We’re previewing the the NBA conference finals (you can find our breakdown of Oklahoma City and Golden State here) and for the fans of the Eastern Conference keep on reading…
The Cleveland Cavaliers have impressively and efficiently mowed through the first two rounds of the 2016 NBA playoffs. Having rudely dismissed the upstart Detroit Pistons in a four-game sweep to open the second season, the Cavs kept the brooms out in a second-round dismissal of Atlanta that at times looked brutally unfair to the overmatched Hawks. Most alarming for non-Cavs fans is the simple fact that one LeBron James has gone about this postseason more or less like a yeoman working his farm, steadily and patiently, but without the explosiveness or the DEFCON 5 levels we all know ‘Bron is capable of. Now, with a mere four wins between them and a second-straight berth in the NBA Finals, can the Cavaliers do anything but sweep the Toronto Raptors?
While it’s easy to say “Cavs in four,” let’s be real and acknowledge that the Raptors were the Eastern Conference’s second-best team this season. This Raptors squad, furthermore, has fought and fought and fought in these playoffs. Dismissing of a dangerous Indiana Pacers team in seven games, and then enduring the seven-game slog-fest that was their second round match with the built-for-the-‘offs Miami Heat. But c’mon, this is the Cavs, can Toronto really mount a serious threat to the LeBrons? Read on…
Although the two sides faced each other five times this regular season, there’s not a ton that can be ascertained from the season series that Cleveland won 3-2. The teams haven’t played against one another since early-March and in the early matchups neither squad was at full strength (with both Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving sitting out and DeMarre Carroll of the Raps missing games, too). While both teams have changed a little since last they met, Cleveland is definitely the squad trending in the right direction. Cleveland’s offense has seemingly found a next gear that has overwhelmed the Pistons and Hawks thus far and that could easily overwhelm Toronto as well. The spacing (and three-ball threat) from shooters such as J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Channing Frye and even Iman Shumpert (kinda) has afforded LeBron and Kyrie Irving the freedom to slash and crash through open lanes to the rim. Toss in the fact that Jonas Valanciunas is missing tomorrow’s Game 1 and is doubtful for Game 2, and one gets the impression that this could get sideways for “We The North” in short order.
Still, the Raptors have continually found ways to win. Through Kyle Lowry’s elbow injury, through Demar DeRozan’s shooting woes, it’s been simply “just win” for this squad. But this is not the Boston Celtics without Avery Bradley, or the Miami Heat without Chris Bosh. Nah, this is the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re healthy, they’re on a mission, LeBron still hasn’t gone to his “God Mode” setting yet and this series is still Cleveland’s to lose. Although we do think Cleveland’s “sweep streak” ends this round, their winning does not. The Cavs’ depth, shooting, rebounding and, oh yes, LeBron-factor means Cleveland will be bound for a second trip to the NBA Finals in as many years.
Cleveland takes the series in 5.
Buckle up, folks, the fun starts tonight at 8:30 ET and you can catch all the action on SiriusXM ESPN Radio (Ch. 80, Internet 900).
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