The Cleveland Cavaliers are winners of 7 of the last 8 games. It is a positive sign heading into the All-Star break for a team that finished January with a losing record (7-8). According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, “it’s the first time he’s (LeBron James) had a losing record in a calendar month in more than 10 years, since February 2006.” Luckily for the Cavs, they are witnessing an even greater LeBron in the month of February where he is averaging: 27 pts, 6 reb, 10.6 asts, and 1.25 stls. The most impressive part is his outside shooting numbers where James is knocking down 61% (20 of 33) of his three point attempts.
LeBron’s shooting numbers will tell a huge part in their chances of repeating. If LeBron is feeling confident and knocking his jumper down; the defense cannot sag off his shot and dare him to shot. That is a tactic that Greg Popovich and Steve Kerr have both used in previous finals. But if James can continue his outside shooting success, he will be virtually impossible to stop. The finals come down to three things for LeBron every year: health, teammate production and his outside shooting.
The Cavaliers health is currently in jeopardy with Kevin Love (knee, 6 weeks) and J.R Smith (thumb, 3 weeks) out of the line-up. Although, they both should be back by the time playoffs start. These two injuries should not hinder the Cavaliers chances at repeating this June as long as they return without further injury.
No matter how great LeBron can be in the NBA Finals, he cannot overcome a team of injuries. In 2015, Kevin Love (game 4 of first round) and Kyrie Irving (game 1 of NBA Finals) both went down with injuries. LeBron was absolutely fantastic in this series against the Warriors averaging: 35.8 pts, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 asts. Although LeBron put up historically great numbers and was the first player to ever lead both teams in all major categories (points, rebounds, and assists); he would eventually lose to the Golden State Warriors (4-2).
To a smaller degree, the same thing happened to LeBrons’ Miami Heat team in 2014. Although all members of the big three played in the finals against the Spurs, they (D. Wade & C. Bosh) were definitely not the same players. It was evident that Dwayne Wade was losing a step and was not able to provide that secondary scoring punch (15.2 pts per game in the NBA Finals) anymore. It looked as if his knees were done and that his body caught up to the wear and tear of four straight final appearances. Chris Bosh did not help the offensive frustration with posting 14 pts per game in the Finals. Both D. Wade and C. Bosh posted numbers well below their career averages.
Injuries have shown to be a factor in 2 of the last 3 NBA finals for LeBron. It was even a factor in last year’s NBA finals. Just this time it happened to the opposing team when Andrew Bogut went down with a leg injury. This was one of the turning points in last year’s finals resulting in Cleveland breaking its 52 year drought without a championship.
Conclusion: Cavaliers Big 3 must stay healthy.
Player production is an obvious need for a championship team but is often overlooked when your team is headlined with LeBron James. You never have to worry about his production except in his first year (2010-2011) in Miami. It was the first time LeBron James did not show up in a playoff series where he averaged 17.8 pts, 7.2 reb, and 6.8 assists in the finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks (4-2). We have seen a LeBron lead team representing the East in the NBA Finals for the last 6 years! James has the ability to take any roster in the league to the finals in the Eastern Conference as we saw in 2007.
As said previously, LeBron can be historically great but cannot do it on his own. In 2007, James led a Cavaliers team to the NBA finals that had absolutely no chance at beating the San Antonio Spurs and would get swept four games to zero. Can you guess who was the second leading scorer for the Cavaliers and was it under/over 15ppg?
If you guessed Drew Gooden and under (12.8 ppg) than you are either: a die-hard Cavs fan or someone with too much useless knowledge. The Cavaliers also only had 2 players besides LeBron to average more than 10 points per game in that series. Can you guess the other player? It’s not Zydrunas Illgauskas and I am assuming your next logical guess may be Sasha Pavlovic which I will let you know; it’s not him either… Do you give up? It was Daniel “Boobie” Gibson who averaged 10.8 points per game.
LeBron teams are:
0-2 (2007 & 2014) when they have 3 players averaging at least 10 points per game in the NBA Finals.
1-2 (2011, 2015, & 2016) when they have 4 players averaging at least 10 points per game in the NBA Finals.
2-0 (2012 & 2013) when they have 5 players averaging at least 10 points per game in the finals
Conclusion: The Cavaliers big 3 must stay healthy and get solid production from their role players (J.R., Korver, R. Jefferson, T. Thompson, C. Frye, or Shumpert).
The least important part to a Cavs repeat is LeBron’s shooting numbers. Mainly, because LeBron is so consistent that it is hard to find any correlation between his shooting and championships. The two things listed above (health & bench help) must happen first before James shooting numbers go into effect.
LeBron has never won a championship when posting under 50% true shooting or under 40% shooting from the field. Also, James is 3-0 when he shoots a total of 100-150 times in the series. I truly don’t expect James to shoot over 150 times and under 40% from the field, unless he is asked to do too much because injuries have happened. I would also not expect LeBron to shoot under 100 times again. In the two finals he shot under 100 times; one was a sweep in 2007 and the other one was in his first year in Miami (2011) when he was trying to “fit in.”
Although LeBron’s outside shooting may be the least important, it also could make the Cavs even more unstoppable come playoff time. James seemed to find his shooting touch going into the all-star break. If he can resemble his shooting touch (61% from three) going into the playoffs, it will give other coaches nightmares on how to stop the Cavs. Teams could no longer sag off LeBron and man-mark his shooters making this team even more DANGEROUS!
Conclusion: The Cavaliers big 3 must stay healthy and be able to rely on 2-3 role players to score at least 10 points per game. LeBron must find the happy medium of passing and take over. Lastly, if LeBron can shoot from outside, then the Cavaliers will repeat as NBA Champions!