NICK WRIGHT: More important for the Raptors because, all of a sudden, that one seed could go away. They’ve lost four of seven, they had the brutal loss to Cleveland that, I think, shook a lot of people’s confidence in, was this going to be the same old Raptors or was this going to be a new version of the Raptors that could actually compete with Cleveland in the post-season. And now, all of a sudden, with a red hot Boston team that’s winning without Kyrie Irving, winning without Marcus Smart, they lost to Boston in their most recent game.
They play Cleveland tonight, and then on a back-to-back play Boston again. They could be, in 36 hours, the two seed in the East. They don’t want to be the two seed in the East. They don’t have to face Cleveland, potentially, in round two of the playoffs.
So Cleveland, if George Hill plays and if Kyle Korver is back– we don’t know if he will be or not– it could be, theoretically, their first game all season with the lineup they will go into the playoffs with. So in that regard, it’s important to see how Cleveland looks, and if they can finally get, I don’t know, a handful of games under their belt with what their actual rotation will be. But for the Raptors, if all of a sudden you lose the one seed to a Boston team playing without Kyrie Irving, that’s problematic for any chances they have in the post-season.
CRIS CARTER: You make a great case for it being more important for the Raptors. I’m just going to go on the other side, just so we can talk about it. The guys who haven’t been with LeBron, you talked about the lack of people being familiar, the lack of having everyone that’s going to be on the roster healthy and in a basketball uniform. What if they defeat the Raptors again by an unquestionable margin?
How much confidence do these guys, who don’t have playoff experience– because going to the playoffs was like, Jordan Clarkson, how’s he going to do? Larry Nance Jr., how’s he going to do? Last time they played Toronto, that was the first time with LeBron, them playing. So in the locker room, JR knows, Kevin Love, he knows, Tristan Thompson, he knows what LeBron can do to these teams in the East.
NICK WRIGHT: But nobody else does.
CRIS CARTER: But these new guys, until they put their eyeballs on it, and then wow, we do have an advantage with LeBron. And that’s the one thing that, in getting to know Shane Battier, and getting to know Dwayne Wade, and Ray Allen when they were in Miami, this is something that they thought but they never knew, until they got on the court with LeBron, the overall effect LeBron has on the opposition. So I believe it’s just as important for the Cavs, and these new guys, to have success against the team that has the number one seed in the East.
NICK WRIGHT: And you bring up an interesting point with the new guys because you also have to keep in mind where the new guys came from. Rodney Hood, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson– all three of those guys had played their entire careers in the West. So it’s not even like they got to experience the other side of it, like that they dealt with LeBron. When the Cavs picked up Kyle Korver at the deadline last year, Korver hadn’t played with LeBron, but he’d gotten whooped by LeBron in the conference finals.
CRIS CARTER: It would be like all these guys have been in the West but LeBron had kryptonite for Golden State. But these guys had been in the East, they had never seen it before. They were like, man, Golden State’s been killing everyone. So now they come to the East, LeBron has that same effect, and I just believe it has an effect on them. They don’t have the playoff experience with LeBron, but the more games you can play in it like this, they bring you closer to what the intensity will be like in the playoffs.
JENNA WOLFE: I think, looking at the Eastern Conference now, with a handful of games left, I don’t seem to care that much that they still have to get George Hill and Kyle Korver, and they have to figure out a way to play. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because LeBron James has single-handedly taken this team on his back to where they are right now, to the point where no one’s really sure who could be one or two when this ends in the East, where the Cavs could very well be in the driver’s seat without even half their starting rotation in planted, in place, heading into the post-season.
CRIS CARTER: Well, Jenna, one day it will matter. Even with LeBron getting monster numbers in the playoffs, it matters. LeBron, say he has a stat line of 35, 12, and 9, where did he get these other 55 points from? These guys, and whoever’s the third scorer– we know what we’re to get from Kevin Love. But it’s important who that third guy is.
Is it going to be Rodney Hood? Do we have to wait for Clarkson to come off the bench to be able to get it going? George Hill, is he going to be strong? Kyle Korver, will he be a liability defensively? So yeah, right now, it might not look– they’re just story lines. But come playoffs, LeBron needs some help. And who are these characters? It becomes important to be able to start identifying them.
NICK WRIGHT: To CC’s point, one of the last times LeBron didn’t make the NBA finals, when the Cavs got knocked out– with a supporting cast that is similar to this one– got knocked out by the Orlando Magic. LeBron, in that series, averaged 39, 8, and 8. 39, 8, and 8 for a series and they lost in six games, and would have lost in five if LeBron didn’t hit a buzzer-beating 3 to win game two. So there is precedent– granted, it was a decade ago– of LeBron being brilliant and his team getting knocked out.
I don’t think there’s a team in the East this year as good as that Orlando team was, but one other thing to watch for in tonight’s game– LeBron is talking more this year, more recently than I’ve ever heard him talk, I’m the MVP, I should be the MVP. Now, everyone at this table has said it’s James Harden. I believe it should be James Harden.
LeBron understands what these three games are– Toronto, Washington, Philly. He also understands that the Cavs, if they go 5 and 0 to finish the year, will somehow finish with more wins this year than they had last year, when there was no turmoil when they had Kyrie Irving. I think you’re going to see the closest thing to playoff LeBron in the regular season that you could see tonight and down the stretch, and that’ll give you a better idea of how good this team is against good competition when LeBron’s firing on all cylinders.