It was always going to be hard to predict how Cleveland would do in their first season with Lebron James back.
Some said it was "championship or bust" and others suggested that the team was too inexperienced to win now.
It is fair to say that the cynics were proven right over the first half of the season. The Cavs never really meshed and all three superstars looked disinterested and un-involved. The poor start was culminated by James calling the team "fragile" and then taking a two week hiatus to recover physically and mentally.
Since the return of a fresh James and the additions of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov the Cavs have been incredible. But can they go all the way to the finals?
After starting 19-20 the Cavs would explode to a 34-9 record to end the season. During that time the team grew together and the pieces began to fit. For the first time in the season the Cavs looked strong on defense with Mozgov at the rim. Shumpert was utilized as a versatile wing defender and Lebron was free to roam around looking for the interception or block.
On offence the improvement was just as apparent, the Cavs led the league with 11.8 3-point field goals per game thanks to the spacing provided by Smith, Jones and Love. After two 50 point games for Kyrie Irving and an impressive eleven game with streak the hype was beginning to grow; the Cavs could win it all.
During the Cavs' resurgence a team in the West was looking as good if not better; the Golden State Warriors (led by eventual MVP Stephen Curry).
The Warriors would finish the season with an incredible 67-15 record led by rookie coach Steve Kerr. Golden State would finish with the second best Offensive Efficiency rating and the best Defensive rating.
In fact as a team they also finished first in True Shooting Percentage and Assists per game. The Warriors made it clear to everyone that they would be no pushovers come playoff time.
Race in the East
In the East, Cleveland faced another challenger for the top seed. Eventually, thanks in large part to a great start, the Atlanta Hawks would take it.
The Hawks were a unique success story because of their style of play. They didn't have a big name star, a fact that was no more apparent when all five of their starters won Player of the Month. Like the Spurs they focused on an 'extra-pass offence' and an excellent inside-out game. It was obvious that the Hawks were no pushovers either.
And now to the present, the Conference semis have just concluded and we are now at the business end of the playoffs. Cleveland face the Hawks and Golden State have Houston. The unpredictability of the playoffs makes it hard to pick an eventual winner but I'll give it a go anyway.
Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets
The MVP and the runner-up will face off in what promises to be a playoff classic. During the regular season the Warriors swept the Rockets 4-0 by an average of 15.3 points.
During those games Curry shot 58% from the field and 62% from three. While a sweep is unlikely this time, the Warriors are the better all-round team. While the individual dual of Harden vs Curry is the talking point, the series will come down to who can play defense down the stretch.
After a grueling 7-game series with the Clippers, the Rockets will have a lot to overcome.
Result: Golden State in 6
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Atlanta Hawks
The best player in the world faces his biggest challenge this year.
With Love out and Kyrie hobbled, Lebron will have to take matters into his own hands. Atlanta will have a slight edge inside with Millsap and Horford, but Cleveland certainly have the advantage in speed and skill.
However, Atlanta have x-factors in Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll which could prove to be instrumental.
In order to win the Cavs will need everything fall into place; meaning J.R. has to continue to step up in big moments, and Mozgov and Thompson must control the boards. Anything can happen between these teams and it almost certainly will.
Result: Cleveland in 7
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