The Cavaliers finished off their sweep of the Pistons Sunday night, but almost as important as beating the Pistons 4-0 was how they did it. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are all healthy, and for the first time in two years actually look like a cohesive unit. Irving is relieving James of a bit of the scoring burden, and Love’s range is finally stretching defenses the way it was supposed to. The defense is still struggling, but overall, it’s the best this iteration of the Cavs have ever looked.
Everybody assumed the Cavs would waltz through the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Finals, and that perception has only been reinforced. The second-seeded Raptors are locked in a fight for their lives with the Pacers, while the 3-6 and 4-5 match-ups, both between teams that had identical regular season records, are both knotted up. It’s not that the rest of the conference is beating itself up—though that certainly helps—but that the first round of the playoffs has made clear that no team is talented enough to rise above the muck and stop the Cavs from advancing to the Finals.
In the Western Conference, everything is coming up Cavs, too. Stephen Curry will be out at least two weeks, and will be rusty if and when he does return. Even if the Warriors advance and Curry returns, his absence will force the rest of the Warriors core to play a lot more high-stress minutes. Chris Paul also broke his hand and is probably out for the playoffs, which may not matter because the Clippers might soon get bounced.
On the other side of the bracket, the Thunder and Spurs are both healthy, but now they get to bludgeon each other to death for (hopefully) seven games. Whoever wins will have a potentially easier road to the Finals because of Curry’s injury, but overall, the top of the Western Conference is now closer in talent, and is more likely to engage in a war of attrition before the Finals even begin.
The Cavaliers would still be an underdog to a healthy Spurs team, and maybe a healthy OKC too, but the path is opening up for them. Last year we saw LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova’s coffee addiction will the Cavaliers to win two NBA Finals games they had no business winning. They don’t need much help to win the whole thing, and so far they’re getting it.