The Warriors are fully aware of how good at basketball LeBron James is. He’s made the Finals seven times in a row, and given the right circumstances, can make the Warriors’ lives a living hell. He might be the greatest player of all time.
And he’s not slowing down. At age 33, he’s having one of the best seasons in his life, averaging 28.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 7.9 rebounds on 66.3% True Shooting. That he can continue doing this for so many years is truly inhuman.
But the Cavaliers really struggled early in the season, despite his amazing play. They had a middling offense, terrible defense, and began the year only 5-7.
Since then, the Cavaliers have won eleven straight. Their schedule hasn’t featured the toughest of opponents, but rattling off such streak after being in such disarray is impressive. How did things change for them so quickly?
First, Derrick Rose hasn’t played in weeks due to injury, and is reportedly thinking about retirement. When he’s played, he’s been terrible defensively and destroyed the offense with his ballhogging. If he ends up leaving the NBA, good riddance.
Second, the offense around LeBron has come alive. After being a middling offense for the first couple weeks of the season, the Cavs now boast the third best offense in the league, trailing only the Warriors and the Rockets. They shoot and make a lot of threes, and get to the line at an elite rate.
Third, Tyrone Lue has got the Cavaliers’ bench to play at a level far better than many predicted. The strange crew of Dwyane Wade (who has acclimatized well to the first bench role of his career), Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, and Channing Frye doesn’t seem strong on paper, and perhaps may not continue to be successful. But as a unit, they’ve ranked third in the league in plus/minus and fifth in the league in points.
If Isaiah Thomas is able to return healthy, maybe this Cavaliers team could get even better. Though Boston and Toronto have looked strong this season, I’m now at the point where I don’t believe any team in the East will overtake LeBron in the playoffs barring extreme circumstances.
Even still, a gigantic problem remains for the Cavaliers: they’re still trash defensively. Currently, they’re 26th in the league defensively, and adding Isaiah Thomas, one of the worst defenders in the NBA, won’t help. As we saw last Finals, “turning on the switch” defensively can only do so much: their defense is fine against the middling teams in the East, but against a team like the Golden State Warriors, the lack of team discipline and individual talent really does matter.
Overall, I do not think this Cleveland team is as good as it was last year, and am a little more worried about the Rockets in the playoffs. But we should never count out LeBron and what he can do.