LeBron James has proven to his critics time and time again that his greatness is unquestioned, and unlike anything we have ever seen before. As we look back on this unique, entertainment-filled regular season, it begs the question: Why did we ever doubt the King?
After Cleveland blew a 21-point lead in a February 6th blowout loss to the Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers fell to 6-10 in the new calendar year. The sky was falling in, or so we were told. Media outlets continued to report that this was LeBron’s worst team ever, somehow forgetting that James took a roster full of janitors and substitute teachers to the NBA Finals in 2007. And then, answering in the only way James knows how, he dropped a 37-point triple-double that included the game-winner to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves the night before the trading deadline; consequently changing the fate of the Cavaliers.
With that being said, let’s not pretend there wasn’t reason for concern. The entire organization looked like a mess for a large part of the season. It wasn’t just that the Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas (who was coming off a serious hip injury). It wasn’t just that Cleveland traded six players in a matter of hours on the trading deadline. It’s not just that everybody not named LeBron James suffered injuries or illnesses throughout the year, including head coach Ty Lue. Nor is it just that Jose Calderon had the highest winning percentage of any starting point guard for the Cavaliers this year, although that one is awfully concerning. It’s the fact that even through all of this adversity, anything less than an NBA championship will be a disappointment.
Most players don’t suffer through this much “excitement” throughout their entire careers and LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers have handled all of this in one season. Even with all of their regular season chaos, with Cleveland fans wondering if this is the last time they’ll see LeBron in a Cavs uniform, and with the Cavaliers still ranking 28th in the NBA in defense; the Cleveland Cavaliers are a lock for the NBA Finals and here’s why:
Kyrie Irving Will Miss the Playoffs
All championship aspirations that the Celtics previously had were lost after it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be missing the playoffs with a knee injury. Coming into the season, the new and improved Celtics looked like an immediate threat to the Cavaliers. Even after losing Gordon Hayward within the first ten minutes of the season, Boston still looked like a viable championship contender for a large part of the season. With arguably the league’s best coach and a superstar in Irving, there was much optimism surrounding Boston.
Yet, with the news of Irving missing the playoffs comes the reality that an NBA championship will have to wait another year. This playoff season will be a great opportunity for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to grow and gain beneficial experience, but it won’t be much more than that. Even if they are able to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, without Hayward or Irving, they have little to no shot at beating this Cavaliers team.
Toronto Doesn’t Look As Threatening
The Toronto Raptors finished the regular season ranked second in point differential with a +7.8 differential. The Raptors enter the playoffs as a one seed for the first time, and for a large part of the season it was believed that this could be the year for Toronto. Their roster is among the deepest in the league and they have consistently played well defensively.
Toronto’s season turned after the Cavaliers stormed back from a 15-point deficit in a March 21st victory against the Raptors. This looked to be a statement game from LeBron, as he dropped 35 points and 17 assists and seemingly told the Raptors to slow their roll. The Cavaliers followed up this game with another win against Toronto on April 3rd. The Raptors may have been exposed late in the season, as they were only 7-6 in their last 13 games. On top of their shaky play, the Raptors have nobody that can consistently guard LeBron. Toronto has experimented with having a committee of players take turns guarding James, but this obviously hasn’t been working.
Cleveland is Rolling
Due to a countless number of injuries and trades, Cleveland hasn’t necessarily had one set rotation all season. The good news for the Cavaliers is that they are as healthy now as they have been all year. It looks like Cleveland has found a rotation that they are comfortable with and it appears to be working, considering they finished the regular season winning 11 of their last 14 games (including five wins against playoff teams in that span).
A healthy Kevin Love has given this offense renewed life, offering several potentially lethal lineups when he plays the five spot. JR Smith is starting to play better basketball and Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson offer youth and explosiveness in this rotation. And of course, you can’t forget about the King. LeBron James continues to do the unprecedented in his 15th year. James has done far more with far less talent and he’s proven all he needs is a few talented role players to make a deep playoff run. James has made it to seven straight NBA Finals and there is no reason to believe he won’t continue such a remarkable streak.
Through all the chaos, doubts, and questions that came from such a rollercoaster of a regular season, LeBron James is ready to once again remind us that we have never seen anything like him.