Since LeBron James’ return to his native area in northeastern Ohio, the Cleveland Cavaliers have ruled the Eastern Conference, which culminated in hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champs last year.
This summer, thus far, the Cavaliers haven’t suffered major losses, despite the hectic offseason. So, is there any team in the Eastern Conference capable of dethroning the Cavs, or will they, once again, be playing basketball in June?
There is not one major threat, but there are a few teams capable of giving the Cavs a run for their money. The only teams capable of eliminating the Cavaliers are the Raptors, Bulls, and Hawks.
Raptors: The Raptors have proven to be one of the better teams in the NBA over the last three seasons, each time besting their record, and a year ago establishing a franchise record 56 wins. Jurassic Park gives the Raptors one of the best home court advantages in the NBA, just ask the Cavs about games 3 and 4. Gregg Doyel, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star described Raptor fans as, “Those basketball fans in Toronto, they’re not normal. They are NFL fans with an NBA team. They travel. They drink. They scream.” Back to the court, Toronto has the best backcourt east of the Bay area. The only negative thing left to say about the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan tandem is that they need to step it up a notch in the playoffs. The Raptors are also equipped to slow down LeBron James with Patrick Paterson, DeMarre Carroll, and a defensive wizard in head coach Dwayne Casey. Lowry and DeRozan can neutralize the Cavs backcourt, and turn the game into an ugly, low-scoring affair.
Bulls: Chicago has handled a chaotic situation as cleanly as a team could have possibly handled it, and on top of that they got better than they were a year ago. The Bulls traded former MVP point guard Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 second-round pick to the New York Knicks for center Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon. Then, they traded for former All-Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, and added future Hall of Famer Dwayne Wade. Rondo will help ignite a stall offense that has been heavily criticized over the past few years, because he brings an uncanny ability to pass that Rose, or anyone else on the Bulls, can match. Wade will bring leadership, big game experience, and a killer instinct. Jimmy Butler, the young shooting guard, will have to take the next step, and assume the position as the team’s best player and lead them back to the playoffs. With veterans like Wade and Rondo, who have combined for four championships, and seven trips to the NBA Finals, this team is primed to get back to the dance. Rookie Denzel Valentine has shown a lot during the Summer League, and will look to contribute on both ends of the floor.
Hawks: The Hawks have lost their last 11 meetings against the Cavaliers. While some of them were competitive, some of them were blowouts, but the Hawks have a puncher’s chance if Dwight Howard can get reasonably healthy. If Howard gets back to his early-days in Houston form, or his Orlando form, then Atlanta would have a chance because he would force Cleveland to re-think their shot selection, and would deny anybody any access to the basket. He is also a formidable rebounder, which would limit the Cavs’ second shots, and improve the Hawks breakaway offense. Atlanta could play a similar brand of basketball to how Orlando used to play with four shooters on the outside, and Howard patrolling the paint.