The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only undefeated team in this year’s NBA Playoffs, and they are four wins away from their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. In sweeping the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs looked unstoppable, and it seemed like no team could stifle their high octane offense. They sank 3-pointers at a clip that rivaled the Golden State Warriors’ aerial attack.
The Cavaliers made a whopping 77 3’s against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, breaking their own record of 57 made 3’s against the Pistons in the first round.
The Cavs are shooting the lights out, but as they prepare for the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat, they know that more severe challenges lie ahead.
The Raptors Are Scary Good When Lowry and DeRozan Play Well
Though the Raptors lost Jonas Valanciunas to a sprained ankle for the rest of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the impact of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan cannot be underestimated. Valanciunas averaged 18.3 points per game on 64.9-percent shooting against the Heat. But when Lowry or DeRozan score 20 points or more, the Raptors are 6-1. They account for a majority of the team’s offensive output. Lowry has a usage percentage of 24.3 percent and DeRozan has a usage percentage of 31 percent. Usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor—a measure of his impact on the team. The Raptors need Lowry and DeRozan to play well, because when they do, the Raptors are tough to beat.
The Raptors Gave The Cavs Fits During The Regular Season
The Cavaliers lost their regular season series against the Raptors 2-1. Lowry averaged 31 points per game on 66-percent shooting, and DeRozan averaged 15 points per game on 38.1-percent shooting. But both players have been inconsistent during the playoffs, playing well some nights and struggling on others. The Cavs had trouble defending them in the regular season, allowing the Raptors to score 100.7 points per game, so they need either to contain the Raptors’ two superstars or shut down the rest of the team.
The Miami Heat would be even more challenging than the Raptors. Led by a rejuvenated Dwyane Wade, they are a team the Cavs could have trouble beating.
Dwyane Wade Is Playing His Best Basketball Since the 2011-2012 Postseason
The Heat are shorthanded. In Game 3 against the Raptors, Hassan Whiteside suffered a first degree MCL sprain, and a timetable for his return is uncertain. Luol Deng injured his wrist in Game 5. He will play if the injury is not medically serious, but his effectiveness might be reduced. Nevertheless, “The Flash” is back. D-Wade is playing his best basketball since the 2011-2012 postseason, when the Heat won their second championship. During this year’s playoffs, he is averaging 21.8 points per game, his best offensive output since those 2011-2012 playoffs. Wade is playing like a man on a mission, and he will not slow down against the team led by his former teammate, LeBron James.
LeBron Would Be Playing Against the Team He Won Two Championships With, and Emotions Could Run High
If the Cavs play the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, it will be a media circus. Storylines will focus on James competing against his former team, which could produce a jumble of emotions in the four-time NBA MVP. James has said the thought of playing against his close friend D-Wade has crossed his mind. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue will need to be aware the possible effects of media concentration on their friendly rivalry.
Again, the Cavs will be tough to beat. When they are not launching threes from deep in the Q and on the road, they destroy opponents with their ball movement and offensive rebounding (courtesy of Tristan Thompson). They are playing great basketball and hitting their peak at the right time. But the Raptors and the Heat present new challenges, and the Cavs probably won’t sweep either team in the conference finals.