Cavaliers prepare for title run

The return of Cleveland’s prodigal son has also marked the return of postseason basketball in this city as the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2010. Superstar Lebron James left for Miami after that season, returning somewhat unexpectedly to the team this year.

Despite a rocky first few months of the season that saw the team drop below .500 as late as January, there was never any doubt this team was bound for the upper tier of the Eastern Conference standings sooner or later. Since James returned from an injury on Jan. 13 the Cavs have won 33 of their last 42 games and will enter the playoffs as the number two seed in the East, with a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics on deck.

In addition to the “King,” General Manager David Griffin also played a significant role in the team’s turnaround with a couple of savvy midseason trades. First, he acquired Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the New York Knicks for pennies on the dollar. Shumpert has played his usual brand of tough defense, while Smith has provided an extra scoring option. Then, noting that the team needed a presence in the paint following an injury to Anderson Varejao, Griffin swooped in and nabbed Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets for a couple of draft picks. Mozgov has provided the Cavs with the inside presence on defense that they expected, allowing the team’s overall defense to take a significant leap in the second half of the season. Those trades completely changed the trajectory of the Cavs’ season, vaulting them to the top of the conference.

Heading into the playoffs, the Cavs appear to be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. In the east, the main competition facing this squad includes the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bulls have brought their usual brand of hard-nosed play this year, and once again overcoming injuries to star player Derrick Rose to finish in the upper tier of the Eastern Conference standings.

With Rose back in the fold heading into the playoffs, Chicago is primed to give the Cavs all they can handle if they should square off in this postseason. The Hawks, on the other hand, play a more efficient brand of basketball, featuring no household names but instead a group of solid players who play well together. After a hot streak that saw them win 33 games in a 35-game span, including an undefeated month of January, Atlanta enters the playoffs sporting the best record in the conference. However, the question remains, if they will have any answers for the Cavs’ star power in a head to head series. Both these teams have the ability to push the Cavs to the limit, but they also carry major question marks not faced by the Cavs.

Of course, Lebron James and Kyrie Irving will have to do the heavy lifting for the Cavs to have any hope of sniffing the trophy this year. Both players averaged more than 20 points per game this season, and both can take over a game at any moment. If the Cavs do advance to the finals and face the winner of the rugged Western Conference, the scoring abilities of James and Irving will become even more crucial. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are also capable of piling up points in a hurry, adding another dimension to the offense that will be needed as the team advances further into the tournament.

There’s no doubt that the road to the championship will be paved with obstacles for these Cavs. However, you always have to like their chances with James on the court. With the team beginning to live up to its immense potential and questions surrounding their foremost competition, the Cavs have to be considered the odds on favorites to emerge from the Eastern Conference and given a puncher’s chance at hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.