The Cleveland Cavaliers have made two strong statements in their bid to capture back-to-back NBA Championships.
Tyronn Lue’s men were forced to take a difficult path in their playoff matches after missing out on the number one seed due to poor end to their regular campaign.
However, the reigning champions found the form that delivered them their first NBA crown last term, easing into the Conference Finals.
The Indiana Pacers and Paul George could have posed a threat to their progression, only for them to be brushed aside in a whitewash victory in the first round of the post-season.
Cleveland faced off against the Toronto Raptors in the Conference Semi-Finals, having beaten the club in the Eastern Conference Finals last term by a 4-2 margin.
The Raptors boasted the presence of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but the quality of the Cavaliers and the big three – LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving – overwhelmed Dwayne Casey’s men to claim a 4-0 whitewash victory.
Lue’s side now await the winner of the contest between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards in the Final, with both teams evenly matched.
As a result, the Cavaliers have time to make their plans and assess their weaknesses for the challenges ahead, with an opportunity for greatness firmly within their grasp.
The Cavaliers boast one of the formidable offensive units in the league. Only the Golden State Warriors can match them for production in terms of firepower and depth of talent on the court.
James remains at the peak of his powers even at the age of 32, putting on a clinic to fire his side into the Conference Finals. Cleveland did struggle towards the end of the regular campaign, with the forward among the players that were producing lacklustre performances.
However, he has managed to flick a switch for the playoffs, returning to the peak of his powers. In his eight matches in the post-season thus far, the 32-year-old has failed to score more than 30 points only once, which came in game two against the Pacers.
The Raptors had no answer for his dominant play as he was allowed to shoot for the rim on sight. James accumulated 144 points over the four games against Toronto, highlighting the quality of his play.
Both the Celtics and Wizards have struggled against him in the past and after a lengthy series – their ability to keep him in check for four quarters will be tested. If the Cavs’ opponent in the Finals allows him the free reign he enjoyed against the Raptors – the Cavaliers can book their place in the Championship series.
Support will need to come from Irving and Love as he it has done in the victories over the Pacers. In the one match when LeBron failed to notch over 30 points, Irving was there with a 37-point display. Love and Tristan Thompson have been solid around the net and should they continue to remain consistent – their offense will be able to score the points to guide them over the line.
Cleveland have been scoring at will during the playoffs, notching over 100 points in all eight of their victories. Their offense has been in full sync during the opening two rounds, but their opponent will do their utmost to knock them out of rhythm, starting with James’ ability to score with regularity.
Their defeats during the regular season came when LeBron was not able to dominate and get into the high 30s. The forward will always get his points on the board due to his quality, but when he is limited Irving and Love along with the rest of the men on court – have to support their captain.
In their 2015 Finals loss to the Warriors – the 32-year-old was left without support due to injuries to Irving and Love – resulting in their 4-2 defeat. Last season the presence of the duo around him, alleviated the pressure and allowed LeBron to drive his side to the comeback victory over Steve Kerr’s men.
Allowing their star man to thrive will be crucial as the Cavaliers had a fairly weak defensive record in the regular season. Lue’s side allowed an average of 107.2 points a game against them – only 10 teams in the NBA had a poorer average, including two of the outfits they could face – the Wizards and the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference.
They’ve continued to allow points in the post-season, with the Pacers scoring over 100 in all four of their matches, while the Raptors were held under the century mark just once despite being whitewashed by the Cavs.
That record may be good enough to drive them past the Celtics and the Wizards in the Eastern Conference Finals, but a side like the Warriors are more than capable of matching them score-for-score on the biggest stage.
The Cavaliers have eased past the two tests posed to them thus far in the playoffs. It was widely expected of them to defeat the Pacers given their superior roster and record in the regular campaign, but their victory over the Raptors was a warning to the rest of the NBA.
Toronto were not a bad side, although slightly lacking in playoff pedigree. A strong challenge could emerge from the winner of the clash between the Celtics and the Wizards, but even those two outfits are short on experience in the latter stages of the post-season.
The depth of talent boasted by the Cavaliers should allow them passage in the NBA Finals for the third year on the bounce, with LeBron and company boasting the firepower to outscore either of their potential opponents in the final two of the Eastern Conference.
As a result, backing Cleveland with TopBet Sportsbook at -550 to win the Eastern Conference is the smart punt to take – with the Celtics or the Wizards unlikely to break the Cavs’ stranglehold.
Cleveland Cavaliers To Win Eastern Conference