As you prepare to spend your final evening free from the day-to-day grip of anxiety and excitement that makes up the NBA playoff season, your Cleveland Cavaliers enter the postseason proclaimed as the favorite to capture the NBA title. Aphorizing pundits have firmly affixed the “target on the back” of the Cavs. With these lofty expectations, the pressure on MVP LeBron James and Coach Mike Brown is at a level which they have not likely experienced in their careers. One writer this morning framed it as “the legacy of the 2010 playoffs is about LeBron: If he wins, it is his career-affirming first title; if another team wins, the story is that LeBron didn’t win the title.”
With the start of the second season, the internet is full of predictions and projections. ESPN writer J.A. Adande has labeled the Lakers as the team with the most question marks while listing the Cavaliers as the best team coming into the playoffs, writing:
The size to match up with the Magic and Lakers, and the LeBron that no team has an answer for. They could possibly end up with the payback slate of Boston (2008 playoffs) and Orlando (2009 playoffs) after an appetizer of Chicago (cue the Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo and Gerald Wilkins clips).
ESPN colleague John Hollinger is in the business of projections based on various statisical formulas. Forget about the Bulls series, he has the Cavaliers winning the Finals in 6 over the Phoenix Suns and calls a for an Eastern Conference Finals between Orlando and Cleveland that will serve as “the real NBA finals.” Hollinger, in a separate piece on who has the most riding on this postseason, stated that:
It’s tempting to say “LeBron James,” but it’s the Cleveland fans who will be a mess all spring, as it’s an especially nervous postseason for multiple reasons. For starters, obviously, there’s the possibility of James departing, which creates added drama for fans who want to win a title while he’s still around.
And in the bigger picture, there’s the little matter of Cleveland not having won a crown of any sort in 46 years. The last Cleveland team to win a championship was the 1964 Browns, making this the longest drought for any city with three major sports teams (actually, this city briefly had four). That can end this year, as the Cavaliers enter the playoffs with the league’s best player and the league’s best record … but Cleveland fans will be waiting for the worst the whole time.
LeBron insists the Cavs, who seemingly have not played a meaningful game since late February, will be prepared to unleash their full potential as the Bulls come to town this weekend. The playoff chatter is already beginning to heat up. Excitable Bulls forward Joakim Noah has stated the Bulls are going to try and “shock the world” and that he was hoping for a matchup with the Cavaliers. LeBron responded last night by saying
“We’re ready for the challenge. I think Noah’s a really good player. He’s a really good talent. But, you know, he asked for us a couple weeks ago and he got us. So we’re ready. It’s a different monster they’re going to be playing against on Saturday.”
The pressure is on Coach Mike Brown as well who often bears the brunt of fury from the fans and criticism from the national media when something goes wrong with the Cavaliers. With the national spotlight on his every move over the next month, the intensity of that pressure will only increase. But I encourage everyone to spend their Friday evening relaxing before the postseason begins tomorrow and we focus on the Bulls series. It is good to be playing meaningful games again, even if that meaningfulness can induce trepidation and anxiety amongst us. As LeBron put it,
“I’ve been waiting personally on this since Game 6 of the Orlando series,” he said. “It kind of hurts for a long time. You kind hold that in for all summer and all regular season to get back to this point. I’ll be happy Saturday when I get the opportunity to release it.”
Last week, James made a speech to his teammates, reminding them of what’s at stake.
“I basically just said this is the time. This is what everyone was brought here for. This is what everybody worked hard in the offseason all year long. This is the time now. There’s no time to look backwards. It’s all about straight forward and just the vision of us winning an NBA championship.”