1. Who has been the Cleveland Cavaliers' MVP through two rounds?
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): Kyrie Irving is a tempting pick because he's been down right phenomenal so far, but the answer is LeBron James. He's been close to a triple-double on several occasions and has taken the right steps back in order to let Irving and Kevin Love succeed with him. Honestly, it feels like a really natural role for LeBron, at least this version.
Trevor Magnotti (@IllegalScreens): LeBron. When you've had two role players call you out trying to bump up their team's morale and confidence, and then proceed to squash those two players for a four-game sweep, it's a big sign that you're the clear alpha. As weird as it is to say, LeBron's given the Cavs an extra mental edge in these first two rounds, and he's been unstoppable so far.
Mike Mayer (@MikeMayer1964): The answer is probably LeBron, but what Kyrie has done has been incredible. He's taking 6.5 threes a game and he's making them at a 54 percent clip. And dare I say that his defense has been... good?
Brett Zelman (@blouiszelman): LeBron. A lot of the Cavaliers success, specifically against the Hawks, was predicated on Atlanta not being able to matchup with LeBron. Their wings couldn't cover him one on one, so they'd have to put Millsap on him, which left a wing on Love, which caused Love to be doubled or the paint to collapse, which led to tons of open threes for the Cavs. LeBron has been the catalyst on both ends for the Cavaliers so far.
Alex Raulli: Love is putting up 20 points and 13 rebounds per game. Kyrie has scored 24 points on 60 percent true shooting. But the Cavs' MVP, as usual, is LeBron James. His contributions across the board have been phenomenal. 23.5 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.6 blocks. Great passing that doesn't show up in the scoresheet. Devastating cuts. Excellent defense, particularly when the game is on the line. He's been amazing, and he's probably still in second gear.
Alex Ralston (@Aralsto): A case could be easily made for any of the big three, but I'm going to go with Tyronn Lue. He's pushed all of the right buttons during the series with Hawks and his plays coming out of time outs have been fantastic. Heading into the playoffs I knew Kyrie, Love and LeBron would all be great, I was not expecting this type of performance from Lue though.
Aaron Perine (@SumitLakeHornet): LeBron, because with his change in demeanor and focus has come some of the best basketball of the big three era. Love and Kyrie have been amazing but, we all know that James is the engine out there.
Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada): Lawwwbrawn James. Most of the points have been covered above, but he's been absolutely fantastic. He's putting a ton of pressure on the opposing defense and he is showing an unprecedented amount of trust in his teammates passing on 41.1 percent of his drives. He is trusting in the ball movement philosophy the Cavs are trying to have and the team has followed his lead. Kyrie has been phenomenal and arguably the best point guard in the playoffs to this point with Curry hurt, but LeBron hasn't looked this good on both ends of the court in three years.
Daniel Rowell (@DanielJRowell): I'll just echo the FTS crew. LeBron James hasn't been a box score monster, but he's been the linchpin of a new look second unit and the gravitational pull in the paint that has gotten open looks to players like Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, and Channing Frye. Each of those four players has stepped up in their own way, but none of that happens without James. Even in those finals seconds of Game 4 in Atlanta, we almost lost by a missed James three-point attempt, but were then saved by his defense and jump ball.
Ryan Mourton (@Ryan_Mourton): It has to be LeBron. The Cavs have done some good things without him on the court, but he has been the constant, and the sun around which those other things are orbiting. Kyrie Irving gets a special mention, as he has had several games where he has hit the big shot, or carried the team while LeBron sits.
2. What's more important for the Cavs: Kyrie Irving's play or their new-found three-point prowess?
CM: Kyrie. Look, the three-point shooting overall is nice and needed. But Irving being back - and maybe better than ever - after a rough regular season is huge. No matter who the Cavs face in the Finals, Irving is going to be a vital piece and needs to be playing at this level the rest of the way for Cleveland. Plus, he's been great from deep and he only helps everyone else get open looks.
TM: It's always important to be able to beat teams at math. If you're getting three points per trip while the other team is getting two, you're in good shape. Kyrie being able to initiate things off the drive-and-kick will be important, especially if the Cavs have to play San Antonio in the Finals. But if you can reliably expect 25-30 points from your role players bombing away from outside, it opens up so much for the Big Three to be able to create other looks. This three-point shooting probably isn't sustainable, but it's the more advantageous thing to have be successful.
