Could this be the year when The King’s reign over the Eastern Conference finally ends?
It has been seven years since LeBron James was last absent from the roster of the team representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. While his success has been enjoyed by Miami Heat fans from 2010-2014, and now by Cleveland Cavaliers fans, it has become irritating for other NBA fans.
In addition to the pain that LeBron’s chokehold on the East has caused fans of teams not named the Heat or Cavaliers, his dominance has also has blocked the chances for other star players in the East to have their moment. For example, a player like Paul George, who is one of the best players in the NBA, has had little to no success against James in the playoffs. While there are certainly other factors that go into why George has had little success against James, it still would be nice to see a fresh face atop the East.
LeBron’s rule over the Eastern Conference will not be easily stopped this season. While the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors all have an opportunity to shock the world and represent the East, their chances are rather bleak. A healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love only make things more challenging for the other contenders in the East. However, it’s still fun to look at the numbers and see what these teams have to do in order to topple the Cavaliers. Here’s our guide to defeating the Cavaliers.
1. Limit LeBron’s Assist Totals
As much as James can impact a game with his scoring, his ability to find the open man is unparalleled. Over the course of his career, James has averaged just under seven assists per game in the postseason. Last year, James finished with the third most APG in the postseason, averaging just under eight per contest.
He sees players moving into open space before those players even see it themselves. There is a reason why James has constantly surrounded himself by strong perimeter shooters. He attacks the rim like a speeding bullet, and if the layup is there, he finishes. If he sees a Shane Battier, Ray Allen, James Jones, or Kyle Korver spotted up in the corner, he’s going to get the basketball to them in a prime position.
2. Let LeBron Get To The Free-Throw Line
It’s a very simple concept: two points are worth less than three points. Again, despite averaging 26.1 PPG, James is always looking for the open man. More importantly, he’s looking for the three. Letting James get to the rim isn’t the worst strategy teams can use defensively. James is shooting just 68% from the free-throw line this year. In his career, he has averaged 74% from the stripe. While 68% isn’t terrible, teams have roughly a one in three chance that James will miss at least one free throw when he goes to the line. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see something like this happen if you force LeBron to the free-throw line.
3. Play Kyrie Tight
This one is much easier said than done. Irving is one the most elusive players on the basketball court. He makes defenders zig when they should have zagged. However, for a team like the Celtics, who have players who can defend well one-on-one (Avery Bradley), this strategy could be a lot easier. The downside is if you throw Bradley on Irving, you free up J.R. Smith because Isaiah Thomas would need to switch players. Throwing out the obvious fact that Smith is significantly larger than Thomas (in both size and height), it also raises the question of whether Thomas would defend a player who runs around the three-point line.
This video is an example of how playing Irving close can lead to him missing shots. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did a good job at getting out on Irving, defending him in front of the free-throw line.
4. Do Not Let Channing Frye, Derrick Williams, And Kyle Korver “Get Hot”
If these are the three players tearing a defense apart, it most likely means that the Cavs are on a run or that they already have the game in hand. Cleveland already set the NBA record this season for the most three-point field goals made in a regular season game with 25.
LeBron’s ability to find players easily makes this task so much harder, but it is a must. The Cavs’ big three, like any other star trio, are going to get their own each and every night. But it’s these players who have to be kept in check because if they aren’t, the Cavs can outscore anyone. In games where Korver registers 10 or more points, the Cavs are 9-4. Whereas in games where he scores 10 or less points, the Cavs are 3-9. Korver has been out with a foot injury for the past six games and remains out. With Korver out, the Cavs are just 3-3.
5. Use Tristan Thompson’s Poor Free-Throw Percentage To Your Advantage
We saw the Warriors employ this strategy to some extent in last season’s NBA Finals. While some people disagree with the “Hack-a-Shaq” method, I don’t see merit in the argument against it. It’s no different than if a team gives space to a poor jump shooter and dares him into shooting. In fact, an argument can be made that doing that is worse in terms of morals than the “Hack-a-Shaq” method.
Thompson is shooting at 49.5% from the line this year, so mathematically he should be making one out of every two free-throws. Whereas if a player who struggles with a jump-shot misses, he gets no points at all. It’s a smart strategy to use and is taking advantage of a player’s weakness. It’s completely fair game and is a great strategy to use if you’re losing (or even winning in some cases).
All of these strategies (with the exception of the “Hack-a-Shaq” method) are much easier said than done. The chances of being able to successfully implement all five of these tactics at once game are slim to none. If a team were able to pull off all five of these strategies in one game, it’s a safe call to say the game was a blowout. However, if we don’t want to see the Cavs representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals again, these strategies are a must for the other contenders in the East.
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