NBA Preview: LeBron James and the Cavaliers are well rested and focused on taking care of business in the conference finals despite having an eye on the Golden State series.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers (59-31) at #1 Boston Celtics (61-34), Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EST
Line: Cavaliers -4. Total 219.5.
LeBron James is the type of guy who does not have to keep up with the Joneses. James is in a league of his own. Everyone else is trying to keep up with him. However, King James and his teammates have a watchful and perhaps envious eye on the Golden State Warriors this postseason.
Golden State has one-upped the Cavaliers in the conference finals to this point. In fact, you can say the Warriors have two-upped the Cavs over the last three days. The NBA had a bit of a scheduling quirk that allowed Golden State to play two conference finals games before Cleveland even started their conference finals series with Boston. That quirk will work itself out over the next couple of days as the Cavaliers will play twice before Golden State takes the court again.
LeBron and the Cavs may not admit it publicly, but if the Warriors can sweep San Antonio, you can bet a dollar to a doughnut that Cleveland will want to take out Boston in four or five games. Both Golden State and Cleveland have been very well rested this postseason. The rest has paid dividends as both teams have yet to lose a game. The Warriors are 10-0 and the Cavaliers are 8-0 this postseason.
The Cavs played all eight of their playoff games a day or two before the Warriors played their eight corresponding games in the first two rounds. However, for the conference finals, the Warriors will play all of their games before Cleveland plays their corresponding games. So Golden State kept up with the Joneses for the first eight games of the postseason. Now it is Cleveland’s turn to try and do the same in this round. The Cavs are already two wins behind.
The Cavaliers won the season series from Boston 3-1. In the game that meant the most on April 5, the Cavs throttled the Celtics at Boston 114-91. That game was for first place in the Eastern Conference as both teams were 50-27 going into that game. LeBron was in playoff beast mode for that game. King James scored 36 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 6 dimes.
The irony here is that Cleveland then went on to lose their last four regular season games after that big win and the Celtics overtook them to win the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs lost 114-100 at home to Atlanta with the Hawks sitting all their starters. Cleveland then blew a 26-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Hawks in Atlanta two days later and lost 126-125 in overtime.
Cleveland blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead the next day at Miami and lost 124-121 in overtime. The collapse was then complete the final day of the regular season when the Cavs’ Big 3 all sat and they got blown out at home by Toronto 98-83.
There was panic across the land as all the talking heads on television were saying that the Cavaliers were going to be in big trouble in the playoffs. The prognosticators were saying that this Cleveland team is not the same team from the year before. Other so-called experts were saying you just cannot flip the switch for the postseason and expect the light to go on.
Uh, no. Cleveland is just fine everyone.
So is LeBron. In fact, King James is more than just fine. He is playing at an all-time high level of efficiency and productivity in the postseason. James is averaging 34.4 points, 7.1 assists, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game in the playoffs. He has shot at least 50% from the field in all 8 playoff games and is shooting 55.7% from the field overall in the playoffs. LeBron is also shooting an incredible 46.8% from three-point land.
Talk about flipping a switch. LeBron’s playoff averages are very similar to the numbers (36-6-10, shooting 63.6%) that he put up during the April 5 game at Boston. King James felt it was necessary to flip the switch that night and send a message to Boston that this version of Lebron James is the version they would have to deal with in the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving has been spectacular for the Cavs in the postseason, too. Irving is averaging 23.8 points, 5.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. Kevin Love rounds out the Big 3 as he is averaging 13.8 points, 1.5 assists and 9 rebounds per game.
Everyone knows the story about Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and how he is playing with a heavy heart this postseason. His sister died in a one-car accident 24 hours before the playoffs began. Thomas has had an inspiring performance this postseason, including a 53-point gem in Game 2 of the second round during Boston’s 129-119 overtime win over the Wizards. Those 53 points rank Thomas second on the all-time Celtics’ list for playoff points scored in a game. John Havlicek scored 54 points against the Atlanta Hawks in 1973. Thomas is averaging 25.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds in the playoffs.
Avery Bradley has been a force not just on defense, but on offense as he scored 29 and 27 points during Game 5 and Game 6, respectively, against the Wizards. Bradley scored 25 first-half points in Game 5, which is a career high for him. Other players have been stepping up on a nightly basis for the Celtics this postseason.
Kelly Olynyk had the most impressive performance during the most important game of the season for Boston. Olynyk scored 26 points while adding 5 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 7 on Monday as Boston advanced to the conference finals with a 115-105 win over Washington. Olynyk had 14 clutch points in the fourth quarter.
There is also “The Game 7 Hangover Theory” in play for tonight. The Celtics exerted a lot of effort to win a highly competitive Game 7 over the Wizards and now play a rested Cavaliers team on one day’s rest. Some people will argue that Cleveland has some rust to shake off after a 10-day layoff. However, I believe that a well-rested King James is going to be a problem for any team in the playoffs.
Below are some results from past Game 7 Hangover Theory games.
Checking on Brewers7’s hypothesis in the NBA that you bet against Teams in Game 1 of a series who just clinched their previous series with a Game 7 victory, I found the following data:
These are straight-up wins listed on the chart. The ATS records for these games are listed below.
Last 32 years: 37-20 SU, 36-20-1 ATS.
Here is one last set of stats to throw at you.
LeBron’s numbers are even more staggering in the win column for his team in the playoffs. James is a stunning 32-4 in the first three rounds of the playoffs since returning to Cleveland for the 2014-15 season. His first-round series record is 12-0 and his record for first-round games is an astounding 48-7. He has won his last 21 straight first-round games. LeBron is now 44-21 in the second round for his career. James is 28-7 in the second round and 24-11 in the third round since his first season with Miami.
I would be slightly surprised if this series goes beyond 5 games. The Celtics may be good enough to take them 6 games.
My postseason record: 16-7 (+$745).
No play tonight although I have a heavy lean to the Cavaliers. If the Celtics rise up and exact revenge for that 114-91 loss on April 5, then I will be all over Cleveland in Game 2.
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