Dude who looks exactly like the guy whose picture accompanies this column wrote a few weeks back that the Cavaliers would not duplicate the 12-2 record they had in the Eastern Conference playoffs each of the last two years.
Ran into him Sunday night at a local watering hole, and he told me what he meant was the Cavs might actually go 12-1 or — gasp! — 12-0 in 2017.
With a minimum seven-day break and maximum of nine before the start of the conference final — Cleveland will play Monday if the Washington-Boston series ends in six games and a week from Wednesday (May 17) if it goes seven — now is as good a time as any to let Dude try to explain the skepticism he had then and the optimism he has now.
We’ll start with the latter and make it brief: The Cavs went 23-23 over their last 46 games of the regular season, including a 10-14 mark in March and April that featured a four-game losing streak to end the season. They ranked 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, had focus issues and often lacked intensity, especially when the opponent had the ball.
Then the Cavs flipped the proverbial switch, sweeping Indiana in the first round and Toronto in the conference semifinals to improve to 8-0 in the postseason.
Dude can — and will — break down the reasons for that, but he said it might be this simple: The Cavs didn’t care much at all about the regular season, and they care a ton now that they’re in the playoffs.
“The playoffs, everything is different,” coach Tyronn Lue said Sunday after his team finished the Raptors.
Boy, is it ever. So much so, in fact, that Dude vowed to me he would not spend a second worrying about the Cavs in the 2017-18 regular season (though I suspect he will be unable to resist eight or nine months from now).
Even in the first round against the Pacers, though, Dude pointed out all was not perfect. The Cavs were a missed C.J. Miles jumper away from losing Game 1, took a nap in Game 2 and had to set an NBA playoff record by overcoming a 25-point halftime deficit to win Game 3.
The Raptors were a different story. Dude said they never had a chance — and the ankle injury that sidelined Toronto guard Kyle Lowry for Games 3 and 4 had virtually nothing to do with that.
Cleveland wasn’t just the better team, it was the better team by a lot, as it outscored Toronto 183-81 from behind the 3-point line while shooting .466 from deep to the Raptors’ .300.
In all, six Cavs shot at least 40 percent from behind the arc, with Channing Frye going 9-for-14, Kyle Korver 11-for-20 and James 13-of-27.
“That’s what we do. We shoot threes,” Lue said. “We play fast. We want to push the tempo and we have great 3-point shooters. That’s the makeup of our team. That’s how we want to play. That’s just how we’re built.”
The Cavs also picked up their defense considerably — ask DeMar DeRozan about that — while playing with passion and conviction.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.
Dude said the Celtics, who would have home-court advantage, and the Wizards, who would not — their series is tied 2-2 — won’t fare any better if LeBron James and the Cavs continue their impressive play.
At 32, James has been nothing short of sensational in the 2017 postseason. The four-time league MVP has proven once and for all that he’s still head and shoulders better than anyone else in the NBA by averaging 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks.
Oh, and he’s shooting a sizzling .557 from the field, a remarkable .468 on 3-pointers (22-for-47) and a still-improving .728 at the line, where he’s attempted 11.5 free throws per game.
“When LeBron is shooting the three-ball the way he is, at the average he’s shooting it, they’re difficult,” Casey said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but they’re very difficult to beat when he’s shooting the ball like that because the floor is so spread.”
Dude said it adds up, at least to date, to what may be the finest postseason in James’ 12 playoff appearances.
“I’m going to let you guys (in the media) talk about that, as far as if this is the most complete I’ve been in my career,” James said.
Sure, James is averaging a league-high 42.4 minutes in the playoffs, but he’s played just 339 minutes thanks to Cleveland’s two sweeps. That’s fewer than someone averaging 34 minutes for 10 games — Dude did the math for me — and substantially fewer than any of Boston or Washington’s key players, all of whom will have played at least 12 games, will have logged when the conference final starts.
That trend could continue, too, as Dude now thinks it’s possible — not highly probable, but entirely possible — that the Cavs could sweep their way into the NBA Finals.
That would match the 12-0 start of the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs, who went 15-2 — the first round was best-of-five back then — en route to winning a championship.
It would also put the Cavs within striking distance of the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, who compiled an all-time best playoff mark of 15-1 with a scrappy little guard named Lue coming off the bench.
Dude said that’s looking way too far ahead, but he did tell me it would be awesome if Golden State, which was 7-0 in the postseason prior to Monday, and Cleveland both entered The Finals with 12-0 playoff records.
Dude was serious, too.
- Cavs ready to go after learning next opponent
- Commentary: Cavs' dominance answers all questions
- Cavs take 3-0 series lead
- Cavaliers: LeBron James excels at finishing opponents with sweeps
- Cavaliers 109, Raptors 102: LeBron James, Cleveland secure 2nd straight sweep, cruise into East finals
- Cavaliers Notes: Toronto's DeMar DeRozan says LeBron James too tough to stop, defensive focus should be on others
- NBA Playoffs: Cavs look to maintain mountain of momentum as series shifts to Toronto
- Commentary: In an on-and-off season, the Cavs definitely appear to be on to something good
- LeBron James scores 39 points as Cavaliers blow out Raptors, take 2-0 series lead
- LeBron: I can play better in Game 2
- Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105: Hungry, and thirsty, Cavs roll in Game 1
- Commentary: Rested, healthy and ready, Cavaliers run over Raptors
- Ready to go: Rest is fine, but LeBron James and Tyronn Lue are eager for Cavaliers to get back on the court
- James is ready to play some basketball
- Lue, LeBron not worried about star's heavy workload
- Commentary: J.R. Smith knows Cavaliers aren't where they need to be yet
- With sweep completed, Cavs play waiting game
- Cavs are an unpredictable bunch
- LeBron James, Cavaliers looking for another sweep
- Commentary: Cavaliers, with the obvious and large exception of LeBron James, are still impossible to figure out
- Cavs 106, Pacers 102: Cleveland completes not-so-clean sweep as LeBron James hits huge 3-pointer, wins 21st straight in 1st round
- Cavs one game from sweep after biggest comeback in NBA playoff history
- Cavs hang on for win
- Cavaliers 109, Pacers 108: Cleveland escapes with Game 1 win after surviving last-second shot