MM: If they keep making threes the way they've been making threes, they're going to be hard to beat. Shooting opens everything up, and when a team is hot, it is pretty much impossible to defend. Of course, Kyrie is a big part of that hot shooting. But I'd rather see them keep knocking down shots as a group rather than having to rely on Kyrie to carry the offense whenever LeBron doesn't.
BZ: This is a little bit of a cop out but I'm going to say it's a combination; the most important thing for the Cavaliers is Kyrie's three point shooting. He's up 20 percent(!) from the regular season to the postseason from three-point range. It's obviously a tiny sample size but if Kyrie can keep shooting even 40-45 percent it's a huge weapon and opens up the rest of Kyrie's and the whole team's offense.
AR: Kyrie Irving is one of the root causes of the improved three point looks we're producing, so I have to give him the nod. His play, and in particular re-discovering his off the dribble jumper, have been integral to the Cavs success so far. We'll need him to keep playing great basketball to topple whatever giant emerges from the Western Conference.
ARalston: Kyrie is going to be the straw that stirs the Cavs championship drink from here on out in the playoffs. If the Cavaliers make it to the Finals and draw the
AP: Kyrie is going to be key for the Cavs success because threes come and go but they will need the constant pressure of Kyrie's offensive game and decision making as the stages get bigger and bigger. Warriors, as most expect, the Cavs will only goes as far as Kyrie does. I am not advocating for more Kyrie, I really like the way the team is playing offensively, but he will need to continue his hot shooting.
JR: Kyrie. I can think of at least three times in these playoffs already where the Cavs were down and Kyrie just "hit the reset button" as LeBron so eloquently described it. Kyrie being a threat of this magnitude opens things up for everybody else. The Hawks decided to take away the paint and dare the Cavs to beat them with open threes, which wasn't the best decision ever. But even if the Cavs shoot their normal percentages from three for the rest of the playoffs that would be great. If Kyrie isn't himself this team just doesn't have that gear that can give them a shot against anybody.
DR: Irving has been playing great, but it has to be the three-point shooting. During the regular season the team averaged 29.6 three-point attempts per game, shooting 36.3 percent. In eight playoff games they've averaged 36.3 attempts and are shooting 46.2 percent from behind the arc. That's an 18-points per game upgrade (and some very faulty math with small sample sizes). Playing Love and Frye at the five and spacing the floor with threes has finally set the pieces on the board to create space for players like Irving and James to succeed. But the Cavaliers don't go undefeated without that perimeter shooting.
RM: Kyrie. The three point shooting is amazing, but it's a product of LeBron and Kyrie playing so well right now. When Kyrie is a top level scorer and distributor, it unlocks the whole thing. It demands a teams top defender, which makes LeBron more devastating. It demands a double, which opens your threes. LeBron is LeBron, but Kyrie has the potential to be one of the most devastating scorers in this league. When he plays like it, the Cavs are a completely different team.
3. What's your take on LeBron James finishing third in MVP voting?
CM: It's right where he should be. Stephen Curry is the right pick for MVP and I wouldn't have had an issue with LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in any order in slots 2-4. Three, though, just feels right for me because he was lazy on defense a lot of the time when the other candidates weren't nearly as often. Plus, Leonard was the best player on what was a better team in the regular season.
TM: My MVP ballot would have been Curry fist, Westbrook second, and Kawhi third, but LeBron was basically on par with Kawhi for me this year. James, when he was engaged, was by far the most vital cog of the Cavaliers this season. However, his off-court weirdness and numerous defensive lapses were the root of a lot of the issues the Cavs had in the regular season. I would have had him 4th because of that, but third is fine.
MM: I have come to the conclusion that it was dumb to have named the award "MVP" in the first place because nobody is ever going to agree on what it means to be the "most valuable." Personally, I would have had LeBron second behind Curry. He had another amazing statistical season, and the Cavs finished first in the East despite not getting a full season from Kyrie. Kawhi was great, but if he and LeBron traded places, which team would have been better off? I'm pretty confident the answer is the Spurs.
