For the first time since the starting leg of the season, the Cavaliers’ position at the top of the East is being threatened. This week, the Boston Celtics unseated the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number 1 seed, dropping LeBron James and company down to second. The Bucks’ Wednesday night victory over the Celtics has moved the Cavs back into first, but make no mistake. They’re now hanging on to that number 1 spot by a thread.
And yet, despite all this, the Cavaliers remain overwhelming favorites to win the East. Why is that? Here’s a look.
History Favors The King
LeBron James is no stranger to post-season basketball. And for that matter, he’s quite familiar with how to fight his way out of the East and into the Finals. Over the last six seasons, LeBron James has only found himself at the top of the East twice. That was with the Miami Heat in 2013, and then with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The other four times, the top team was either the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, or Atlanta Hawks.
And yet, despite that, James has made the Finals all six times, winning three of them along the way.
The last time he failed to make it to the money round was way back in 2010, when he was eliminated by – guess who? – the Boston Celtics. His consistent losses to Paul Pierce’s team in those years drove him to Miami, and he’s been rolling since.
At this point, pundits and analysts know better than to dismiss LeBron’s ability to rise in the playoffs.
Challengers To Throne
The favorites to beat them, aside from the Celtics, would be the Washington Wizards. While the Cavs have a 2-1 advantage on their season series, one of their victories went down to the wire in overtime. According to some, John Wall has already surpassed Kyrie Irving in the pecking order of Eastern Conference point guards.
Sure, one can argue that battling a healthy Cavaliers team will be difficult for any team. After all, the Cavs’ weak record at the moment has been due, in part, to injuries. Kevin Love was missing for a good stretch of the season, and we’ve also seen extended absences from JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. Even now, Kyle Korver isn’t seeing any playing time due to a foot injury.
But injuries seem to be just one of their recent concerns. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ have been slumping recently – that’s what allowed Boston to temporarily wrest the East’s top seed from them. It’s largely been on the defensive end – their defensive efficiency has been the second worst in the league since the All Star break. They are 5-8 in their last thirteen games, including a disastrous showing against San Antonio. And James and Irving have been logging heavy minutes to try keeping things afloat.
History says that the Cleveland Cavaliers will get over this slump in April. It’s a tall order to fix their issues. But the Cavs, for now, have the benefit of the doubt.