Cavs Undefeated, and Will Be for a While
The Cavaliers are making a solid case for the NBA to institute a mercy rule. Not only have they won all six of their playoff games by double-digits, they've done so without allowing an opponent to score more than 85 points even once. They led the Hawks by 30 heading into the final quarter before finally taking their foot off the gas -- Cleveland's reserves gave back 10 points in the final quarter before the Cavs won by "only" 20.
Had Mike Brown allowed his starters to play the final quarter, it's possible the Cavs could have challenged Denver's 58-point margin in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hornets, especially considering the Hawks lost Joe Johnson to a severely sprained ankle in the third quarter.
The series heads back to Atlanta for two games, but at this point those are a mere formality. There's almost no chance that the short-handed Hawks can keep those games competitive, let alone close enough to have a legitimate chance to win.
For what it's worth, Johnson insists that he'll be ready to play. "I can't see me not playing," he said. "I don't want to let this opportunity go by. We're down 0-2. I want to be out there for my teammates. Hopefully in 48 hours it will feel a lot better."
Even if Johnson takes the court, can he be effective? So far he's averaged just 10.5 points in 34.5 minutes a game, and that's before turning his ankle so badly you wonder how he managed not to break a bone or tear a ligament.
The Cavs, meanwhile, seem to be gaining momentum; even after the bench squandered away a third of the lead last night, the Cavs still improved their average margin of victory to 18.1 points per game. Only the Nuggets (+21.0) have been better thus far in the postseason, boosted largely by the aforementioned whipping they gave the Hornets.
By now, most people consider it a foregone conclusion that the Cavs will eventually represent the East in the NBA Finals, but I'll go one step further and predict they won't lose a single game until reaching the final round -- and maybe not even then. The Hawks haven't given any indication they're willing or able to put up a fight, and the Magic and Celtics will likely wear themselves out trying to advance.
No, the biggest obstacle in Cleveland's path right now is boredom and rust. Fortunately this team does an amazing job entertaining themselves (have you ever seen another bench more animated over the most routine plays?) so I doubt boredom will come into play. As for rust between rounds, well, that's certainly a better alternative than fatigue, which is what every other team left standing will begin suffering to various degrees. You can shake off rust, fatigue only gets worse.
With only one game on the schedule there's really no surprise who stood out: LeBron James racked up 27 points on 14 shots, adding five dimes, four swipes and a block. For him, that's actually a yawn-inducing line, but then again, last night's game was a bit of a snoozer.
Whether Joe Johnson plays or not in Game 3, the Hawks need Josh Smith to step up. He was virtually invisible on Thursday, missing 11 of 13 shots and grabbing just a single rebound in 22 minutes. Scoring has never been his strong suit, but there's no excuse for failing to show up in the hustle categories. [Box Score]
Dirk Nowitzki's not exactly in a happy place right now, but at least he can always remember the good times ... like this random slice of life with his alleged fiancee/stalker preserved for all eternity by YouTube. Hat tip to You Been Blinded for satisfying the inner-voyeur in all of us.