NBA Playoffs: Why the Cavaliers can win it all (as if you didn't know)


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nba_james1_250.jpgThe Cavaliers have the league’s best record for the second year in a row. Their best player is likely about to win his second MVP award in a row. They’ve made major changes to their team specifically designed to avoid another disappointing playoff exit. If they win, they become the first Cleveland team to win a major pro sports title since 1964. If they lose, there may well be no next year. No pressure or anything.

Here’s why the Cleveland Cavaliers might just pull it off this year:

1. LeBron James

He’s 16 (big) wins away from his official coronation as the league’s best player and the best player of his generation. He’s four losses away from a summer of ridicule and a possible location change. It’s impossible to confidently say that he’s the league’s best player until he gets some jewelry. What can be said is that LeBron, for the second straight regular season, was significantly better than any other player in the league.
No player imposes his will on the game the way that LeBron does. He’s a dominant force on offense, and can seemingly get to the rim and finish any time he feels like it. His combination of scoring and passing ability is off the charts; he shattered the record for assists per game by a forward this season while scoring almost 30 points a game. He’s the best player in the league on the fast break. He’s not automatic with his jumper, but he’s improved his ability to hurt teams with deep jumpers. He’s a great rebounder for his position. He’s capable of playing lockdown man-to-man defense late in games and getting shocking blocks and steals coming from the weak side. No team relied more on one player than the Cavaliers did this season, and no team had a better record. As long as LeBron James suits up for the Cavaliers, they have a great chance of beating any of their opponents.
2. Versatility

It’s no secret that the Cavaliers have modeled their franchise using the Spurs as a blueprint. Like the championship Spurs team, the Cavaliers have the personnel to match up with any team in the league and beat them at their own game, something they weren’t capable of doing last season. They have both the biggest and tallest player in the league on their roster, and managed to be successful without either of them in the lineup. The Cavs have the size to matchup with the hulking front lines of Orlando and Los Angeles, and they have enough sweet-shooting forwards and perimeter players capable of cross-matching to play an uptempo game with any team that wants to run with them. If the Cavaliers can figure out the best way to fit their pieces together in a given series, they have the talent to play any style and play it very well.
3. Defense
The Cavaliers weren’t as dominant defensively this season as they were in years past, finishing only seventh in defensive efficiency. However, they have historically played much better defense in the playoffs than they have in the regular season, when their effort increases and LeBron James starts playing much harder on that end of the floor. They will be getting Shaq back for the playoffs, who did a great job defending the paint in the regular season. Anderson Varejao has proven himself to be one of the league’s best defenders at the power forward spot. Anthony Parker and Delonte West give opposing shooting guards hell for the full 48 minutes. The Cavaliers have always been a defense-first team under Mike Brown — don’t expect them to forget that during the most important postseason run in franchise history. 
4. Three-Point Shooting
If you have LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal controlling the paint on offense, who do you want to put around them? Three-point shooters. Well, the Cavaliers have those. Mo Williams and Anthony Parker are snipers from beyond the arc, and Delonte West, Antawn Jamison, and even Jamario Moon are all capable of hitting threes if they’re left open. Throw in the occasional three-point barrage from LeBron, and the Cavaliers finished the season with the second-best three-point percentage in the league, trailing only the Suns in that category. The Cavs are a classic “pick your poison” team on offense — they finish at the rim better than any other team in the league, and will gladly knock down the open three if the defense collapses.
5. Depth

JJ Hickson, Leon Powe, Daniel Gibson, Jawad Williams, and Jamario Moon have all proven themselves to be solid NBA players. It’s entirely possible that none of them could see significant minutes for the Cavs in this year’s playoffs. That’s how deep the Cavs are. 

6. Rebounding 

It’s not the sexiest team about the team, but the Cavs lead the NBA in rebound rate this season. Nobody on the team is averaging gaudy rebound totals, but almost all of their players rebound exceptionally well for their position. Because of this, the Cavs control the boards. It can’t be overstated just how important winning the possession battle is in the playoffs, and the Cavs have a leg up in that regard.
7. Chemistry

The Cavs have assembled a team with great chemistry on the court (every player is comfortable being in LeBron’s shadow, and they all compliment his strengths very well), as well as off of it. It’s always easy to have fun when you’re winning a lot, but the Cavs seem to have a lot of faith in each other, which could end up coming in handy for them. 
8. Hunger

The Cavaliers know what this playoff run means to them. Shaq, Zydrunas, and Jamison aren’t getting any younger. They’ve had the best regular-season record in the league for two years in a row. Cleveland is aching for a championship. LeBron’s future with the team could be on the line. The Lakers have last year. The Celtics have 2008. The Magic have the future. For the Cavaliers, this is the year. Now they just have to go out there and actually do it. 

Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on not guilty verdict: “Justice was served”

Thabo Sefolosha
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Friday morning, a New York jury found Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The charges stemmed from the night in the final weeks of last season when Sefolosha and then teammate Pero Antic went to a New York club after arriving in town, and while there Pacers’ player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside the club. In his clash with police, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg that required surgery and kept him out of the playoffs.

The New York prosecutor tried to make this go away with a plea deal of just day of community service and six months probation. But Sefolosha had the means and mind to fight the charges, got his day in court and won. This is what he said in a statement after the verdict, released by the Atlanta Hawks.

“This morning’s verdict ended a long and emotional period for me.  Justice was served and for that I am eternally grateful to the judge and jury for their quick and deliberate decision….

“It’s troubling to me that with so much evidence in my support that this case would even be brought to trial and that I had to defend myself so hard to get justice. It pains me to think about all of the innocent people who aren’t fortunate enough to have the resources, visibility and access to quality legal counsel that I have had.

“It was important to me as a man, a father to two young girls and as a role model, to stand up for what I believe in and have my name cleared of any wrongdoing.  Today’s verdict will not make up for the pain and trauma my family and I have suffered over the past six months or bring back the opportunity to have played in the Eastern Conference Finals and have a shot at an NBA title, but it does bring me some peace and closes a painful chapter in my life.

“Now I look forward to returning to the team and focusing solely on my rehabilitation for the upcoming season so that I can get back to playing the game I cherish so much.”

While Sefolosha says he is focusing “solely” on his rehab, the win in the criminal case would bode well for a potential civil case if he wanted to sue regarding his treatment and the broken leg.

Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer — who testified at the trial and was amused by parts of it — released this statement:

“Thabo is a man of great character and we are proud that he took a principled approach to proving his innocence. We are extremely happy for him and his family, and we are very pleased with today’s verdict in his favor.”

Byron Scott doesn’t care about exhausting Lakers in preseason

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The Warriors use wearable technology to track players and have rested them when the data revealed fatigue. Gregg Popovich is holding relatively healthy Spurs out of practice. Heck, Popovich doesn’t even send himself to every preseason games.

Meanwhile, with the Lakers…

Lakers coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

“I don’t necessarily care about tired legs in preseason,” Scott said. “I think everything that we’ve done thus far will pay off at the end of the day. You’ve got some guys that might have tired legs and [are] a little worn out, but all the running as far as getting into that physical condition that we need to get into, I think in December and January, it will pay off.

“So I’m not necessarily worried about guys having tired legs in preseason. They’ll just have to kind of fight through that fatigue part of it. And I think mentally it gets them a little stronger anyway.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers coach has a reputation for demanding a lot of running in the preseason. It’s important in his mind because the Lakers will be better conditioned than other teams down the road.

Players, predictably, aren’t as enthused about it.

Bresnahan quotes just two players, Brandon Bass and D'Angelo Russell, and neither expressed much resistance to Scott’s methods. But I trust Bresnahan to read the team’s pulse.

I also think Scott is right: Fighting through fatigue builds mental toughness. But it also makes players tired, and it’s not the only way to instill toughness. The Warriors are tough. The  Spurs are tough. They didn’t have to run their players into the ground to get that way.

Scott loves to project himself as old-school and anti-analytic. Thankfully for the Lakers, his actual methods aren’t as bad as he conveys. For example, he said the Lakers would take an absurdly low 10-15 3-pointers per game last season. In reality, they hoisted nearly 19 per game, 25th in the league. That might not have been enough for that roster, but at least it wasn’t leaps and bounds below the norm.

So, I’m not convinced Scott is pushing the Lakers as hard as he wants everyone to believe. But he’s  clearly giving them a bigger workload than many teams.

If the Lakers are playing relevant games late in the season, this could come back to bite them. On the bright side, they probably won’t have to worry about that problem.