Which team can beat the Cavaliers in the East?
At 15-5, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, at least for now. With Kyrie Irving leading the Cavs in scoring with 24.6 points a game and LeBron James being the leading facilitator with his 9.1 assists a night average, there’s no doubt that the defending champions are assured of a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year. However, the rest of the pack in the East isn’t far behind. The Toronto Raptors are 15-7 which currently give them the No. 2 spot. The Boston Celtics, an arguably young team, are at the No. 3 spot with their 13-9 standing. Now, let’s assume that there’ll be no upset in the first two rounds of the playoffs come April, who can possibly dethrone the defending Eastern Conference Champions?
My personal choice would be the Toronto Raptors whom King James and company faced in the ECF last season which ended in the Cavs winning the series in six games. This season, both teams have already faced each other thrice and all three games were won by the Cavs. Yes, folks, the Cavs have won all of their games against the Raptors so far this season but here’s the catch: they had to bleed for wins. The point differential average between the Cavs and the Raptors is only 3.6 points a game. What’s the problem? Well, if you’re going to ask the fans of the Cavs, they’ll have no problem at all as long as they get the W. The problem is this: LeBron is not leading the Cavs in scoring this season (so far). If the Cavs can dominate every single game like they have in the past two seasons, I don’t mind seeing Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving carrying the scoring load, however, LeBron James is LeBron James. He’s, like him or not, still the best player in the entire NBA today. By saying that, he is expected to lead the team not just in scoring but basically in everything, just like last season’s Finals when a certain team we all know of blew a 3-1 lead. Mind you, folks, LeBron James led the Cavs and the Warriors in five major categories during the Finals (29.7 pts, 11.3 ast, 8.9 reb, 2.6 stl, and 2.3 blks – per game averages) .
As for the Raptors, health and consistency are two important keys if they want to get back to the ECF and get another shot at possibly dethroning the Cavs. Jonas Valanciunas’ absence during the ECF last season was visibly felt as nobody other than Bismack Biyombo, now playing for the Orlando Magic, man the paint. The Raptors need Valanciunas’ rebounding ability plus his offense to give them a chance against big men like Love and Tristan Thompson. Aside from Valanciunas’ health, the consistency on both ends of the court among DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will dictate how far the Raptors can truly go. As for the rest of the team, they need to step up their offense as only DeRozan and Lowry are the only Raptors who average 20 plus points per night with DeRozan’s 28 ppg and Lowry’s 20.8 ppg. They cannot simply rely on their dynamic duo to save the day for them every single time. And let’s face it folks, the Cavs have more firepower even with J.R. Smith likely missing tons of games due to injury. Kevin Love can score, LeBron James can score, Kyrie Irving can score, and Channing Frye can line up anywhere behind the three-point line and score some banging threes. Whether the Raptors will admit it or not, the Cavs are more weaponized offensively compared to them, snd that’s where the Raptors’ consistency especially in the defensive end of the court will come in. The Raptors may not be able to score on a consistent basis but if they can consistently defend against Cleveland, they might have a chance especially come the ECF.
Both teams are scheduled to play one more time before the playoffs so that’ll be enough for the Raptors to furthermore enhance their game plan and hope that DeRozan and Lowry will be consistent enough to lead them back to the ECF. As for the Cavs, they just need to keep winning games ‘cause come playoff time, they’ll face a lot more challenge than they did during the previous playoffs. Trust me, folks, they cannot simply slow down on the gas now. Who knows? They’re no longer the same Cavs team who can easily mount a 10-game winning streak. The rest of the East has gotten stronger and the Cavs should prepare to defend themselves like never before.