There’s a significant amount of confidence coming from Cleveland Cavaliers fans as their team preps for its second round match-up with the Toronto Raptors. Frankly, I have no idea what’s causing this.
Sure, the Cavs have casually discarded Toronto from the past two postseasons. However, this is hardly enough to make me think we’re about to watch another Cleveland cakewalk.
Though the Cavs just survived a grueling series with the Indiana Pacers, they sure as hell haven’t fixed the glaring issues which plagued them across the past two weeks. Until they do, they’re still very much on thin ice.
Let’s start with the obvious – LeBron James can’t average 41.4 minutes per game as he did last series against Indiana.
Yes, seeing James single-handedly eliminate the Pacers in Year 15 of his career was something to behold. However, only once did he get an in-game breather longer than eight minutes, and it was when he was rested during the Game 6 curb-stomping at the hands of Indiana.
There’s simply no way this is sustainable. While James was still incredibly effective despite getting minimal rest, the Cavs can’t afford to roll the dice and assume he can do the same against Toronto.
The solution to this, still, is getting somebody else on the roster to step up. For the entire Indiana series, not one other Cavalier ever scored 20 points in a game. Again, it’s a miracle this team advanced, one it shouldn’t count on against the Raptors.
Cleveland is hopeful Tristan Thompson can provide consistent support, as his start in Game 7 played a huge roll in the team advancing. However, he doesn’t quite match up well against Toronto, as he’ll hardly be able to lure center Jonas Valanciunas out of the paint. Don’t forget, the majority of Thompson’s 2017-18 season was forgettable, so banking on him to have just as much of an impact as he had Sunday is quite a gamble on its own.
That said, it’s clear relying on veterans has been the most reliable formula for the Cavs so far. It certainly makes sense, especially considering how much collective playoff experience they all have. This alone is a big reason why players like Thompson, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver have slowly been getting more minutes than the young guns Cleveland acquired at February’s trade deadline.
This strategy won’t be effective much longer, though.
Sure, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood have struggled. At times, each has been a significant liability for the Cavs. Hood specifically has been an eyesore, looking so ineffective during the Pacers series he was practically phased out of the game-plan on Sunday. Clarkson and Nance have only been slightly better, as each has earned a significant trim in minutes.
At the same time, Cleveland’s lack of effective depth isn’t something you can solve by removing people from the rotation. Eventually, the increase in minutes is going to wear on the vets, so the Cavs will either have to work the younger players back into the game-plan or hope the older guys somehow develop better stamina on the fly.
As is the case with over-relying on James, while Cleveland was able to survive the woeful performances from its younger players last round, it can hardly expect to do so much longer.
The same can be said regarding Kevin Love.
Outside of a couple quarters in the last series, Cleveland’s second scoring option has been dreadful this postseason. A hot shooting fourth quarter in Game 7 hinted he may be getting out of his funk. This is the hope, at least, since it’s difficult to believe the team can stay afloat when its only other All-Star is hurling bricks every game.
As you can see, the Cavs are hardly in an ideal situation. Only getting one day off between Game 7 against Indy and Game 1 in Toronto doesn’t make life any easier. They somehow survived a series getting minimal help from anyone besides an overworked James, watching painfully ineffective play from both Love and the young trio they acquired to help in the playoffs.
Simply put, Cleveland still has a ton of issues to clean up, and must do so while facing a significantly tougher opponent. Fans may feel confident thanks to the recent success the Cavs have over Toronto. However, if what we saw against the Pacers carries over into this series, Cleveland’s playoff hopes will once again be put at risk.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook