Playoffs are here! Chill mode is off and it’s time to find out whether or not this Cavs team can flip the switch. How do you feel about the Cavs coming into this year’s playoffs compared to last season?
Justin Rowan: Certainly less confident. I felt like last season there was no team that could beat the Cavaliers if they kept playing to their potential. This season is different, the Golden State Warriors are the best regular season team in history and beating them would be one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. Much larger than the Cavs beating Detroit in ‘07. I still believe the Cavs would have beaten the Warriors last season if they were healthy, but they have a much better team now. I feel like the pressure is off and I can enjoy the ride in the Cavs familiar role as underdog. But if the Warriors fail to make the Finals I will have a drastic change in expectations and mentality.
Daniel Rowell: The Cavaliers always keep me appreciative of the uncertainty of basketball, and really just life. I mean who are we to expect anyone from anything, let alone a series sweep or the blessings of a new day. I think the Cavaliers have a lot to prove with Tyronn Lue and some shaky regular season shooting from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. A matchup with a Pistons team that has given the team some trouble in the regular season will be a great opportunity. I’m approaching this off-season like every Cavaliers offseason, gratitude that we are even here and a Witness t-shirt on my back, ready to watch whatever happens.
Jack Zink: Worse. Irving still hasn’t been able to match his play from last year, and that’s a big reason why the Cavs were able to dominate the final two months of last season as the best team in the league. Timofey Mozgov has been a tire fire all year, which is the opposite of how he played heading into the playoffs last year. Oh yeah, and the Golden State Warriors are the greatest team since the 1992 Dream Team, which puts plenty of fear into my heart.
David Zavac: Maybe I’m a bit more appreciative, even as I recognize the team has a much more difficult path to a championship. The East is better, the Warriors and Spurs are better, and unless Kyrie Irving can sustain a high level of play, the Cavs are not. That being said, the Cavs are nearly healthy, and might have a gear they can get to that we haven’t seen. Last year we saw the Cavs playing at a high level before the playoffs, and then they found a way to regroup. It will be interesting to see if this team can maximize its talent. Might not be enough either way, but it’s certainly interesting.
Brett Zelman: I feel a little bit worse than last year and that's mainly because of how good the Warriors have been and doesn't have as much to do with the Cavs. Any other year I'd feel great about the Cavs chances but with a historically great team most likely awaiting them in the finals it's hard to get overly optimistic. That said, when LeBron is playing like he has the last month, all of the other perceived issues surrounding this team are relegated to the background. It does make me feel better that the Warriors were going all out for 73 while the Cavs were resting guys down the stretch. I'm hoping Cleveland is rolling and is the fresher team if they meet in June.
Alex Raulli: I feel good about the Cavs. While it’s true that whomever comes out of the Western Conference will no doubt be an excellent team, that’s okay. You have to beat the best if you want to be the NBA champion. The fact is that the Cavaliers have had some great lineups this year. Their expected playoff rotation (starters plus Delly, Shump and Frye) has a +13.0 net rating, and is spitting fire on offense with 1.196 PPP. Put LeBron on the court and that group is scoring at a rate of 1.223 PPP with a +16.5 net rating. I think they’ll be able to flip the switch just fine.
The Cavaliers lost the season series against Detroit. Is there anything about this matchup that you believe can make things difficult for the Cavs?
JR: Detroit is one of the few teams that can out-rebound the Cavs. One thing that makes the Cavs so dangerous is the fact that they have this incredibly potent offense and then guys like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love consistently buying extra possessions for them. It’ll be interesting to see how easy it is for them to flip the switch for playoffs without that security net presumably available.
DR: The Jackson-Drummond pick and roll. Jackson has that length that seems to trouble some of our perimeter players. With the health of Iman Shumpert in question it’ll be important for Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, and J.R. Smith to hold it down against Reggie Jackson. I hope it doesn’t come to hacks.
JZ: I agree with Daniel. The Cavs are going to get pick-and-rolled to death, and the Pistons have one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league with Jackson and Drummond. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy went an entire game running this simple play.
CM: What my colleagues said above is 100 percent true. And since they have a decent of amount of shooters - Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, etc. - it’s not hard to envision the Cavs having some trouble defending the Pistons.
DZ: Can Tobias Harris do some secondary creation? Is Andre Drummond going to play like a star? Will Jodie Meeks, or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or Marcus Morris shoot a high percentage from three? Those are some concerns.
BZ: I'm going to echo what everyone else said about the Jackson/Drummond pick and roll. I think David hit the nail on the head when wondering about the other guys on Detroit. For Van Gundy's pick and roll offense to be successful, they need the other guys like KCP, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Jodie Meeks and Anthony Tolliver to knock down their threes in order to keep the lane open for Drummond and Jackson.
AR: There aren’t many teams in the league that are better at rebounding than the Cavaliers. The Pistons are one of them, however. Andre Drummond’s career TRB% is 23.3. Dennis Rodman’s career TRB% is 23.4. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love will have their work cut out for them on the boards.
Who is the most important player for the Cavs in this series and why?
JR: This series is kinda funny, because Detroit doesn’t really have anybody to defend any of the Cavs top players. But I’m going to go with LeBron. He’s looking the best I’ve seen since 2012-2013 physically and I wouldn’t be surprised to see himself quickly put his mark on the postseason. By exposing Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris it should jeopardize whatever Detroit is trying to do defensively and make things relatively easy for Cleveland.
DR: LeBron James. Remember the last time he played a playoff game in the Palace? A four-game sweep where James averaged 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. Yeah. I’m pretty excited.
