The Cavs have cruised to an 8-0 start to the playoffs and have not really been met with much resistance yet. They had to come back from a 26-point deficit in one of their opening round games against the Pacers, and their margin of victory was pretty small in most of those games. However, they seemed to kick things up to another level in the second round against the Raptors. They were able to blow the Raptors out in a couple of the games and were never really challenged very much. LeBron has played out of his mind so far, but Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have yet to really play up to their standard.
Even though the team has not been beat so far this postseason, their competition is sure to get harder in the Eastern Conference Finals. Either the Washington Wizards or the Boston Celtics should provide a stiffer test for the Cavs, but I don’t think they will be truly challenged until the NBA Finals. I’m not sure if either remaining team in the East will win a game against the Cavs, but if they want to make it back to the finals unscathed, the Cavs will probably need to see some better games from Irving and Love. They will also probably need to step their defense up to another level as well. While it has improved some in each of the first two rounds, it will still need to continue to get better if they want to defend their title.
I think that Irving and Love will improve their offensive output and efficiency in the next round, but the key to the whole season could be how well the bench performs the rest of the way. We know that LeBron will be at the top of his game for the remainder of the postseason, but when the Cavs face dynamic backcourts like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart or John Wall and Bradley Beal, the starters are going to need some help combatting their output. Iman Shumpert is going to have to step up and play like the defender the Cavs brought him in to be, and Kyle Korver is going to need to bury threes to help counter the points put up by the other team’s guards. Deron Williams is going to need to showcase his abilities to effectively run the second unit and create shots for others, and Channing Frye is going to need to stretch the floor by hitting open threes.
To this point, the second unit has played pretty well for most of the playoffs, but they have yet to be really challenged. There also has not been a lot of pressure on them to come up big and perform against the mediocre opponents that the Cavs have faced to this point. We all know that a rubber match with the Golden State Warriors is what probably awaits the Cavs in the NBA Finals, and Frye and Korver are going to need to show that they can hit the shots when the pressure is really on. They will also need to prove their worth on the defensive end because everyone in the Warriors starting group can score effectively.
With the Warriors adding Kevin Durant to the lineup, they are now a clear favorite on paper to beat the Cavs, but the Cavs love playing as the underdog. While the Warriors’ starting lineup has definitely improved, they did lose some depth this year, and the Cavs should be able to take advantage of their second unit. Outside of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors don’t really have anyone on their bench that they can trust to make big plays when it counts. That is where the Cavs could find a way to take advantage of the Warriors’ changes and upset them for the second year in a row. I’m sure that LeBron put together another amazing show in the NBA Finals if and when the Cavs return, but Cleveland’s championship hopes may rest on the shoulders of Korver, Frye, Williams, and Shumpert.