The Cleveland Cavaliers are clear NBA title contenders, and perhaps favorites to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Sportsbooks across the betting world place Cleveland’s odds to win the championship ahead of the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs’. And while folks within the league and those covering it think Vegas is a bit optimistic with the Cavs, they’re still exceedingly high on LeBron James’ team. In overwhelming fashion, league GMs and ESPN Forecast predicted Cleveland to win the Eastern Conference. At least one NBA analyst, though, thinks it’s remiss to anoint the Cavaliers as Eastern kings so soon.
Seven-time All-Star and current TNT personality Grant Hill recently called handing Cleveland a Finals berth “a bit premature.” Via Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Chris Fedor:
“The sheer presence of LeBron James is going to bring expectations. I think managing those expectations is going to be important,” TNT analyst Grant Hill said during a conference call on Thursday afternoon. “This is a situation where they may be better at the end than at the beginning…”
“A lot of those guys are great talents but winning and losing is a habit,” Hill said. “There’s a reason why they’ve been on some teams and obviously not all of it is their fault, but they haven’t had the success during the regular season and haven’t even been in the postseason.
“To go from one extreme to the next, you are the targeted team and to skip those steps and learn and understand what it takes to be that it’s going to be a lot of catch up for them this year…”
“(The Cavs) will be better because LeBron is there,” Hill said. “But to go ahead and hand them the Eastern Conference title might be a bit premature.”
Hill’s measured take is no different from LeBron’s, actually. James recently said that the Chicago Bulls “are much better than us right now,” and has consistently stressed a need for patience as the re-built Cavs grow accustomed to playing together.
And while caliber of the Eastern Conference pales in comparison to that of the West, it’s indeed much-improved this season. The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat are all legitimate playoff teams, while Chicago stands to be a juggernaut if Derrick Rose is a reasonable facsimile of his MVP-winning form. Those squads are talented, and boast inherent chemistry and continuity advantages that Cleveland will need to overcome with talent.
Can they do it? Of course. We project the Cavaliers to win the East, but only after a hard-fought Conference Finals against Rose and company. Few would be shocked if the outcome of that seemingly imminent match-up goes the other way, too. So Hill is right – it’s too early to “hand” Cleveland the conference crown. But there would certainly be no surprise should the Cavs win it, either.
Is Cleveland your clear Eastern Conference favorite?
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