Cleveland Cavaliers: 5 reasons they will win the East
Face it, as an NBA fan you've been completely swept off your feet this year with shock and excitement.
The Association is usually a place where bad teams stay bad and good teams receive all the publicity. The very nature of the league, the way it's set up and how one dominant player can reverse fortunes in a snap of a finger lends to this kind of reality.
It's a league filled with a few "haves" and a whole bunch of "have-nots," which leads to awful scenarios of tanking – as it truly remains the only way to start in the right direction. If you're an NBA general manager and you don't possess that franchise superstar, then you're doing everything in your power to obtain one.
While there's very little parity due to the of the nooks and crannies of the sport, the 2014-15 season has proved to be a sensational treat.
In the end though, the mainstays (like LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers) will find navigate through the playoffs and find themselves enjoying more success over some of these "pleasant surprises" who have brought such shock and excitement.
One of these surprises is of course the Atlanta Hawks.
This team, which doesn't have a household name in the building, currently sports the best record in the East at an incredible 50-13. Guys like Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Al Horford have come together in the most unusual of ways under second-year coach Mike Budenholzer.
Nobody saw this coming.
The San Francisco treat comes from local Golden State and serves as the other major surprise in the league.
Rookie head coach Steve Kerr and his "Splash Brothers" have simply been unconscious all season long. Stephen Curry has taken his stock to top three player in the season with his absurd stat-line.
The familiar names of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and of course, LeBron James, have taken a back seat in the basketball news cycle over the last several months. Instead, new elite names like Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook are throwing down strong bids for a first MVP.
Does this whirlwind season automatically mean a change for the playoffs?
In recent history an NBA fan could count the number of teams on one hand who legitimately had a chance to touch that Larry O'Brien Trophy. Does the arrival of Atlanta and Golden State signify change for the league that struggles so mightily with parity?
The short answer is no, and because of it, LeBron's Cavs will take advantage this spring.
Here's the five biggest reasons the Cavs will win the Eastern Conference in 2015.
5. Remember, this is the NBA
While basketball will always remain one of the truest team sports in the world, the NBA will forever remain a superstar league.
There are many factors.
One is the fact that a single human can provide so much in helping a team win. While most onlookers only look at points and phenomenal cross-overs on the court, the all-around ability of a superstar is where an entire team gets lifted to obscene levels.
Why did Michael Jordan win six titles during the 1990's, robbing Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller of a few rings? Because the man had such a brilliant all-around game that lifted an entire organization.
He not only came up bigger than anybody in the clutch moment, but for his career he shot a sensational .497 from the floor during his career as well as chipping in with 5.2 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game.
That type of efficiency is way too often overlooked in this league.
With only 12-roster spots per team, and anywhere from eight to 10 guys in a rotation, it's only natural.
Anybody other than the Cavs, Spurs or Warriors claiming the 2015 championship this season would be one of the most incredible shockers in NBA history.
Just look through history and see how top heavy teams are with championships. The love is rarely spread around.
4. Competition is scarce
Much like a terrible horror movie that you cannot escape (since you know the very predictable script), is how Chicago Bulls fans feel on a yearly basis.
The club starts out hot like gangbusters – with a superb rotation, loaded from point guard to big. Then though, franchise player Derrick Rose gets hurt and requires surgery.
This season was looking to be ultra special with young Jimmy Butler entering the brink of stardom. Averaging over 20 a game playing lock-down defense, how could anybody think differently?
Unfortunately though, Rose's injury has been accompanied by Butler's, and the "real championship" competition in the East just went from three teams down to two.
Only the Hawks can knock off this Cleveland team during the tournament.
I simply cannot get behind the Toronto Raptors or the Washington Wizards as a serious threat to either Atlanta or Cleveland. Chicago and Indiana have too many injury questions to have a legitimate shot.
Since the additions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs have completely hit their stride at the right time of the season – at one point winning 17 of 19 games.
3. Do you really trust the Hawks?
There's no question the Hawks are a phenomenal squad.
Under Budenholzer they've created an atmosphere that preaches the open man always acting as the superstar. Their play in transition and on the defensive end is chalk-full of basketball awareness.
Is it any wonder only a guy who came from the life-long teachings of Greg Popovich can pull something like this off?
That's where LeBron will meet his true test, as dealing with Popovich coached teams has haunted him.
Two of the three NBA Finals losses The King has suffered has come at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs (2007 and 2014). While LeBron has always played the team game (while also molding his team to the team level he wants), he's come up short and struggled mightily against the ultimate team-game genius coached by Popovich.
Where it gets tricky for Cleveland in these playoffs is the fact that Budenholzer is a Popovich clone, serving 19 seasons on the San Antonio bench.
The trust issues come into play when realizing the Hawks have no go to guy during the last moments of a critical game. It presents a major hurdle for Budenholzer's crew.
San Antonio has been able to get past it at certain points, but when Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan are on the squad all bets are off.
Where will Budenholzer go in a one point game with three seconds to play?
2. LeBron James
It's completely okay that Stephen Curry and James Harden fight out the rest of regular season for this season's MVP.
Still, winning the award doesn't mean either of them are better players than James.
It's happened frequently through the course of history. In 1997, Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz took home the award even through every level-headed person fan in the world knew Jordan was still top dog. It also happened to Jordan in 1993 as Charles Barkley was crowned.
The best baller in the world cannot win the hardware every season.
As it relates to the main event though, I'll take my chances with LeBron James over those guys any day. In my mind, only Curry has elevated his stock onto the edge of James' peripheral.
James guards the best player on the opposing team every night. Does Harden or Curry do that?
James is second in the league with 26 points per game while contributing 7.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. Oh yeah, he's also shooting a cool .488 from the field which might pale in comparison to his career .496 mark, but still destroys most of the MVP candidates out there.
Take a gander at Harden's field goal percentage and +/- number and get back to me.
1. The playoffs are a different animal
During the last 10 games for each team, both the Hawks and Cavs sport records of 7-3.
When thinking about the playoffs, it doesn't matter.
Both teams will finish as division champs and odds are will be the top two seeds in the conference. It will set up that road for Atlanta and Cleveland to meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
I don't care of the Hawks win their final 19 games in dominant fashion. The NBA Playoffs are a completely different game than what these squads see in the regular season.
That once free-flowing game which sports so many open guys in transition suddenly becomes a half-court physical nightmare. Referees starting choking on the whistle and coaches campaign as hard as any politician during the post-game presser to get the friendly whistle the next game.
Having that one guy to throw the ball to in a do or die situation is of the utmost importance in the playoffs.
For Cleveland, they have their guy. In Atlanta, it's a major question mark.
Al Horford could possibly be that guy as his low block game is still very impressive. The problem there is this is an NBA is different from 20-years ago. It's tough to dump the ball into the low post during an end of game situation.
The way the game is played now with no hand-checking and such freedom along the perimeter has made the NBA a guard's league a while ago – and why that clutch shot needs to be in the hands of a finisher in an iso situation.
Neither Horford, Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague has proved worthy of that situation. Although dipping a bit in percentage, Kyle Korver can always knock down a critical bucket, but when only a few seconds remain in a SOB (side out-of-bounds) situation, there's not enough time for a play.
With how physical playoff basketball becomes, LeBron James gives the Cavs that ultimate weapon.
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