1) It seems crazy to say that a team with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love would be a surprise 50 win team, but here we are. In mid-January the Cavs were 19-20 and LeBron James had already missed more games than he had in any of his preceding seasons.
2) We all know what happened next. The result is what will almost certainly be the East's two seed and 52-54 wins. James has been healthy, Kyrie Irving found a new gear, and Kevin Love's three point shooting has markedly improved. Right now the Cavs, Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs appear to be playing on a different level than everyone else.
3) That's not to say the Cavs are going to walk to the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls will take a lot out of yesterday's game to be happy with. It seemed like the Cavs were coasting at times, and Iman Shumpert missed open looks. But J.R. Smith was great and the Cavs hit a couple half court shots. The Bulls hung tough against a rested Cavs team at home.
4) I'd like to avoid the Bulls as long as possible. They can go uber-big, with Nikola Mirotic, and a combination of Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah filling the two traditional big roles. The Cavs then have to put James on either Jimmy Butler or Mirotic. Yesterday, Shumpert and Smith did a fine job on Mirotic when this happened, but I think ideally David Blatt would like to put Tristan Thompson on Mirotic.
5) The Bulls are a well-coached team filled with veterans and guys who are healing up. Even if Derrick Rose doesn't play, they'd give the Cavs a real test. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is really important to that team. If he and Mirotic are hitting three point shots, they can be really, really good. Their defense has been spotty all year, but if there's a team you trust to be able to flip the switch on that end, it'd be them.
5) There are all kinds of fun matchups the Cavs can generally counter pretty well without compromising their incredible offense with the Bulls. When Pau Gasol is the center, you play Timofey Mozgov. When Joakim Noah is the center, you play Tristan Thompson. Or maybe you don't agree with that and you play Mozgov. Neither option is bad. The Bulls are a ridiculously big team. If LeBron James is willing to play some power forward, and Kevin Love is healthy, the Cavs have more than enough size to counter.
6) I'm not sure what to make of the Atlanta Hawks. They've been pretty average lately, but you really can't take much from it. Their last meaningful game was probably the one in which they beat up the Cavs pretty handily at home. The Cavs made it close, and were in a rough stretch of games, but the Hawks would play with a lot of confidence and have home court advantage. They shoot from nearly every position. They could beat the Cavs four times in seven games. I wouldn't pick that outcome, I don't think, but it could happen.
7) This year has been really fun for me. Seeing Irving grow up is but one example. Against Miami on Thursday night James and Irving were arguing before halftime. It actually got me excited. James is comfortable enough that he can be open and critical, and Irving is confident enough to plead his case. Thompson has turned into a genuinely good finisher out of the pick and roll. He's showing signs that he can be the versatile defender we all hoped he could. Mozgov is physical and a great finisher in his own right. He's radically reoriented what the Cavs are capable of doing defensively.
8) I watch James with more curiosity than affection at the moment. He alternates between God-mode and somewhat bewildering play. Even when he's underwhelming, he's still so much better than nearly everyone else. He's been gearing up the last couple weeks for the playoffs. He seems to be in a weird spot where mentally he is dialed in, even if he doesn't want to get his body going past third gear. I actually like that strategy in theory. In practice it results in James being frustrated about turnovers, then checking in to the Bulls game midway through the fourth and immediately committing one while Dunleavy Jr. out hustles him.
9) Playoff x-factors: Iman Shumpert and J.R. hitting threes. Irving stealing a game or two with transcendent scoring. Kevin Love rebounding and hitting threes. Thompson and Mozgov being good enough defensively.
And LeBron James being the best player on the court.
10) Finally, let us know how you want us to cover the playoffs. Ideas, thoughts? What do you guys want to read. Let us know. I know I get cantankerous at times, but I'm glad you are all here.