The injuries that are sinking the Boston Celtics ship this season might have more to do with the Toronto Raptors reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history than with LeBron James carrying on with his streak of taking his teams there, currently alive at 7, with number 8 a possibility.
James himself is having an incredible individual season. MVP’ish (every season is more or less of that caliber for him), with 27.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game, when he’s 33, playing almost 38 minutes a night and carrying a team on his shoulders.
But the Cavaliers have recently fallen to 4th in the East after losing to the Philadelphia 76ers for the second time in one month. This means playing the Toronto Raptors without home court advantage in the second round, should they come out of the first (remember, a LeBron James team has never got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs) round.
It’s been quite some time since James and the team he’s playing for aren’t considered the favorites to win the East, with or without home court advantage. Maybe in his final season with the Miami Heat, which included playing a #1 seed Indiana Pacers in the conference finals, and his first year with the Heat, when Miami faced Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls; a Bulls team that swept the Heat in the regular season, and had the best record in the NBA. The Heat won that series 4-1.
When this season began, it looked like we were headed towards a second consecutive Celtics-Cavaliers clash in the conference finals, only with Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas switching sides, along with some minor adjustments. Things have changed drastically since those premature projections for both teams. The Raptors have come out to become the big name in the East, while the Pacers, Sixers and even the Heat look like a group that can give the Cavaliers major problems.
Who knows. Even with weakened team, James and the Cavaliers have the edge. Experience, even on the sidelines with Tyronn Lue (not well respected, but he has been to a couple of Finals already, which has to count for something). The Sixers might give the Cavaliers problems on a number of levels, but the team has a head coach used to 60 losses a season and almost nobody on the roster with postseason playing time.
In a season that’s been about everything but giving James time to rest up for the playoffs, the Cavaliers are going to need him to play just as well as in the regular season (and probably much more) in order to retain their Eastern crown.