The ghosts of 2007 Cavaliers like Sasha Pavlovic, Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Amon Ones (no “D,” no “J”), Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall seem to be lurking.
Actually, that may be giving the current Cavs too much credit, because that team at least got to the NBA Finals before being swept by San Antonio.
This current group is conjuring up (bad) memories of guys like Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, Mo Williams, Ben Wallace, Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker and Shaquille O’Neal, who all played on one or more Cavs teams from 2008-10.
Those teams, of course, also featured LeBron James, only to lose to Boston in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, Orlando in the 2009 conference finals and the Celtics again in the 2010 conference semifinals.
We all know what happened after the latter season, but that’s a story for another day. Right now, we bring up the past only because it’s looking more and more like history could repeat on the court.
As the fourth-seeded Cavs prepare to take on No. 5 Indiana tonight in Game 3
of their best-of-seven,
first-round series, which is tied at a game apiece, suspicions are growing that they once again don’t have enough talent around James.
The one big difference from 2008-10 is that no team in the East is as good as the Celtics and Magic were then, but that only slightly lessens concerns that the Cavs won’t return to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.
Heck, there is a possibility Cleveland won’t even make it out of the first round, but for now we’ll bank on James continuing to do anything and everything to ensure the Cavs get to at least the conference semis.
Still, how many times can a 33-year-old, 15th-year pro carry an entire franchise, coaches included?
Sure, James put up 46 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in Game 2. Sure, he scored his team’s first 16 points, 20 in the first quarter and a franchise-record 29 in the first half. Sure, he now has 10 playoff games with at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, which doubles the No. 2 player on that list, Elgin Baylor.
Sadly, though, James had to do all that for the Cavs to win … by three points … at home … in a game in which Indiana’s Victor Oladipo got into early foul trouble … and missed a wide-open 3-pointer late that would have tied things … to even a first-round series … against a No. 5 seed.
Would someone please get the four-time league MVP a huge “Help Wanted” sign, then position Kevin Love so he can’t possibly miss it? (We suggest keeping “Help Wanted” LeBron out of the key in order to successfully complete this task.)
With Kyrie Irving gone (and out for the season due to a knee issue), Love has failed miserably in two playoff games as the alleged Robin to James’ Batman. (Cue the graphics: Pow! Wham! Zap!)
Love is averaging 12.0 points on 8-for-24 shooting and has attempted a whopping four free throws. More damning, those four attempts came not when he was fouled in the post, but on 3-point shots, one of which went in and one of which didn’t.
Coach Tyronn Lue, who hasn’t exactly distinguished himself so far, either (starting Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith in Game 2 was a step in the right direction, at least in part because it meant benching Jeff Green and Rodney Hood), has to get more — a lot more — from his All-Star big man.
Then again, as Lue said following his team’s 100-97 win in Game 2, which didn’t exactly erase (bad) memories of a 98-80 debacle in Game 1, “I need to see more out of a lot of guys.”
Right now, Cavs fans would probably settle for “something.”
James had 46 points on 17-for-24 shooting (.708) in Game 2. The rest of the team had 54 on 20-for-49 (.408).
Love had 15 points but was 5-for-16 from the field. Korver had 12 on four 3-pointers. No one else had more than six.
Smith played 35 minutes in Game 2, took five shots, scored five points and had zero rebounds and one assist (though he did play solid defense).
Through two games, Jordan Clarkson has a grand total of eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. Hood has 14 points. George Hill has 13. Korver has 12 (largely because his sometimes overmatched coach declined to play him more than 3:38 in Game 1). Green has, drum roll please, two.
Seriously, now, even if Love rights himself, who is Cleveland’s third-best player? And is that player, whoever he is from night to night, that much better than the 13th-best player on the roster? While that is a testament to the Cavs’ depth, it’s also a huge indictment of their top-level talent after the best player on the planet.
Even more to the point, Love was clearly the Cavs’ third-best player — and a good one at that — the last three years. Plus, Smith and forgotten man Tristan Thompson were very reliable as the fourth and fifth starters.
Now we’ve got — what? — Korver as the third-best player and Ante Zizic, largely by default, at 13, without much reliable or discernible talent variance anywhere in between.
For better or worse, all of this means James is going to have to go from Batman to Superman for the Cavs to make a deep playoff run in 2018.
And hope the Kryptonite that was once Sasha, Larry, Mo, Wally and Shaq doesn’t return in the form of George, Rodney, Jeff and Jordan to do him in once again.
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