Take a moment to check out my Twitter account, @AndrewJHuang. You’ll notice immediately that my cover photo is of Russell Westbrook. About halfway through my bio you’ll see the words “Go OKC.”
I am an Oklahoma City fan, and make no mistake, I was ecstatic watching the Thunder’s 148-124 annihilation of LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Saturday — in Cleveland, no less — and while I believe in my team, while I have a poster on my wall showing Russ tomahawking the rim like it’s the cause of every problem in his life, the rational/sports reporter side of me knows that this wonderful, amazing spectacle only means so much.
That side of me recognizes the truth in the bigger picture, which is this: OKC can make it to the NBA Finals this season. It’s within the realm of possibility. Play their cards right, maybe add a three-point sniper (Wayne Ellington out of Miami would be nice), and the Thunder are coming out of the West.
But I’m not sure they want to see LeBron again, not in the NBA Finals. Winning four out of seven on the grandest stage in basketball is a lot different than winning a regular season matchup three months before the playoffs even start.
If the postseason started today, OKC would almost assuredly have to go through three of the following four teams in San Antonio, Golden State, Houston and Minnesota. And after a schedule that tough, I don’t want the first thing I see once I make it there to be LeBron, with his eight years of Finals experience, fresh off another year of breezing through the East.
Going by today’s standings, it would appear that the Cavs would have to beat Toronto to secure an Eastern Conference Finals rematch with Boston. Big deal. They’re both good teams, but after seven-straight Finals appearances, my attitude is that until someone from the Eastern Conference actually knocks LeBron out, I will have a hard time buying all the hype.
Everybody is worried about Cleveland’s recent struggles. I get it, they don’t look like a championship contender right now. The defense is awful, they’re losing games left and right and yet, and yet, they still have the seventh-best record in the league.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said it all after Saturday’s loss to the Thunder: “This is the same group we won 18 out of 19 with.”
We seem to forget, or ignore, the fact that Cleveland went through an eerily similar rough patch during the same part of last year’s regular season. But they’ve shown that they can flip a switch.
Perhaps they make another midseason trade, reaping the benefits like they did with previous midseason additions like Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, etc.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday night that Cavs players aren’t happy with the recent actions of forward Kevin Love. Imagine the potential return on Love, a four-time All-Star. Suddenly the trade deadline looms a little larger.
I’ve said as early as last year’s NBA Finals that Cleveland should look at Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. And now, months later, we’re hearing rumors about L.A. looking to ship out Jordan.
Even if the Cavaliers don’t acquire a big name and continue to drift through the regular season losing more games than they should, the uncertainty and the scrutiny of the media and fans alike will not stop LeBron from steamrolling the East in this year’s playoffs.
Expect the Cavs to follow their playoff-transformation model once again. They will turn things around and reach the Finals for a fourth straight season.
LeBron James is still the best player in the world — that’s a separate conversation for another time — and he doesn’t give a damn what seed his team is at the end of the regular season.
Because the King, just like myself, knows that it just doesn’t matter. The East still goes through Northeast Ohio.
Andrew Huang is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJHuang and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the recent turmoil, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are the odds-on favorite to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference.