We have arrived. The King has returned and is ready to defend his crown. LeBron James sets his eyes on an unprecedented journey to make his 7th consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Since coming back to Cleveland, his Eastern Conference runs have been remarkable. There has been no real competition in the East come playoff time, and he appears poised to make it happen again. The 2017 NBA playoffs are here!
Along with his annual disappearance from social media come April, LeBron goes into a different mode. He becomes locked in, and everything becomes about winning. Though he comes in as a 2 seed this time, he’s proved to the other teams what the Cavs are all about when they’re clicking. They fear no one.
All the talk has been about the Cavs defensive woes. They finished the regular season 22nd in defensive rating. But when you rest LeBron, and lose Kevin Love and J.R. Smith for an extended period of time, that defensive cohesiveness can suffer. Where they make up for that differential is from behind the arc. The Cavaliers were 2nd in the league this season in 3 pointers made per game (13) and total 3 pointers made (1,067). Where they have slacked off in defense they’ve compensated somewhat on offense. They deserve the benefit of the doubt that they will turn it up when it matters most, which is now.
Nothing has come easy for the Cavs, so why start now? They made history last season coming back from down 3-1. So why not be the first team to repeat with a bottom 10 defensive rating? They ran through the conference with no Kevin Love and a hobbled Kyrie Irving. So why not run through it with a healthy squad now?
Enter the Indiana Pacers. Their All-NBA hopeful Paul George has averaged 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.8 APG shooting 41% from the field and 39% from three against the Cavs this season. In their most recent match-up, we watched George and James put on a 1 on 1 clinic as they both surpassed the 40-point threshold. When taking a look at this series, the George-James match-up appears key. However, let’s look a little further.
Keep an eye on the Tristan Thompson-Miles Turner match-up. We know PG and LeBron will show up, but the battle of these big men will be interesting. They will be physical and try to dominate the boards. What’s also key is how both of these individuals defend the pick and roll. What can be one team’s greatest asset can also be their greatest weakness.
The X-factor for the Pacers is Lance Stephenson. Since re-joining the Pacers, they’ve gone 5-1 to close the season. He’s averaged 7.5 PPG, 4 RPG, and 4.2 APG. Those Swiss Army knife numbers are exactly what the team needs. He can be an irritant on defense and provide an aggressive scoring burst on offense. Don’t look now, but a little birdie also says he enjoys playing against a LeBron lead team (re: 2014 Eastern Conference Finals). The Pacers will need him to keep his antics to a minimum and maintain tunnel vision focus in each game.
Welcome to the postseason, where the stars shine the brightest and legends are born. These 2017 NBA Playoffs will be no different. Sit back, get the popcorn ready, and enjoy the show!