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It seems like we ask this question every 15-20 games, but here goes: Are the Cavs, as constructed right now,the team to beat in the East?
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Steve Aschburner: The Cavs are still the team to beat because they have LeBron James reinvigorated and a little bit out on Responsibility Island. The moves GM Koby Altman made were done with James’ blessing, from all reports, so he owns the results too for at least the next four months or so. Having witnessed how he “coached up” the likes of Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson through the 2015 postseason to a six-game Finals against Golden State, I’m confident he can work similar magic with George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr. over 29 games and a couple of training-wheel playoff series. By the conference finals, whether it’s Boston or Toronto, we’ll see a more vibrant Cavs team than the one James and Altman just put asunder.
Tas Melas: They are. Their weaknesses after the trades: Playoff experience, a lack of rim protection, and a thin frontcourt (especially with Kevin Love’s injury), but it’s nothing a rejuvenated LeBron with more youthful legs around him can’t overcome. The fast break with Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson will be something to watch. George Hill has played in 83 playoff games and will make big shots. Rodney Hood should score a lot off the bench. The worry is if they continue to fall in the standings, they could have three tough series, which could all be on the road, versus the likes of the Washington Wizards/Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and an improved Toronto Raptors team. And, what will Love look in these difficult series, returning to the court from that hand injury in late March or early April?
Shaun Powell: Yes, because they’ve still got LeBron and the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors don’t. Even though the next 15-20 games will have a training camp feel in Cleveland, with all the new faces and maybe a different style of play needed to accommodate their talents, someone in the East must beat LeBron four times in seven games this spring. You buying that? It all comes back to him.
John Schuhmann: I could change my mind come April 14, but right now, I see the East as wide open, with no “team to beat.” The Celtics are better than they were last season, are still holding onto the No. 1 seed, and have had the league’s best defense. The Raptors are better than they were last season, are right on the Celtics’ heels, and are the only team in the league that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But Boston has struggled offensively at times and Toronto’s depth won’t be as big of an advantage in the playoffs with shorter rotations. The Cavs have LeBron James, but still have a lot of work to do to rise to the level of the two teams ahead of them in the East standings, especially on defense. The East playoffs should be a lot more fun than they have been the last few years and I’m not booking any hotels for the conference finals just yet.
Sekou Smith: Give me at least five games with this renovated Cavaliers roster and then I’ll make my assessment of their chances of regaining their favorites status in the Eastern Conference. Because based on what we saw from the Cavaliers from Christmas up until the trade deadline, they were in danger of not making the conference finals. They had fallen so hard and so far in such short order, I’d already removed them from my top spot in the East in favor of Boston and Toronto. And yes, I know LeBron is still there and the most important factor for a team trying to claim the conference crown. But I wasn’t sure he was even capable of rescuing the previous version of the Cavaliers. This new crew has to come together quickly and show me that they are indeed back to being the version of the Cavaliers who won 18 of 19 games earlier this season. When I see signs of that group again, I’ll be glad to push them back up in the pecking order. But not a moment sooner.
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