Whisper it, but there are rumours of a shadow in the east. Doubt has crept back into the forest of the NBA, a restless presence in North East Ohio, that may yet prove a threat to the powers in the West. One by one the outposts of the Eastern Conference have fallen to the will of LeBron. The young and aggressive Detroit Pistons provided spirited, but ultimately futile, resistance. The hapless Atlanta Hawks were humiliated by a devastating long range barrage. Those north of the wall have so far been dominated in the paint, on route to falling into a 2-0 hole that they look unlikely to escape from. So have we all been deceived? Distracted by the mesmerising ball being played out west by the bay. Has a new power been forged in the industrial heartland of America with the strength to dominate the NBA? Can the Cavaliers finally deliver that one championship ring Cleveland has been longing for?
Perhaps the Lord of the Rings metaphor is overly dramatic and I am certainly not suggesting that LeBron James is the NBA’s version of the dark lord Sauron. However, if the finals matchup we all expect comes to pass, Golden State vs Cleveland, there is no doubt who will be billed as the villains by the media. Those who cover the NBA have been so bewitched by the style and success of the Warriors that they were seemingly crowned as champions by the All-Star break. The narrative that dominated the season is that this Warriors team is one of the greatest ever assembled. The Cavs on the other hand have been as a picture of disfunction, both on and off the court, the firing of Coach David Blatt midway through the season combined with James’ bizarre social media presence, had many dismissing Cleveland as no more than a collection of spoilt superstars. A Cavs victory would have reporters hastily rewriting the story of a season which seemed to be all about Golden State and their newly crowned king of the NBA. Golden State have been the heroes of the NBA, James and the Cavs have been the outsiders.
Throughout their destruction of the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers have shown they are a much more well rounded team than the one that came up short in 2015. They are healthy and they have shown they can play in a number of different ways. They are still capable of playing the physical slow down game that proved somewhat effective against the Warriors last year. However, this year with a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, along with addition of Channing Frye, the Cavs are better equipped to match the Warriors pace, as well as answer the inevitable 3 point barrage. Much will depend on the ability of Irving, Love, Frye and JR Smith to hit shots and take the pressure of LeBron as the primary scorer. Smith was terrible in the finals last year and the Cavs had no offensive threat outside of LeBron playing hero ball. There is no doubt that Cleveland will be pose a far greater threat offensively to whoever they meet in the finals this year.
If it is indeed the Warriors who advance then there are still serious match up issues for Cleveland. There doesn’t seem to be a way to maintain the improved offensive threat without sacrificing defensive security. A line up of Mathew Dellavedova, Smith, Iman Shumpert, James and Tristan Thompson could certainly slow down the Warriors defensively, but at the offensive end you’re back to LeBron playing hero ball. The critical thing for Coach Tyrone Lue will be how to keep his offensive weapons on the floor whilst maintaining some semblance of control defensively.
Whether LeBron, and his improved army from the East, will be able to break the lines of Curry’s Warriors remains to be seen. Can the power of the one in the East defeat the Fellowship of the 3 out West? The match up edge still rests with Golden State but the Cavs are closer this year for sure. One ring to the rule them all etc. etc.