Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Striking similarities

It's quite obvious by now that the Cavaliers' post-season journey hasn't been anywhere near what the fans -- or the players themselves for that matter -- thought it would be. Very few believed the series would be tied at this juncture.

The fact that it is gives rise to wild speculation ranging from LeBron James' imminent departure from Cleveland to who knows where to coach Mike Brown's job being on the line. James isn't going anywhere but his 35,000 square-foot digs near Akron. He's going to be a Cavalier for a very long time.

The speculation on Brown, however, might have some legitimacy. Some Cleveland fans are painting him as the Cavaliers' version Marty Schottenheimer, the erstwhile Browns coach who rang up several successful regular seasons only to falter in the postseason.

But when you take a closer look at what's going down this season, then compare it to last season's playoff, several striking similarities surface.

Last season, the Cavs cakewalked through the first two rounds, sweeping Detroit and Atlanta, scoring double-digit victories in every game. Then they met the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals and we all know what happened there. If not ford a miracle James shot in game two, the Magic would have swept that series.

But last season, the Magic struggled to get to the conference finals, much like the Cavs have been struggling this season. The Magic trailed the Philadelphia 76ers, 2-1, in the opening round before winning the last three games. They also trailed Boston, 3-2, before taking the final two games, the last one in Boston.

This season, the Cavs are playing like the Magic did in the first two rounds last season, while the Magic have breezed past Charlotte and Atlanta this year with little or no trouble. Much like Cleveland did last season. Eight up, eight down. Right now, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy knows exactly how Brown felt a year ago at this time.

The next two games will tell Cavs fans all they need to know about this team. The Celtics have exposed several soft spots in the Cleveland armor in three of the first four games. Emphasis on the word "soft".

As trite as this sounds, it's hard to disprove the notion that the Celtics have outworked -- and imposed their will on -- the Cavaliers. They have reached back for something extra when it counted the most and produced the series tie.

The Cavs have displayed a variety of emotional gears this season with James leading the charge. But if he continues to play in a comparatively passive (for him) manner and refuses to take charge early and often in the the next two games, the Cavs are done.

This is James' chance to finally show he can pull off what his idol, Michael Jordan, did with the Chicago Bulls. It took Jordan seven seasons to win an NBA title. This is James' seventh season.

LeBron knows what he has to do. The history books beckon for another shot or two of his greatness. He holds the fortunes of a franchise and the emotions of a starved (for a sports championship) city in his hands.

Dwight Howard and the Magic did it last season with some gritty play. Now it's LeBron's turn to show just how tough he and his teammates can be against the Celtics. That's the only way they have a shot at redemption for last season.

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