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Cavs return to playoffs with legit chance to win

Why Not? (photo courtesy of NBA TV)
It’s been four long years, three coaches, and two general managers since the Cleveland  Cavaliers last made the playoffs. That all ends on Sunday when the Cavs take on the Boston Celtics in the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs.

There are two players left on the team from the last time the Cavs made the playoffs, LeBron James, who came back to lead the Cavs to the post season, and Anderson Varejao, who is injured. Only four of the 15 players on the roster were with the Cavs last season, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellevadova, and Varejao. Of the remaining 11 players, only 7 started the season with the team.

That’s right, half the roster was turned over during the season, including two starters.

It’s amazing what general manager David Griffin has done with and to the roster since taking over during a tumultuous season a year ago. Equally amazing is head coach David Blatt’s ability to integrate new players into his scheme almost seamlessly, while handling the pressure of many calling for him to be fired.

Since January 15th, the Cavs have been one of the most exciting teams to watch. J.R. Smith, who was feared to be a headache waiting to happen, has instead been a godsend, giving James the spacing to penetrate by being able to hit open three’s. Iman Shumpert was thought to be the starting two guard when the Cavs traded for him, has become a reliable contributor off the bench. And then there’s Timofey Mozgov, who has been the paint-clogging big that the Cavs needed, while giving James the big finisher around the rim he craves.

Piece-by-piece, trade-by-trade, Griffin put together a roster that gives the Cavaliers a legitimate chance to win a championship. Has LeBron ever had this much talent supporting him? The Miami Heat teams that won the championship had some definite talent, but Dwayne Wade the second most talented player on those teams missed a lot of game due to injury and for rest. Other than Chris Bosh, there was Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, and some other role players, aging or otherwise.

Kevin Love isn’t quite the athlete or defender Bosh is, but provides more outside shooting and a better post game when needed. Irving is a definite upgrade over Chalmers, as a playmaker and a shooter and whatever other category you can think of.  Mozgov is an actual center with size, 7’1 and listed at 250 pounds, not the 6’10 and 230 pounds Birdman is listed at. JR Smith has range and when he gets hot, there isn’t a shot he can’t make. Smith isn’t the shooter Allen was in his prime, but he is much more athletic than Allen was in his days with the Heat, so you can chalk that up to a wash, at worst. Allen wasn’t with the Heat in his best days.

The thing is, this Cavs roster has a lot of talent, no matter what roster you compare it too. The Cavs can play small and fast, with Irving, Smith, Shumpert, LBJ, and Thompson/ Love, or play you straight up with their starters. Their half-court sets need work, less pounding out the shot clock, one-on-one and more ball and player movement, but the Cavs have the talent to beat you one-on-one. So even their weakness isn’t really a weakness. That’s the benefit of having top talent.

The Cavs biggest struggle this season was playing physical teams that had good chemistry; the Atlanta Hawks, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Indiana Pacers come to mind. All three of those teams have been together awhile and played physical games where the Cavs struggled to match their intensity. To be fair, the Cavs didn’t have their whole roster for the Hawks series, but the physicality of the Pacers is a scary matchup for the Cavs that should make for an exciting series.

After all is said and done, this could be the first Cleveland team to bring a championship home in a really, really long time. Regardless of trophies, this was a fun season to watch. This team grew into themselves right in front of our eyes, after opening the season with some growing pains.

Sunday, the Cavs have a chance to start down that path that leads to a championship, at home in front of their fans. Fans who watched with disappointment when the Cavs were swept by the Spurs in the Finals, who watched The Decision playout on national television, and then read about The Homecoming with excitement and frenzied, disbelief. Fans who saw the Cavs win the draft lottery. Fans who saw Kyrie Irving re-sign with the team despite rumors of his unhappiness. Fans who saw the Cavs trade the number one overall draft pick for a power forward.

Fans who have seen it all, but a championship. This could be the year that ends.
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