BZ: I'm fine with it. I still think he's a better overall player than Kawhi because of his ability to control a game offensively but I understand having Kawhi over him; Kawhi is basically a LeBron defensively with being able to control every aspect of an opposing team's offense. LeBron took nights off defensively during the regular season and that's ok at this point. Now is the time of year that matters and LeBron is showing he's still in the conversation for best player in the world.
AR: It's correct. Curry deserved the unanimous MVP. Leonard provided more value during the regular season than LeBron. Durant and Westbrook were both great, but LeBron deserved to finish above them.
AP: Seems legit because we can't really argue with the player that achieved that record, can we?
ARalston: I am not upset that he was third, but I'd have had him as the runner-up to Curry. I am fairly certain that every team but the Warriors would trade their best player for LeBron in a heartbeat and be better off for it. Kawhi had a great statistical season and the Spurs had a fantastic season so I understand rewarding their best player with MVP votes, but I feel LeBron had a larger impact on the Cavaliers than Kawhi had on the Spurs.
JR: That's where he should have finished. His effort wasn't consistent throughout the year. While it likely wasn't direct, the turmoil surrounding him and the Cavs got their coach fired and they only started putting it together in the playoffs. He has a gear Leonard doesn't have and is still the better player, but it's a regular season award.
DR: Everyone is correct, but the MVP voting is about performances and not players. And that's fine, we these are single season awards, not rankings. If you are re-drafting the NBA today, the first player you take off the board is LeBron James. There isn't a question about it in my mind. MVP voting rewards the players that had the most dazzling stats and performances. And the top two performances belong to the Baby-Faced Assassin and Sharktopus. But if I want an all-around player that's the best out there, that's going to help me win eight games in the Conference and NBA Finals? LABRAWN JAMESSS.
RM: Don't care. LeBron is great. Kawhi is great. Russ is great. The guy that won set a bunch of records. It's fine.
4. Who should the Cavs want to face in the Eastern Conference Finals and why?
CM: The Heat. The storylines of LeBron vs. Dwyane Wade will probably get annoying really quick, but that's a series that'll better prepare the Cavs for the Finals. Miami has guys they can throw at LeBron and it's a team that won't be intimidated. Even if the Cavs put them down in four or five games, I think they can get something out of that series that they can't from a series vs. the Raptors.
TM: Give me the older team missing their best two frontcourt players with the point guard that can't defend pick-and-rolls. The Heat have weapons, but the Cavs can attack them hard on the glass and out of the pick-and-roll, and I feel much better about making the Heat try to outscore you than the Raptors.
MM: On paper, the Heat are a better matchup for the Cavs, but I'd much rather avoid all of the off-the-court storylines that would come with LeBron facing off against his former team. The way the Cavs are playing right now, they don't need any distractions. Playing Toronto would give them a chance to just keep doing what they've been doing without having to answer a million stupid questions every day.
BZ: Toronto. Whether or not DeRozan and Lowry are battling injuries is irrelevant at this point; what's important is the fact that they keep jacking up shots at a low percentage and the Raptors have no chance to beat the Cavs with those two struggling and Jonas out. Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross have given the Raptors some life but those guys just aren't good enough to carry them.
AR: After watching Game 4 of the TOR-MIA series, I just don't think it matters. The Cavs would annihilate either team. It might end up worse than what they did to Atlanta.
AP: I would like Toronto because of the steamrolling that could happen. That would allow the Cavs the possibility of maximum rest against whatever alleged leviathan lumbers out of the West. But, after last game, how can I really disagree with either team. There is a gulf between Cleveland and the rest of these teams.
ARalston: Give me Miami. These playoffs are a soul cleanse for Cavs fans (or at least me) and I cannot think of a better way to win a title than to go through Miami. The Cavs have already vanquished the ghosts of Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston when they stomped Stan Van Gundy in round one and I hope they have a similar opportunity to beat Miami.
