Remarkable, but perhaps not surprising.
That statement best summarized the performance of LeBron James throughout this season’s Playoffs. Arguably, it can be said of his entire NBA career.
His performance both in Sunday night’s Game 7 win at Boston and throughout the series will be discussed for years to come and will likely be at or near the top of the list of clutch efforts.
Perhaps no athlete throughout history has been under more scrutiny from an early age than has been “King James.” He and his talents were receiving regular coverage since junior high school when he was barely in his teens.
James led his Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals against the winner of Monday night’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. He will be playing in his eighth consecutive NBA Finals.
Putting this accomplishment into perspective it means James has been on teams – in Cleveland, Miami and now again Cleveland – that have won a combined 24 straight Playoff series against Eastern Conference foes, winning three NBA Titles, twice with Miami and once with Cleveland. The latter title came two seasons ago against the team he is likely to face for a fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors.
Throughout Cleveland’s run to the Finals, James has gotten some much need help from his teammates. At various times J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, George Hill, Kevin Love and others alternated as second and third options.
But the one constant throughout is James and his performance have only enhanced his position as being one of the greatest players in NBA history.
It’s a futile argument to say he, or anyone, is absolutely the greatest of all time as it is generally a subjective argument based upon whatever criterion are used to support the argument. But LeBron James is on a very short list of those who by most criteria have to be in the discussion.
Cleveland’s path to a second Championship in three seasons will be very difficult if, as most expect, Golden State defeated Houston on the road Monday night in Game 7.
Top seeded Houston’s chances were made extremely difficult when Chris Paul III suffered an injured hamstring late in Game 5’s road win that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead headed back home for Game 6. Paul sat out Game 6 and his prospects for having played Monday night were said to be remote, an opinion reflected in the line that, as of mid-Monday morning, had Golden State a 6.5 point road favorite. In the first three games played in Houston the line was between Golden State -1 and Houston -2. That is a significant adjustment, likely warranted. If CP3 did play he almost certainly was at less than 100 percent, perhaps considerably less.
The Finals are scheduled to begin this Thursday, May 31, with the first two games being played at either Golden State or Houston, both of which had better regular season records than Cleveland. If the Finals go the distance, Game 7 would be played on Sunday, June 17.
Both teams will benefit from the added rest that will occur during the Finals as there will be two off days between games with one exception. Game 3 in Cleveland will be played on Wednesday, June 6 with Game 4, also in Cleveland, to be played on Friday, June 8.
LeBron, especially, will benefit from not having to play every other day (with that lone exception of Games 3 and 4) given the workload he carried in the Eastern Conference Finals in which the final five games featured just one day off between each contest.
Both Houston and Golden State would be favored over the Cavs with the Warriors carrying the larger impost. Many factors favor the Warriors but perhaps their greatest advantage is the overall quality of talent on the roster.
Both Cleveland and Golden State have similar experience and will be playing in their fourth straight NBA Finals. Houston has no such experience and should the Rockets have pulled the unlikely upset on Monday night will be at a significant disadvantage versus the Cavs.
Golden State won and covered both regular season games against the Cavs, winning by 7 at home and 10 on the road although that most recent meeting was on Jan. 15, a month before Cleveland restructured its roster at the trade deadline. Both games stayed UNDER the Total.
Cleveland also lost both meetings with Houston but was 1-1 ATS. In their first meeting, on Nov. 9 in Houston, the Rockets won by 4 points but failed to cover as 5.5 point home favorites. In the rematch in Cleveland on Feb. 3 (also before the trade deadline) Houston routed the Cavs, 120-88, easily covering as 3.5 point home underdogs. That game stayed UNDER the Total of 231.5 by 23 points. Their first meeting went OVER by just 1.5 points.
Forecast: Golden State to defeat Cleveland in six games but for Cleveland to defeat Houston in five games.
LeBron just does not have enough surrounding talent to defeat Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, et al., but his supporting cast is good enough to get past Houston, whether the Rockets have CP3 or not with James Harden still needing to show he can give the Rockets what LeBron gives the Cavs in critical situations.
Next week: My thoughts on how the middle games may unfold.
For the first two games the preferred play would be to play Cleveland in Game 1 over either opponent and, if the Cavs lose SU, to play them again in Game 2.
Should the Cavs pull the upset in the opener, the play would be to back Houston or Golden State in Game 2 to avoid an 0-2 deficit with the stronger of the plays being the Warriors. They would be more trustworthy to bounce back from an opening game defeat than would the Rockets even though Houston did just that in Game 2 of the Western Finals after losing to Golden State in the opener.