If you want to take a lesson from Super Bowl LI while it is still fresh, it’s that you shouldn’t make declarations of victory or wallow in defeat halfway through, especially when there’s greatness involved.
You’re going to want to back the Cavs to get out of the Eastern Conference this season and you’re going to want to do it sooner rather than later. Backing them to win it all depends on how much faith you have in the reigning Finals MVP.
Like Tom Brady, LeBron James has been at the top of his sport most of this century. Watching him navigate his way through a season over the last decade-plus has been incredibly entertaining, and since his return to Cleveland, a pattern has developed when the calendar turns to January.
For whatever reason, turning the corner into a new year always provides an adventure. In 2015, he was feeling so out of sync and worn down that he took a break, returning to Miami to handle business and train, getting himself mentally prepared for the remaining grind and leaving teammates behind to figure it out.
In 2016, he played all the way through, in part because he was feeling so good. James shot 55 percent last January, his best shooting clip for any month in the entire season, leading the Cavs to a 13-3 mark.
This season, he played 38.4 minutes for the second consecutive month, partaking in every contest in a January that featured two back-to-backs. He shot nearly 55 percent and averaged 25.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists.
Cleveland went 7-8.
Won seven games, lost eight. They fell in four of the final six games, clinching a losing month in a listless 104-97 setback at Dallas. Throughout January, LeBron provided entertainment by lashing out at the front office, yelling that he needs more help, another playmaker to be exact.
There was nothing playful or light-hearted about it because it wasn’t meant that way. James wanted no trace of the cuddly version that smiles while selling you a Big Mac to seep into his message, so he uncharacteristically dropped a few F-bombs and seemed to throw teammates under the bus.
Charles Barkley called it whiny. I’m in agreement. Although he’s been slow to click and even cost the team a game with awful defense, Kyle Korver’s addition was envisioned as a home run. He was brought into take J.R. Smith’s spot as he mends after thumb surgery, so presumably, the Cavs will be all set depth-wise when he returns.
Cleveland declares no interest in moving Kevin Love for New York’s Carmelo Anthony, and even though LeBron and Melo are great friends, there would be too great of an adjustment required to expect them to seriously challenge the Western Conference champ come June. They can win with Love. They have won with Love. He’s actually having his most productive season since arriving from Minnesota. The continuity has helped.
The Cavs have opened February with wins over the Timberwolves and Knicks, handling business against sub-.500 teams. Between now and the All-Star break, they’ll be on the road at Washington, Indiana, Oklahoma City and Minnesota. There’s a home-and-home with the Pacers too in addition to a home game with Denver.
It doesn’t really matter how they fare so long as no one gets injured and there’s not a total freefall, because the Cavs are that much better than everyone else in the East.
That’s why James’ cries for more help fall on deaf ears. He’s already got more than enough on board to repeat as champions, and that’s going to become all the more apparent after the All-Star break.
They do likely have one more move coming that will further stack the deck in their favor, so coming off a losing month, this very second is the most opportune time to hop on the bandwagon and place your Eastern Conference champion future bet.
Books had the Cavs at 5-to-2 to win the NBA title entering the season and starting 2017. They’re now 2-to-1 at the WestgateLV Superbook. They were 1-to-2 to start the season to take the east and are now 1-to-5 despite their January struggles.
Books essentially told you that, barring injury, they’re not going to come off Cleveland as a heavy favorite. Boston has emerged as the biggest threat to the throne, coming in at 5-to-1. The Celtics don’t have enough to beat the Cavs. It’s time to go cash in a sure thing before the odds get worse.
Most of us are anticipating a third consecutive Warriors-Cavs Finals. It’s definitely more likely that Golden State fails to show than Cleveland. The Cavs will be there. LeBron will lead them.