JR: Toronto. The Raptors are 29th in three point percentage allowed on the season and I would prefer to avoid all of the off court stuff that is associated with South Beach. I don't think either team gets more than one win against the Cavs, but I feel fairly confident that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will continue to shut down DeRozan and Lowry, leading to a Cavs sweep. Also gives me bragging rights over friends and family, which is always a bonus.
DR: If Jonas Valanciunas and Hassan Whiteside are out, neither team really should worry the Cavaliers. But, all of Lebron James's exes live in South Beach. The Heat have had bigger wins on the Cavs this season and have the history and experience that could ruin the Cavs fun. So it has to be the Raptors.
RM: Probably Miami, but I'll take whoever has the least healthy center. Neither team has much shooting, or very many matchup advantages. I talked myself into the HEAT halfway through typing this about probably wanting Toronto. The HEAT without Whiteside face some serious issues in defending the Cavs, much in the way the Hawks did. Your best defender for LeBron plays the four, and your three (Joe Johnson) probably won't be able to effectively guard Kevin Love. The Cavs spacing would give them some serious fits in trying to help on drives, again, very similarly to how the Hawks struggled.
Social media will be somewhat unbearable, but playing the HEAT probably works out a little better.
5. True or False: the Cavs have a better chance of winning the title now than they did when the playoffs started?
CM: True. This is the best the Cavs have looked at any point since LeBron came back and this honestly might be the best Cavs team ever. In the first two rounds, they've certainly looked and played that way.
TM: Absolutely true. Three weeks ago I wondered if the Cavs might get caught up in their quarreling and lack of leadership and get caught by the Hawks or Raptors. Now, the Cavs look like a totally different team, Steph Curry's been hurt, and the Raptors haven't put two consecutive good games together this playoffs. I feel much better about their chances.
MM: True. They're playing with more confidence and cohesion than they did all season. Curry's health will continue to hang over the Warriors. The Spurs look beatable. Anything is possible.
BZ: True. I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to the Cavaliers and throughout all the struggles in the regular season, I thought they could reach a really high level; they showed me that specifically in their dominant wins over San Antonio at home and Oklahoma City on the road. But like Mike said, it's their confidence and cohesion that is really sticking out. They have the talent to beat anyone and now they look like they absolutely believe in themselves.
AR: True. My major concern coming into the postseason was Coach Lue. Would his rotations get better? Would he put our best lineups on the court when we needed them? Can he draw up quality plays in high pressure situations? So far he has been up to the challenge and more. The Cavaliers are producing great shots seemingly whenever they want to. If they can maintain this pattern then they should be considered no worse than slight underdogs in the Finals, and perhaps even the favorite depending on their opponent.
AP: I was in the building for Game 2 against the Hawks. It was the single most impressive basketball display I have ever seen in person. If the Cavs can continue at a level near this last series, I see no reason they can't win it all. The team has shifted in a matter of weeks. Things are looking much more hopeful today than even at the beginning of the postseason.
ARalston: True. When the playoffs started the Cavs needed 16 wins to win a title, now they only need eight. The team is getting ample rest and Coach Lue seems to be more than capable of playing the chess game that is coaching playoff basketball.
JR: True. They look like they don't hate each other finally, Kyrie is playing like Kyrie and Love is playing more like he did in Minnesota. I think Lue has shown a lot of growth in the playoffs already and while the Cavs are still going to be underdogs against a healthy Warriors squad, they have a fighter's chance if they are playing at this high level. Curry's health is also a question moving forward. You hope for him to be healthy and a fair series, but if he's limited in any way it could increase the likelihood of an upset.
DR: False. Potential energy doesn't work like that. I think the Cavaliers have had this potential all along and considering the preseason predictions for the Cavaliers in each of the past two seasons, many thought so too. Lue and his team have finally found a way to package it all together and win. At the start of the playoffs it didn't appear that the Cavaliers were this good, but with more data through eight games we know more to say that they are very good. But at the start of the playoffs? They still were this good, we just didn't know it.
RM: True. I can see saying their potential has always been there, but their trust and camaraderie has not been evident. Maybe that's something that isn't relevant to gauging their potential as a contender, maybe not. That said, what kind of ball you're playing as there series progress effects your chances, I would think, and the Cavs are in a serious groove at all levels right now.