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The case for the Cavs

What Cleveland has to do to throw a surprise party

Posted: Thursday June 7, 2007 11:40AM; Updated: Thursday June 7, 2007 12:36PM
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LeBron James will need to continue attacking the basket -- as he's done well lately -- for the Cavs to have a chance against the Spurs.
LeBron James will need to continue attacking the basket -- as he's done well lately -- for the Cavs to have a chance against the Spurs.
Manny Millan/SI
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Click here for five reasons why the Spurs will win another championship

In sport, on any level, passing something off as a certainty is little more than a futile exercise. The San Antonio Spurs, however, seem as sure a thing there is in the pro ranks. The team is mine and several others' choice to win the NBA title over the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers, and for good reason. San Antonio doesn't take plays off, rarely takes opponents lightly and is filled with heady players boasting championship-worthy talents.

The Spurs still have to win four out of seven, though, against a Cavs team that is as intriguing as it is dynamic. Once thought of as a defensive team that had to rely explicitly on the offensive talents of LeBron James to win, the Cavs, well, are still a defensive team that has to rely on the 22-year-old superstar. But there are emerging pockets of productivity from heretofore unheralded areas. Clutch shooting from rookie Daniel Gibson. Waves of offensive rebounding from the big men. Determined perimeter defense from the guards. And strong leadership from the grizzled veterans.

The Cavs aren't likely to win these NBA Finals, but the ability is there. Writing off anyone this late in the game makes little sense, so here are five ways the Cavs can pull off the upset:

1. LeBron's continued growth.

His brilliant performances in the Eastern Conference finals speak to a player who is finally coming into his own, finally realizing what wins big games (aggression) and what doesn't (the luck of a fadeaway jumper), and the results have been what you'd expect -- Cleveland's first Finals appearance.

What we're seeing in LeBron, as it has been since his NBA debut in Sacramento in 2003, is a player who is showing obvious growth from game to game. You saw it in Game 6 against the Pistons: James couldn't get a shot off to save his life and wasn't exactly racking up the assists, but he was penetrating the defense and initiating the sort of ball movement that can put even the best of defenses (like, say, Detroit's or San Antonio's) on its heels.

2. Defense that doesn't let up.

Even if the shots aren't falling, and they usually aren't, the Cavs know how to play lockdown defense. During the regular season, the Cavs were fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (a measure of points allowed per every 100 possessions, in order to account for disparities in pace), and they've only gotten better in the playoffs. Yes, taking on an injured Wizards club and a Pistons team that continually broke plays helped, but the Cavs are the runaway leader in postseason defensive efficiency, giving up just under 96 points per 100 possessions.

The Cavs defend guards exceedingly well, limit second-chance opportunities and have the depth to throw fresh defenders at San Antonio's array of sound shooters. And though Cleveland has taken its rightful lumps for not putting points on the board, it does boast another element that could work against San Antonio's stout defense ...

3. Mid-range shooting.

For years, defending the mid-range shot has been the Spurs' Achilles' heel. Coach Gregg Popovich sees this limited weakness as a necessary evil in order to sustain his team's almost-legendary ability to guard the three-point line and, to a lesser extent, the front of the rim. Because the NBA is so devoid of players who like to do their work from the mid-range area, the Spurs are always able to get away with it -- San Antonio was second in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season, behind only Chicago.


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