Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ regular-season finale, a meaningless 110-98 home loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
1. Well, the real thing is here. It seemed like just yesterday the Cavs were facing the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. They’ll do the same thing again when they open the playoffs Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
2. Last year, the Cavs swept the Pacers. Remember how the Cavs barely won Game 1 at home? Then trailed by 25 points in Game 3 at Indiana … and won, anyway? It was perhaps the ugliest 4-0 series win in NBA playoffs history.
3. But as I wrote earlier, these are two very different teams.
4. The Cavs are LeBron James, Kevin Love, and a team with no real clear third option. That’s not meant as an insult, either. As long as SOMEONE emerges as a third scorer on a consistent basis, the Cavs should win this series, and perhaps even quickly. It could be Rodney Hood one game, Jordan Clarkson another, Jeff Green a third.
5. What the Cavs don’t want is for it to be All LeBron, All the Time. That could work, of course. It’s just not preferable. With Golden State sort of limping, and Houston lacking Finals experience, the Cavs think a title is still within reach if they stay healthy and play the right way.
6. Of course, those have been two pretty big question marks in this wild roller coaster ride of a season.
7. If the Cavs get past the Pacers, their toughest East battle of the second LeBron era could come in the second round. It would come against either the first-seeded Toronto Raptors or eighth-seeded Washington Wizards. The Raptors, of course, own homecourt advantage throughout the East (and against anyone in the West other than the Rockets).
8. So the Cavs will likely have to win a road game in every round but the first. Unless the unexpected happens and the Wizards and others pull off some shockers.
9. Anyway, I’m rambling about hypothetical scenarios. The Cavs are focused solely on the Pacers for now, and that’s the way it should be. The Pacers are very well-coached by Nate McMillan and have overachieved all season behind new star Victor Oladipo.
10. LeBron on the possibility of returning to the Finals: “We’ve got a chance. We’re one of 16 teams that have a chance to win a championship. That’s all you can ask for.”
11. The Cavs lost three of four to the Pacers in the regular season, but the teams have yet to meet since the Feb. 8 trades that delivered Hood, Clarkson, George Hill and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade and Iman Shumpert were all members of the Cavs during the last meeting with the Pacers (Jan. 26).
12. Coach Tyronn Lue also missed some time with undetermined health issues since the Cavs last saw the Pacers, but is back on the sidelines and has looked fine since returning.
13. In spite of it all, the Cavs (50-32) finished just one win worse than last season, when Kyrie Irving was still on the team. It”s just that everyone else in the East got better.
14. Lue on the season: “It has been pretty crazy and you know through all the craziness and the different moving parts and moving pieces, I thought we did a good job of just staying together. I think the new group came in and I like the way they kind of came together the last 15 games of the season. All of that is behind us now and I just want to look forward to going into the playoffs.”
15. Lue speaks the truth — all that stuff is behind the Cavs, and with good health, they can concentrate on their strong end-of-the-season stretch. Lue also indicated the Cavs will break out some new schemes on defense, and when you consider what transpired for too much of the regular season, that can only be considered a good thing.
16. So here we are. Round I. Cavs vs. Pacers. All that matters now is the Cavs play their best basketball of the year. When asked by Amico Hoops on Wednesday, one opposing team executive picked the Cavs to win in six games. “I don’t think it will be an easy series for them by any stretch,” he said. “I could see them losing one of the first two at home. But LeBron is the difference-maker in any series in the East. As long as he’s healthy, they’ll come out of the East.”
17. We’ll have considerably more on this series and the rest leading into the postseason. So thanks as always for visiting and keeping hitting the refresh button.