Much has been written about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ sluggish start, which saw them at just 19-20 at one point in the season. Analysts talked as if the sky was falling since the trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love wasn’t living up to the expectations set forth. But it turns out that the supporting cast was what needed upgrading, with Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov all making significant contributions to Cleveland after coming over in trades this season.
Since that low point when Cleveland was 19-20, they’ve gone 32-7 and have locked up the Central Division title along with the East’s number-two seed. Now sitting at 51-27 with just a handful of games left in the regular season, the Cavs will be gearing up for the 2015 NBA Finals run that they were expected to make. But James, who knows a thing or two about winning championships, isn’t expecting anything to be handed to his team.
“We’re a championship contender, but we’re not there yet,” LeBron told Cleveland.com. “We have the talent, we’ve had the process so far, but we still have some time left. We won’t take those days for granted.”
With four regular-season games remaining, it’s likely that Cleveland will try to get their stars some rest and prepare for the 2015 NBA Playoffs. There are four different teams that they could face in the opening round (Brooklyn, Boston, Indiana or Miami), but none of these clubs figure to offer a serious challenge.
What could be challenging, though, is if they have to face a bruising Chicago Bulls team in the second round. Their division rivals aren’t scared of Cleveland, and Chicago and should have Derrick Rose back by then.
Assuming Cleveland can get by their second-round opponent, whoever it should be, they might have a date with the Atlanta Hawks, who’ve been this season’s biggest surprise. Atlanta (59-19) has won a franchise-record number of games and has the East’s top seed all locked up. They boast four All-Stars, have home court advantage (throughout the East), went on a 19-game winning streak and play excellent team ball.
The Hawks won’t go down easily, but if the Cavs can get by them (or another team in the Eastern Conference Finals), they’ll face whichever club comes out of the loaded Western Conference. One could play roulette to figure out which team this will be, although the 63-15 Golden State Warriors certainly have a good shot at emerging.
But for right now, like LeBron said, the mission remains using these last few games to improve and get ready for the postseason. The road to the Finals will be steep for Cleveland since two of their stars – Irving and Love – have never even logged a postseason minute. That said, it will be up to championship-seasoned veterans like James, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and James Jones to explain to the other players how intense the postseason can be.