As I write this, I am watching the Cavaliers embarrass the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. From the looks of things, this series is going to be nothing but a tiny speed bump in the Cavaliers’ road to the finals. Don’t get me wrong, the Cavaliers are a good team, but not good enough to have the strong possibility of winning every conference playoff game this year. The Toronto Raptors, who were the number two seed entering the playoffs, have played to no such standards. Ideally, the number two seed is supposed to pose the biggest threat to the number one seed, but that hasn’t been the case here. The Raptors barely got past the #7 Pacers and a #3 Miami Heat team that was without two of their best players. Now, they are set up to embarrass themselves as LeBron James looks to sweep the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
I have no problem with LeBron James going to the NBA Finals year in and year out as long as he earns it. I look back to the hard-fought series he had with the Pacers and Celtics in the early 2010s and commend James. Those were battles, bloodbaths even. That made the Eastern Conference playoff games entertaining; watching Tyler Hansbrough, Birdman, and Udonis Haslem trade flagrant fouls and the Celtics big three refusing to lie down in their last run. Now we just play the “Who is going to get swept by the Cavs?” game.
If the article sounds like I’m just trying to rip on LeBron, it’s not intentional. I’m a LeBron-hater, I’ll admit it. But I’m not too blinded by my emotions to acknowledge that LeBron is always a top talent in the league and whatever team he plays for rises to the top of the Eastern Conference. But there in lies the problem. No Eastern Conference team in recent years has been able to challenge LeBron. Take a look at the Western Conference playoffs and you see a group of teams that all have the capability to play step for step with each other. The Warriors, who set an NBA record for going 73-9 this year and have the league’s MVP on their side, are currently being challenged by the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the East, you won’t see this because its way too top-heavy.
As I mentioned earlier the Eastern Conference was not always like this. For example, the Eastern Conference in the 2007-2009 years had a ton of parity. You had the Pistons led by “Mr. Big Shot” Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, the Celtics with their Boston three party, the Cavaliers and LeBron James, and the Magic who were anchored down by the once dominant Dwight Howard. There were no clear favorites to “walk” to the NBA finals then because all those teams could compete with each other. But now it has become a conference owned by the Cavaliers and LeBron James, who have swept four out of their last five series.
It’s tough to say why we have seen such a decline in the Eastern Conference. Maybe it has to do with a lack of star talent. Just to name a few: Wade and Bosh have gotten older, Melo is rotting away in New York, Howard shipped off the Western Conference, and D.Rose has never been the same after his multiple surgeries. Maybe we are just in a transition period, waiting for the next crop of superstars in the East to arise. All I know is, if I’m a star in the Western Conference who is testing free agency this summer, I’m strongly considered heading to a wide open Eastern Conference. Boy would it be interesting to see Kevin Durant join the Wizards and battle LeBron in the playoffs for the next six or so years…