JZ: Kyrie Irving. LeBron hasn’t lost a first round playoff game in four years, so I think it’s a given how he’s going to play. It’ll be the play of Irving that decides how long this series goes. If the Cavs do drop one (or mayyyyyybe two), I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because of him. On the other hand, if Irving plays anywhere close to how well he played last year, the Cavs will enter round two unscathed.
CM: Tristan Thompson. He’s going to the most important player in defending the pick and roll because his ability to step out into space and also defend bigger players inside. He’s also going to go head-to-head on the boards with Andre Drummond, one of the league’s best rebounders. LeBron James may dictate everything in a broad sense, but Thompson is going to the be one doing all of the nitty gritty work that will matter in close games.
DZ: All fine choices above me, but I’ll echo Daniel and say LeBron James. Hopefully he can sustain the level of play he’s exhibited for the last month and make life very difficult for the Pistons.
BZ: This one is easily LeBron for me. If he plays close to as good as he has been, the Cavs dispatch Detroit in four games, five at most. Later on the Cavs will need great and consistent performances from Kyrie and Love but LeBron's greatness alone can get the Cavs past the Pistons, who just don’t have enough talent to make it a long series.
AR: Tristan Thompson. In the playoffs, his job is often to neutralize one of the opposing frontcourt players. In this series, he will likely be matched up with Andre Drummond for 30+ minutes per game. If he can do a good job slowing down ‘Dre then the Pistons simply won’t have a chance.
Who is the most important player for Detroit in this series and why?
JR: Reggie Jackson. Drummond is going to get his with the opportunities he creates for himself off the glass and in the pick and roll, as well as the Cavs intentionally sending him to the line. Jackson has been battling some nagging injuries lately, but if he can play to his potential it will make things easier for everybody else and give Detroit a chance at taking a game or two in this series.
DR: Andre Drummond. He’s averaging 16 points and 14.8 rebounds this season, while also shooting 35.5% on 586 free-throw attempts. His ability to stay on the floor late will be key. Hacks are kind of awful, but they are effective.
JZ: Reggie Jackson.
CM: Reggie Jackson. He’s going to go at Kyrie Irving and he’s going to largely orchestrate everything Detroit does. Furthermore, he’s not at 100 percent due to an abdominal strain. If he’s not at his best, Detroit’s chances of pulling an upset go way, way down.
DZ: Drummond. He has to bully Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love and be too much to handle on the offensive boards. He has to be focused defensively and keep Tristan Thompson off the glass and disrupt lobs and floaters. If he doesn’t play at a high level, it won’t be a competitive series.
BZ: I'm going to go a bit out of the box here and say Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP was great in the February 22nd win at the Q, scoring 19 on only 10 field goal attempts. He's a guy with a reputation as a shooter but he had a really bad year shooting the 3 ball at only 31%. But he can get hot and if he shoots like he did that night in Cleveland he could be a huge lift. On the other side of the ball, he's known as the Pistons’ wing stopper and he did a really good job on Steph Curry this year. Expect him to be crossmatched with Kyrie if Kyrie gets it rolling and KCP's length could help slow Kyrie down.
AR: Andre Drummond. If anyone is going to make this series tough for the Cavs it’s him. He will have an impact on every key facet of the game. On offense, he’ll be rolling to the rim constantly, sucking in help defenders which will produce open threes. His offensive rebounding is critical for a team that is poor at three point shooting. Defensively, his rim protection will be very important as LeBron repeatedly blows by Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris. And cleaning the defensive glass will be critical, as we’ve seen the Cavaliers demolish playoff opponents with their offensive rebounding. Asking him to excel in all these areas is a stretch, but he’s a fantastic young player. They will need him to play out of his mind to make this series competitive.
What would you consider the X-Factor in this series?
JR: Is Van Gundy feeding Detroit the PED’s the 09 Magic used? Yes I can stay bitter for a very long time. Tristan Thompson is going to be the X-Factor in this series going head to head against Andre Drummond. I would be ecstatic if Tristan scored no points in this series, but managed to hold Drummond to 8-9 rebounds a game. Keep Detroit off the glass and you take away their biggest advantage in this series.
DR: Coach Stan Van Gundy. The guy has a certain unfavorable track record at cooking up schemes to stop LeBron James. I’ve personally erased the 2009 Playoffs from my memory, so in case you need an unpleasant reminder. This team isn’t the 2009 team, but I’ll expect to see some interesting challenges for the Cavaliers to overcome with SVG at the helm.
JZ: J.R. Smith. If he gets hot, it’s bad for Detroit.
CM: J.R. Smith. He’s been really good this year - especially from deep - and if he’s hitting the open shots that will inevitably come when the Pistons have to rotate on LeBron and Kyrie, it’s game over for the Pistons.
DZ: The Cavs shooting. If a couple of Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, or Matthew Dellavedova can get hot and make a high percentage of shots, the Pistons won’t have much of a shot.
BZ: If Tristan can dominate the offensive boards like he did like he did throughout last year's playoffs, it's going to be a pretty short series. Drummond's a great foe for TT but he can get into foul trouble and also be taken off the court because of his horrendous free throw shooting. Even if the Cavs struggle from 3 in a game or two, Tristan could make up for it by being a monster on the offensive glass.
AR: Tyronn Lue’s rotations. If he puts good lineups on the floor for 48 minutes I don’t see how Detroit will stand a chance. If he doesn’t, well, it would suck. We’d still win, but I’d be less optimistic moving forward.
JR: Cavs sweep. Playoff Bron is playoff Bron.
DR: Cavs in 4. One overtime game at the Palace.
CM: Cavs in four.
DZ: Cavs in 5.
BZ: Cavs in 4.
AR: Sweep. Game 3 in Detroit will be close. The rest will have plenty of garbage time.