The Cavaliers are the team to beat in NBA
By TAYLOR ROSEN
College Contributor Network
Are there any people out there still doubting the Cleveland Cavaliers and the odds of them hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy come June? After dismantling what many claim to be the favorite in the mighty Western Conference (Golden State Warriors) in what was a playoff atmosphere at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night, I think it's safe to say that the Cavaliers are a force to be reckoned with, and the team to beat in the NBA.
Heading into Thursday's showdown it was no secret that LeBron James was being labeled by many NBA 'experts' and 'analysts' as only a runner-up for the MVP award this year -- with Golden State guard Stephen Curry ahead of James in the race. James spoke before the game and said that's not why he plays the game. But if you watched that game, LeBron's actions and his words, from where I'm sitting, appear to be like night and day. James proved why he's still the best basketball player on the planet and why it's, still, not even close.
It certainly appeared as if James had a chip on his shoulder, he scored a season-high 42 points, on 15-of-25 shooting from the field against the Warriors. He set the tone for the rest of the team with his aggressive play and, at times, made it look effortless. James also grabbed 11 rebounds, had five assists and made three steals in 36 minutes. The Q was rocking after witnessing the mesmerizing display James put on for the home crowd. With the win, the Cavs have moved to 37-22, and won 11 consecutive games at home. The team has finally developed chemistry, and is hitting on all cylinders.
The only thing that Cavs fans have to worry about as of right now is the health of the 'Big Three' and the rest of the rotation. It's essential the Cavaliers make it into the playoffs completely healthy and at full strength. Cavs fans biggest concern right now should be the left shoulder of Kyrie Irving, and the knees and back of LeBron James and Kevin Love, respectively.
Irving jammed his shoulder when dribbling around a pick towards the basket during the second half of the game against the Warriors. James has been dealing with knee and back soreness all season long and has taken some well-earned nights off to get some additional rest. Love has been dealing with a bad back, and knee, practically all season. Love tweaked the knee during the second half of Friday night's 86-93 loss at Indiana.
Love never left the game, he scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had three assists in 36 minutes. He showed grit, and toughness by finishing the game out after tweaking the knee. Love knew the Cavs needed him to produce with Irving, and James out for the night, and he was willing to give it his all in order to get the job done, just like he has been all season. That's something you should take into consideration before buying into any 'Love wants out of Cleveland' rumors that have been reported practically all season long.
Not to mention it's not the end of the world if James and Irving miss a few games, it'll help the rest of the rotation gain confidence. Even though the Cavs came up short against Indiana, Blatt allowed guys like Iman Shumpert, James Jones, and Mike Miller to get some more playing time and opportunities to put the ball in the basket. Confidence is key in basketball, which is another reason why I agree with Blatt's decision completely.
Cavs fans shouldn't be worried about catching Atlanta in the standings, and they certainly shouldn't be worried about a loss to a feisty Indiana team, on the road, without James and Irving. As I said earlier, the biggest concern for this Cavaliers team is health. If the Cavs can finish out the regular season strong, and get to April at full strength, this team will more than likely end up in the NBA Finals, barring any injuries or madness taking place.
The decision by coach David Blatt to sit James was a wise one because he knows what James is capable of, he saw it against the Warriors. Blatt wants to ensure that's what he'll be getting out of his superstar on a nightly basis when the playoffs start in 40 or so days. 40 games in 40 nights certainly will take its toll on the body and, with the amount of minutes LeBron has already logged in his career, it just makes sense to give the now 30-year-old more rest. Remember the last time Blatt decided to give James a little time off? Right after the Waiters trade, James returned and the Cavs won 12 straight, and that run turned the season around.
If the Cavs can handle what many proclaim to be the favorite in the West, and the best team in the league, and take a pesky, scrapping-for-its-playoff-life Indiana team down to the wire without James, and Irving, then it shouldn't be hard to believe that the Cavaliers can win the NBA championship this season.
When you have LeBron James on your team, you're always in the mix. Irving, Love and company will need to play their best basketball come playoff time for the Cavs to win it all, but LeBron knows when to put his foot on the gas, and that's exactly what he did Thursday night. He showed the killer instinct in Miami, and he showed it against Golden State.
The Cavs are a dangerous team when James plays at that level, and come playoff time, with the desire he has to bring Cleveland a championship, it'll be interesting to see if anyone, or any team, can stop him and the freight train that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Taylor Rosen is a junior at Kent State University. He spent time with The Stater covering Kent State football and basketball. Taylor is from Cleveland, and has Cleveland sports under a microscope. Follow him on Twitter: @T_Rosen11