- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

It has become mostly about the Cavaliers in these playoffs, and never mind the remaining teams, each one flawed or hurting in a way the Cavaliers are not.

The Cavaliers are the team to beat, the team that has looked the most impeccable and unflappable in the postseason.

The Cavaliers have been so thoroughly dominant and efficient in their first two series that they have been cast to a corner of the NBA’s playoff room, acknowledged as legitimate but relegated to a later date.

That is understandable. The Cavaliers have checked suspense at the arena door. A playoff game involving the Cavaliers exudes all the intrigue of a Harlem Globetrotters setup. The Cavaliers show up, the opposition gulps and that is it. They have won all eight of their playoff games by double-digit margins. Their stiffest challenge, if you can call it that, was their series-ending 84-74 victory over the Hawks.

The Cavaliers are not just smacking opponents. They are stifling every last resource of the opposition, reducing them to pulp. They are allowing 78.1 points a game while holding the field goal percentage of opponents to 39.7.

If the Cavaliers were thought to have a weakness, it was the absence of a second scoring option to LeBron James. Mo Williams is the team’s second-leading scorer in the playoffs at a relatively modest 14.8.

But who’s worried about potential scoring deficiencies if a team’s defense enfeebles the opposition? No team has been able to load up on James. No team has been able to execute a game plan that implores someone other than James to handle the scoring load.

That is because Danny Ferry has put a plethora of spot-up shooters around James. Two years ago, when the Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals, their two most trusted perimeter shooters were Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic. Now those two sometimes struggle to receive quality minutes.

The Cavaliers have a deep and flexible team. They can go big and physical or small and quick. Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West are solid enough starters. Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Pavlovic and Gibson are quality backups.

That depth is one reason the Cavaliers have been able to surmount the inevitable challenges that befall a team during the marathon season. If one player is hurting, another is able to fill the void without a drop in production.

The 74-16 record of the Cavaliers is the fourth-best mark ever after 90 games, equaling the record of the 1986 Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

It could be argued that the Pistons and Hawks were not sturdy barometers of playoff basketball teams, that the Pistons were in disarray following the failed Allen Iverson experiment and that the Hawks were done the moment Joe Johnson sprained his ankle.

But the Cavaliers did what champions do. They dispatched the overmatched with stunning ease.

That is not a claim the Lakers can make. They have been the anointed ones since the start of the season. But they have been a muddle of contradictions in these playoffs and nearly embarrassed after allowing a beat-up Rockets team to extend them to seven games.

The biggest hurdle before the Cavaliers may no longer be the Lakers. The Nuggets have both the athleticism and physicality to extend the Cavaliers.

Not that the Nuggets are necessarily ready to make the last step. They still want to outscore opponents as opposed to locking them down defensively. And they have a combustible side, a potentially negative element in the emotional frenzy of the playoffs.

As for the Cavaliers, they seem impervious to the challenges of the road and the ups and downs that go with any game. They have a confidence about them, a sense that this is their time, their moment.

The other three remaining teams cannot say the same.

This has become a championship race that is the Cavaliers’ to lose.

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