Who can overthrow Cleveland in the East?
With LeBron James and the Cavaliers as the favorite from the East, what other team has the best chances to dethrone the King?
Let me start this out by saying this: I don’t believe any team in the East has enough depth to beat LeBron James and company in a best of seven series. That being said, I think there are several teams who potentially could keep LeBron from a fourth ring.
Cleveland enters the postseason lacking confidence. The Cavs finished up the regular season by losing nine of its final 15 games, including their final four games of the season. Since the All-Star break this summer, the Cavaliers have the second-worst defensive numbers in the NBA. This is normally not a big deal for one of the league’s highest scoring offenses, but the team looks to be struggling both on and off the court with team chemistry.
While the Cavs closed out the regular season in an epic downward spiral, the Celtics finished strong, clinching the No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008 with a 53-29 record.
However, many analysts have coined this years Celtics team the “worst top seed in the history of the NBA.” I think that’s a little bit of a reach, but the Celtics definitely are one of the weaker top seeds I’ve seen in my lifetime. They have the players and coach to make a deep run but I just don’t see them having that “bite” to knock of LeBron James in a playoff series.
Here is a bold statement for you guys. The Washington Wizards are the best team right now in the East, and have the best chance to beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series.
Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but the Wizards entered this season with a new mentality by bringing in Oklahoma City’s former head coach Scott Brooks, who has several years of playoff experience, and re-signing standout guard Bradley Beal to a long-term deal. It was clear from the start of the season that this was going to be a make-or-break year for the Wizards organization.
This isn’t the same Wizards team we’ve seen struggle in postseason play in years past, either. After a poor first quarter of the season, the Wizards bounced back strong, securing their first division title in 38 years. The turning point in the season could be pinpointed to their Feb. 6 matchup at home, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For those who don’t recall the game, Cleveland was down one with 15 seconds remaining. LeBron has a wide-open layup to win the game. What does he do? Chokes, walks and misses the go ahead layup, only to immediately turn around after a couple Washington free throws, catch a full-court inbounds pass, fade away and hit a ridiculous banked 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. The Cavs then pulled away in OT, stealing a game from the hands of the John Wall and the Wizards, ending Washington’s 17-game home winning streak.
John Wall called the matchup back in February one of the biggest of his career, along with stating that a loss like that “leaves a lasting sting on a player.”
Now the Wizards aren’t one of the most talented teams, nor do they have multiple All-Stars, but they have enough talent to compete in a weak (but growing) Eastern conference. Since February’s heartbreaker against the Cavs, the Wizards have woken up going 24-14 to finish the season, including shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and a shocking 37.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Wall, Beal and the rest of the Wizards are going to have to continue to carry that sting into the postseason and use it as motivation if they plan on making an extended playoff run.
The 2017 NBA Playoffs start Saturday April 15, and the Wizards start their postseason campaign against Atlanta on Sunday at 1 p.m. on TNT.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of Creative Commons