For the second year in a row, LeBron James faced minimal scrutiny for his inability to secure a championship. Rather, he has been praised for exceeding expectations and taking his team as far as possible. Most of this accolade seems to be earned, considering his deep numbers and lack of attendance from his teammates. According to ESPNIn the 2015 Finals, LeBron James averaged a ridiculous 35.8 points, 8.8 assists and 13.3 rebounds. Such dominant numbers in all respects would leave even the all-time greats in awe. With Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving out due to injury, LeBron amazingly led a Cavaliers team with Timofey Mozgov as the second leading scorer, two wins against a historically great Golden State team.
As flawless as LeBron James appears to be in the Finals, there are aspects of his performance that should be criticized. His incredible scoring numbers didn’t come with incredible efficiency, in fact, he shot a woefully inefficient 39.8% from the court. Despite being known for his ability to always make the right basketball play, LeBron James had his fair share of ill-advised shots in this series. Also like Hoops habit Notes, Cleveland always played its worst basketball in the fourth quarter. If they had had more impressive fourth quarters, the series could have gone the other way. Now, all the responsibility for that shouldn’t fall on LeBron James, but he should be held accountable as the team leader. Finally, his main defender, Andre Iguodala, won the Finals MVP.
Similarly, last year, Kawhi Leonard won the Finals MVP after protecting Lebron for the majority of the series’ possessions. That year, LeBron James and the Heat lost to the Spurs in the Finals by a record 70-point margin. As lethal as those Spurs were, a team made up of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen shouldn’t be breaking records for the wrong reasons. However, LeBron James’ average of 28.2 points on 57.1% shooting, according to Basketball-Reference, appears to outweigh his team’s failures. However, this season, LeBron James will not have the narrative of not having enough help to lean on if he fails to take home that coveted championship to Cleveland.
In the first place, barring an unforeseen setback, the Cavaliers should be able to navigate to the NBA Finals, as LeBron James has seemingly done for what seems like forever. In the 2015 playoffs, the Cavaliers, with Kevin Love out and a limping Kyrie Irving, lost just two games en route to LeBron James’ fifth straight trip to the Finals. Both players should be relatively healthy this upcoming season, and along with a revamped bench that now consists of Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson, the Cavaliers should be big favorites in the East.
There will always be experts who will say that a team like Chicago or Miami has a chance, but it would be irrational to bet against the Cavs. Arguably his biggest competition is a Bulls team he beat with Love and Irving got injured. The Heat, while made up of solid options at every position, lack the overall talent of the Cavaliers and rely too heavily on injury-prone Dwayne Wade. Therefore, LeBron James has no reason not to make his sixth consecutive appearance in the Finals.
However, if he doesn’t even manage to lead his team to the final, then he misses another opportunity to improve his status among the all-time greats. He should be scrutinized, as other superstars have been, for failing to make the final despite having a superior roster. However, this is all hypothetical, and most likely LeBron James will face the team that made it out of the brutal Western Conference.
The sheer number of title contenders in the Western Conference instigates the perception that any team that represents the West in the Finals is far superior to its Eastern counterpart. This perception has given LeBron James leeway to escape criticism should he lose in the Finals. In fact, this perception seems to persist into the next season. Teams like the Spurs, with their talent and depth, seem incapable of losing to an Eastern Conference foe in a seven-game series. No one would blink if the Warriors, Clippers or Thunder beat the Cavaliers in the Finals. Even the Rockets would have a fair chance.
In reality, the Cavaliers can realistically beat any of these teams in a series. Ace Bleach Report Notes, the Cavaliers had a phenomenal 13-1 record against the Western Conference in the second half of last season. They have 3 of the top 20 players in the league in LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love. These three players made up the league’s highest-scoring trio, according to 247 Sports. His bench, while unspectacular, is competent enough to give the Cavaliers the depth they need to compete with these Western Conference adversaries. Above all, they have one thing that no other team in the league possesses: the greatness of LeBron James.
Their combination of otherworldly athleticism and elite basketball IQ provides the Cavaliers with all the ingredients they need to win a championship. Despite all his incredulous numbers in both the regular season and the playoffs, to truly challenge Michael Jordan as the GOAT, he needs to show that he is capable of revolutionizing a franchise, with a championship. Michael did it with the Bulls, Duncan with the Spurs, Kareem with the Bucks, Bird with the Celtics, and so on. Despite being the undisputed leader of those Heat champion teams, Dwayne Wade remained the face of the franchise. Now that you have all the pieces, there will be no excuses. It’s time to bring Cleveland its first championship in more than 50 years.