After a long, frustrating season the playoffs are finally here. To prepare for them, the gang has put their minds together to bring back the Fear the Sword round table.
Let’s start things off by discussing your mindset heading into the playoffs. The approach the Cavs have taken has given many reasons to feel apprehensive. Do you feel the Cavs are ready? Or do you wish they had more time to get things right?
Alex Ralston: I am thankful that the playoffs are finally here. The regular season was a labor of love and I am excited to see how this team responds to the games actually counting. I believe the team will come with a different sense of urgency now that their true season has started. Prior to last year’s playoff run I was very concerned about Tyronn Lue’s rotations. But when the games counted he hit all the right buttons and I have faith he will do the same this year. If I had to point to my biggest fear I would say that I am really concerned about JR Smith’s play on defense. In order for the team to meet its full potential Smith needs to be active and engaged on defense, something we have not seen from him since his return from injury.
E Raulli: I think the Cavs better use this first round to iron out the problems they’ve had. The second round match-up with the Toronto Raptors projects to be a very tough series, but the Indiana Pacers don’t frighten me at all. Paul George can make things difficult for LeBron (at least, as much as anyone in the NBA can) but that match-up still favors us and every other match-up might favor the Cavs to a greater degree than that one. So they still have time to get right, and I remain optimistic that this team has a very high ceiling, but we’ve yet to see anything approaching that ceiling this season.
Mike Mayer: I really don’t know what to expect with this team right now. I would think that, because this is the playoffs, we will see them revert back to some version of the very good team we know they can be. However, I would not be shocked if they don’t. They just seem a little too satisfied with themselves at times, and they certainly wouldn’t be the first defending champ to underachieve in the following postseason. The best thing they have going for them is that they get to play the Pacers in the first round, and while this series probably won’t be a total bloodbath, it really should be an opportunity for the Cavs to find their legs again.
Zavagno: Mentally, I feel as if the Cavs have been ready for the playoffs to begin for about two months now. There seems to be a general sense of relief for many of the players that the “real” season is now beginning. As far as my own mindset, I am confident because LeBron James exists, but hesitant to say the team is in great form right now. The switch can certainly be flipped and I will be looking to Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith specifically in this series. He is shooting just 34.6% from the field and 33% from 3 since January 1, but has the most favorable matchup against the Pacers defense. Thompson got some much needed time off to rest his knee due to a thumb injury late in the year. I will be watching to see if he comes out with more energy, specifically on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Smith is only shooting 33.6% from 3 since returning from injury and has had many lapses on defense. His strong play will be necessary for Coach Lue to limit Iman Shumpert’s minutes in the postseason.
Dylan Haines: I do wish they had a couple more weeks to get the kinks out before the playoffs, but adversity has a way of forcing change when it’s not convenient. Every game matters now, and the Cavs need to be ready for it or they’ll get smacked in the mouth. I think the Cavs have been eager for the playoffs to start for quite some time now, and that moment has finally arrived. There are plenty of reasons for concern headed into the playoffs: Kyrie’s lingering knee issues and Tristan’s sprained thumb, the defense has been dreadful, and the team really hasn’t played that well in the latter part of the season. On the flip side, the Cavs have LeBron James, so make of that what you will. The Pacers should be a great tune-up series for the Cavs, but the top of the East is stronger than it’s been in recent years and they may not have the benefit of being able to sleepwalk to the Finals like they have in the past. I think that’s a good thing. If this team wants to repeat as champions, they need to be ready for Golden State (or San Antonio) in a couple months. Sometimes, adversity brings out the best in us (*cough* 3-1 lead *cough*), so maybe a little push-back from the East will be good for the Cavs this time around as they attempt to make it to a third straight NBA Finals.
Justin Rowan: I’m probably more optimistic than I should be. Irving’s last game of the season showed that he was moving around very well, and Thompson looked good against the Raptors. The health of the team was always my biggest concern, and I’m a firm believer that this team can flip the switch when needed.
Say something nice about the Pacers! Is there anything you think they can bring to the table that will challenge the Cavs?
AR: Paul George is really really good! Honestly outside of the Bucks the Pacers were the team I least wanted to play in the first round. It seems like the Cavs always struggle in Indiana and George is a tiring matchup for LeBron. On top of that I love CJ Miles and was hoping I could root for his team in the playoffs.
ER: C.J. Miles is super fun and I wish he was still a Cav. Paul George is really good at basketball. Myles Turner may one day be really good at basketball.
MM: I think it will pretty much take Paul George having the series of his life in order for them to have a chance. He is really good though, as everyone has said.
MZ: Since everyone else is going to mention Paul George, I will go ahead and say Jeff Teague probably had the best season of his career. He posted career highs in AST, REB, TS%, FTr, Win Shares, BPM, and VORP. Oh, and the Cavs are a mere 2-12 in their last 14 games in Bankers Life Fieldhouse (2-4 since LeBron returned).
DH: Paul George is halfway decent at playing basketball (or so I’ve heard). For them to have any chance of winning this series, George will probably have to go supernova. Outside of him, Myles Turner has had a really good sophomore season in the NBA. He’s a stretch-5 that can hit outside shots and plays really solid interior defense. He’s already developed into one of the best young big men in the NBA, and he just turned 21 years old last month. The matchup between him and Tristan Thompson (both former Texas Longhorns, by the way) will be interesting to watch, to say the least.
JR: They have too many good players for a team this bad. From Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, Thad Young, Al Jefferson, to Myles Turner, they have a lot of guys. In a different matchup, I could see this team giving one of the other top four teams a lot of trouble.
Is there an x-factor for either team you believe will make a difference in this series? Or will it be straightforward?
AR: I think the series will be fairly straightforward. The Cavs have more talent across the board but are not playing particularly well at the moment. Paul George will get his but Indiana just doesn’t have enough around PG for any other outcome than a Cavs series win.
ER: Kyrie Irving against Jeff Teague will just be unfair. Luckily, we’re not Indy fans so we get to enjoy Kyrie embarrassing him for a third straight year. Fun fact: Kyrie has made 16-24 3-point shots against teams with Jeff Teague in the last two postseasons.
MM: Lance Stephenson trying to annoy LeBron???
MZ: Everything said, I think this series will be fairly simple for the Cavs. The X-Factor will probably be how players not named LeBron James or Kyrie Irving look prior to a likely Round 2 matchup with a tough Raptors defense.
DH: I think the outcome of this series will be pretty straightforward, but the Cavs can’t look at it that way. They need to start developing a rhythm on both ends and use this series as an opportunity to get better rather than just another walk in the park.
JR: How Tristan Thompson plays against Myles Turner. Turner is a tough matchup for Thompson with his size and skill. If the Pacers win that matchup, there aren’t a lot of adjustments the Cavs can make. Could make things difficult.
Series prediction and why:
AR: Cavs in six. I think the Cavs will flip the switch, but it might take a game or two to find their groove. Add in a loss in Indiana and you’ve got yourself a six game series. I think the series will be similar to last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, another six game series, where the four Cavs victories were blowouts.
ER: Cavs in three. Indy throws in the towel after a 20-point blowout on their home court, as the Cavs shoot poorly but seemingly grab EVERY rebound that ever existed.
MM: Cavs in five.
MZ: Cavs in 5. Paul George will probably steal either Game 3 or 4 in Indy.
DH: Cavs in 5. The Pacers will probably steal a game in Indy, but the Cavs will get it done.
JR: Cavs take care of business in five games.