I really shouldn’t do this to the city of Cleveland. The poor sports fans there have suffered enough, with no major pro sports championships since the Indians won the World Series in 1948. Given my generally poor record of prognostication, should I really interrupt their surprisingly quiet, under-the-radar move toward an NBA title?
I shouldn’t, but I will. While the media focuses on the record-setting Golden State Warriors and anticipates their battle with the San Antonio Spurs, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that come late June it will be the Cleveland Cavaliers pouring champagne.
It’s not often the team with LeBron James gets to be “under the radar”, but that’s what the rise of Golden State has done. It’s the Warriors, whose amazing 73-win season got the deserved media accolades. It’s the Spurs, with their own unreal 67-win year and the coming of Kawhi Leonard, who are the expected foil in the Western Conference Finals.
Just a couple days ago I was asked by a relative if I planned to watch the presumptive Warriors-Spurs matchup (of course the answer is yes). No follow-up question about whether I was looking forward to the winner playing LeBron and the Cavs in the Finals. The implicit assumption was that Golden State-San Antonio is for the championship.
Why? Cleveland had ups and downs during the regular season, which Golden State and San Antonio did not have, but the Cavs also have the far easier path to the playoffs. After sweeping Detroit, they’re currently making mincemeat of Atlanta, having won the first two games. Meanwhile, the Spurs are in a death fight with the Oklahoma City Thunder and while the Warriors are cruising, they are having to play without Steph Curry.
Have we forgotten that the Cavs, without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, played a competitive six-game series with the Warriors just last year in the NBA Finals. Have we assumed that Curry’s brilliant season, sure to be crowned with a second straight MVP year, have made him a more valuable asset than LeBron in a short series?
I understand Curry has had a spectacular season and he should be the MVP on a unanimous vote. But if we’re starting from scratch, I’m still taking the physically imposing player who can do everything on a basketball court ahead of the little short guy, endearing though he may be. And I’m further prepared to assume that the presence of Irving and Love are important enough to think Cleveland could get the two additional wins they lacked the firepower to get last year.
It’s also worth remembering that the Cavs had the Warriors seriously on the ropes after winning two of the first three, before LeBron clearly wore down under the burden of being the only one who could score.
We also have to point out that Cleveland has been playing some of its best basketball in the latter part of the regular season. They seem to have found a chemistry. LeBron has deferred to Kyrie when it comes to shooting. Conversely, LeBron has utilized his brilliant passing skills and become a mix of part point guard and part forward. Love is hitting the boards with abandon—last night for example, even though he shoot poorly, Love got double-digit rebounds. Tristan Thompson is one of the game’s best offensive rebounders.
All of that’s enough to win. Cleveland is a virtual lock to coast into the NBA Finals while their prime rivals tear away at each other. The Cavs are good enough to finish the deal when they get there. That’s why I think they take advantage of this opportunity, where the best player in the world is managing to get mostly overlooked, and win their city a long-sought championship.