Maybe LeBron James And The Red-Hot Cavaliers Could Actually Win A Championship

LeBron James, Jeff Teague
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When is it time to reassess the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Doing so now is easy. LeBron James and company had the Atlanta Hawks beaten by half time of Wednesday night’s game, defending, dishing, and splashing their way to a 123-98 win and an NBA record 25 made three-pointers. It was a dominant performance in every sense of the word, one that had Inside The NBA’s Ernie Johnson – with 24 minutes left to play, mind you – quipping that Game 3 of this mismatched series was “on Friday…if necessary.”

The Cavaliers’ 38-point advantage at intermission was the postseason’s largest since 1987. James imposed his singular will from the opening, scoring 27 points, grabbing four rebounds, dishing five assists, and swiping three steals in just 28 minutes if play. Most encouraging? He was 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, stepping into off-dribble three-point tries like a player whose jumper was anything but close to broken.

J.R. Smith made six eye-popping triples in the first half alone and absolutely blanketed Kyle Korver. Kyrie Irving had 19 points and six assists despite sitting out the fourth quarter, and gave Cleveland the record for threes in a playoff game with back-to-back makes midway through the third quarter. Kevin Love went for 11 points and 13 rebounds. Tristan Thompson set the tone defensively with constant activity and led the Cavaliers’ relentless charge on the offensive glass.

Channing Frye looked like the multi-talented offensive player Cleveland thought it acquired at the trade deadline. Richard Jefferson continued defying the odds of age, Matthew Dellavedova picked the Hawks’ defense apart with patient playmaking, and Iman Shumpert was as comfortable as he’s been throughout the postseason.

One game doesn’t make a series, let alone an entire playoffs. Wednesday’s contest could be an aberration, basically, and it certainly bears mentioning that Atlanta’s aggressive defensive scheme plays right into the hands of Cleveland’s suddenly pass-heavy offensive ethos. The Hawks’ answer for LeBron just doesn’t exist, either.

But there’s also this to consider: The Cavaliers are 6-0 in the postseason and have been more consistently impressive than any team in basketball. The Golden State Warriors are missing Steph Curry and the San Antonio Spurs are facing a much more formidable foe. Fine. But even at their best during the regular season, the league’s prohibitive pair of championship favorites never played much better than Cleveland is right now.

What if James has found his jumper? What if Smith atones for his dreadful performance in the 2014 Finals by continuing to light nets on fire? What if Irving remains arguably the most dynamic scoring guard in basketball? What if Love keeps making open triples and owning the glass? What if Thompson’s all-world defensive performance extends to the next two rounds?

What if Game 2 was the beginning of Shumpert’s resurgence? What if Dellavedova’s much-improved jump shot is here to stay? What if Frye and Jefferson make good on recent play with legitimate contributions going forward?

Many, many questions must be answered before the basketball world should think about the Cavaliers the way it does the Warriors, Spurs, or perhaps even Oklahoma City Thunder. With every game, though, it seems increasingly likely Cleveland might be worthy of something much more than its season-long status as an inevitable Finals also-ran.

Only June will tell for sure.