but if you assume he is not going to get 25% worse tomorrow, you could put him on any mediocre NBA team in 2017 and that team would immediately become 15 wins better. So, the 29-53 Wolves would be 44-38. Then you figure you would immediately add a couple vets who wanted to play with LeBron, so add 3-4 more wins due to their addition. A 29-win NBA club becomes a 46 or 47 win club with no other player or coaching upgrade. There is no other player in the league who can do that.
Why? Because LeBron is an 85th percentile defender, a 95th percentile scorer, a 99th percentile passer, a 90th percentile rebounder. You replace whatever you have at his spot with a much, much better player and improve your team's offense and defense and rebounding. Your team is immediately better.
The Cavs have LeBron. None of their potential opponents have LeBron.
2. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are playing well and filling their roles. LeBron, despite averaging 28 PPG in his playoff career, has never really wanted to be a scorer. He would rather be Magic than Michael. Love and Kyrie are starting to click with LeBron. He would like them to take 50 shots a game and they are working toward that. This allows LeBron to rest and his fresh legs create scary plays such as his drive and dunk on the Raptors last night.
3. The Cavs' ability to shoot the three leaves an opponent with no reasonable options. If you have Kyrie and Love hot and J.R. Smith and Channing Frye hot, and you play through LeBron, that leaves an opponent with two options: a) allow LeBron to score layups and dunks; or b) collapse on him and allow some open 3s. The Hawks tried option b and were ridiculed as they were swept. The Raptors last night went small and tried option a - LeBron shot 85% and scored 24 points in 3 quarters of play.
The best option is probably to hope you have a defender who can limit LeBron (Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green) one on one and not allow LeBron to pass to open players. Good luck finding guys like that.
4) Tristan Thompson gets the Cavs extra shots. It is absolute death to allow the Cavs to miss a shot and them get the ball back to try again. Tristan Thompson, for his height, may be one of the best 5 rebounders I have ever seen.
What Can Toronto Do?
The Cavs are poor at stopping guard penetration and the Cavs don't like to play their big men. So, you can score on the Cavs, and at times that can be very easy to do. Lowry and DeRozan need to be aggressive and attempt not to settle for long jumpers. The Cavs always seemingly come up one defender short on rotations off guard penetration. This is generally a Kevin Love fuck up or LeBron deciding that he already has one foul and allowing the big guy to score instead of picking up another foul.
If I am the Raptors, and since they are a big underdog, I decide not to let LeBron just get layups against me. I think you need to play standard help defense and hope to rotate to shooters. It did not work for the Hawks, but remember that the Hawks had some close games in the series using the helping strategy.
LeBron is old and he has logged 40,000 minutes of hard play. If you want to beat his team, you need to aggressively make him work. Do not ever let him bring the ball up the court unguarded after you have scored. Find him on your offensive end and involve him in ball screens and off the ball screens. Try to get him to foul. Even if these efforts do not work right away, Toronto lacks the players to defeat a fresh LeBron James. You need to wear him down.
Likely Eastern Conference Result?
I see Toronto losing in 5. Without a healthy Valenciunas, they just don't have enough weapons to oppose a healthy Cleveland team. I think they get a game on a night where they shoot really well or Cleveland does not.
Can Cleveland Beat a Healthy GState or OKC?
Obviously if Curry or Draymond Green goes down or one of Westbrook or Durant goes down, Cleveland would be favored in the Finals. That said, suppose a fully healthy Cleveland team plays a fully healthy Western Conference opponent. Who wins?
My Prediction -- Cleveland beats OKC; Cleveland loses to Golden State.
OKC sets up as a nice opponent for Cleveland. They don't spread out the floor and play drive and kick basketball. They play post players, they play a ton of one on one, you can pack it in against their stars and force them to toss out to unreliable players like Dion Waiters and Roberson and Foye and Ibaka (who has been hot, but that is not as reliable as Reggie Miller thinks). Cleveland has enough interior rebounding force (Thompson, LeBron, Love) to rebound with OKC. OKC is very good and they have the 4th and 5th best player in the league both who are in their absolute prime at age 27. They are no pushovers. But the Cavs match up very well with OKC.
I'd say Cavs in 6.
Golden State, however, is a nightmare for Cleveland. Watch a Cleveland game closely - as stated above, the Cavs are terrible against guard penetration, and if they have to play Love (which they will) he is particularly poor defensively and lacks both concentration AND consistent effort (he generally does not care and he generally does not try). Even if he could cure both, he is undersized and a poor leaper.
The Warriors also can play Iggy and Klay and Draymond on James and wear him down. The only plus the Cavs might possibly have in the series is that Kyrie is playing so well and he might score 30 a game. But the Warriors can hide Curry's defense on J.R. Smith, and Klay Thompson's size may bother Kyrie.
I hate to say it (since the Cavs are playing so well) but I don't see the Cavs getting two games against GState. Now, one would reply, "LeBron got two games against them last year!" Well the Warriors were new to the whole thing last year and were not defending champions who had won 73 games. They were simply put, choking. Their cocah was sitting on his ass doing nothing for 3 games. It was only after Iguodala starting playing and making the wide open jumpers the Cavs were giving him that the Warriors overcame the enormous choke job and won in 6. This year's team will suffer no such mental problems and will be prepared to just smoke the Cavs. I really honestly do not see the Cavs going beyond 5.
Summary -- I think the Cavs go to the Finals rather easily. If they play OKC they win in 6. If they play GState, they lose badly.
We shall see.