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NBA PM: Will HEAT Complete Three-Peat?

The HEAT are four wins away from winning their third-straight title and cementing themselves as a modern dynasty … NBA announces All-Defensive Teams

Alex Kennedy

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BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy and CineSport’s Noah Coslov preview the 2014 NBA Finals by talking about the lessons from the 2013 Finals & the matchup between Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.

Will HEAT Complete Three-Peat?

Back in 1988, Pat Riley trademarked the word “three-peat” several months after his Los Angeles Lakers won their second consecutive NBA championship. Riley’s Lakers didn’t go on to three-peat (they were instead swept by the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals), but he has made some money off of the trademark thanks to teams like the Chicago Bulls and New York Yankees winning back-to-back-to-back titles. The Lakers did go on to three-peat from 2000 to 2002, but Riley was long gone by that point.

Riley has never had one of his teams pull off the feat, but that may change over the next few weeks. Over 25 years after he trademarked the phrase, the 69-year-old president of the Miami HEAT may finally be able to experience a three-peat rather than just cashing in on other dynasties.

The HEAT have won two straight titles and are one series away from hanging a championship banner for a third straight year. They’ve been to the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, which was the first year that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were in Miami.

If the HEAT win it all this year, a dynasty case could certainly be made since Miami would have the fourth-most titles in NBA history (tied with the San Antonio Spurs) and all of them would’ve been won in a nine-year span.

In order to complete their three-peat, the HEAT will have to take down the Spurs for the second year in a row. This proved difficult last year, considering it took Miami seven games to defeat the Spurs, who were seconds away from winning it all in Game 6 until Miami fought back, forced overtime with a clutch three from Ray Allen and escaped with the win to stay alive.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Wade said. “Obviously, we beat them in the Finals. Last year, [they felt] they had us. But we wouldn’t want it any other way. I think having the four best teams in the NBA all season to represent the Western Conference and Eastern Conference is ideal and perfect for this league.  The two best teams will meet. We’re just happy and excited that we’re one of the best.”

The HEAT discussed the possibility of winning three championships in a row and going to four straight Finals on the first day of training camp, but they haven’t talked about it since. The players and coaches understand the enormity of their accomplishments, and the challenges that come with it, so the team didn’t need to discuss it more than once.

“We talked about it from the first day, we talked about the legacy of this team,” Erik Spoelstra said. “The players that weren’t here that first year, they inherited all of those experiences. But it was only that first day. We’ve never brought it up since then.  It was about now tackling the challenges of the day‑to‑day life of an NBA season.”

Looking back on their stint in Miami, Wade and James are grateful that they’ve had so much success.

“We don’t take this for granted and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters, don’t take this for granted neither,” Wade said. “This is not something that happens every day. But we’ve worked as a unit.  We sacrificed as individuals to be in this moment, in this position, so we understand where we’re at right now. But it’s still crazy too. … You get drafted, and you’re just happy to be in the NBA.  You want to make a name for yourself.  Eleven years later, you’ve gone to the Finals five times and you’ve won championships. You just never know how your life and your path is going to pan out.  If you just do things the way that you should do them, the way you feel that it should be done, live with the mistakes that you make, get better from them and just be who you are, great things happen to you.  That’s a prime example for all of us. … Me and [LeBron] meeting in Chicago [at the combine], sitting in a room getting tested by teams, getting tried out, we didn’t know that this relationship that we were going to have was going to turn into this.  You just never know. I think we’ve all put ourselves in great situations, and we’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in because it’s an amazing moment.  It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes.  Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this, so we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

“Just to piggyback off what D‑Wade said, we don’t take this moment for granted,” James added. “We’re going to celebrate tonight because it just doesn’t happen every year.  We’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of this four straight times, and you just can’t take these moments for granted. It hasn’t really hit us that much yet because I think we’re in it.  I think it will once we’re done and we’re able to look back at what we were able to accomplish as players, as a franchise, I think that’s when it will really hit us. We definitely don’t take it for granted to be in this position.”

After being eliminated, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel referred to James and the HEAT as this era’s Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls (a team that pulled off two three-peats). That statement was repeated to James after the Game 6 victory over the Pacers, and he was flattered.

“Me and D‑Wade grew up watching the great Chicago Bulls team and the great Michael Jordan and the rest of those guys, so any time I hear my name or our team in the same breath with legends and great teams and franchises, it’s so humbling, man,” James said. “It’s like, I really don’t know.  We’re just two kids from the inner cities.  We never thought we’d get to this point. To be able to play the game that we love at a high level for one another, for our teammates, it’s the ultimate [reward].  When you hear the comparisons, you respect it, you’re humbled by it and you just feel like while you’re in the moment hopefully, while you’re playing the game, that you can make an impact enough to where you move on and people will start comparing you to ones that’s in the game at the present time. It’s very, very humbling.”

Miami has grown a lot since their first Finals appearance, when they lost to the Mavericks back in 2011, which is something that Wade pointed out.

“I just remember being kind of a young team and still figuring it out,” Wade said of their first Finals trip of the Big Three era. “Still figuring out at the end of the game where the ball was going, how it was going to get there, what we were doing defensively. But we did our job, and we got to the Finals. It seems like a long time ago. We were still kids, it seemed like, and now just being more prepared for this moment, seizing a moment. There wasn’t a moment, I don’t think inside none of us, that we felt we were going to lose this ballgame [to Indiana in Game 6]. We knew we were going to impose our will. We didn’t know the outcome, but we knew we were going to impose our will here at home. I think we were a little unsure years ago, so that was the difference.”

Miami used that loss as a learning experience, and clearly it has worked over the last two years.

“A really good friend of mine told me that the best teacher in life is experience,” James said. “When you go through so many things, you’re able to learn from it.  You’re able to know how to go about it. Next time you face those trials and tribulations or whatever the case may come, and you’re better prepared for it. So being around a group of guys like this, me being in positions that I’ve been in the past where I’ve failed… To be able to come back from failure and continue to come back and mentally be able to stay strong, it defines who you are as a man more than anything.”

“We have a group that’s earned a lot of trust with each other; there’s a lot of equity of going through pain, of going through joy, of going through everything in between,” Spoelstra said. “I mean, this is your extended family. Even the guys that haven’t been with us for the four years, what we say to them when they join our team is you inherit all of the experiences we’ve had before.  All the pain, all the joy, you inherit that and you’re part of the family.”

Now, Miami is four wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for a third-straight time and emerging as the NBA’s newest dynasty. The 2014 NBA Finals tip off on Thursday evening.

NBA’s All-Defensive Teams Announced

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, headlines the 2013-14 NBA All-Defensive First Team, the NBA announced today.Noah received 105 First Team votes (223 points) to make his second consecutive appearance on the First Team.

Joining Noah on the NBA All-Defensive First Team are forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (161 points, 65 First Team votes), guard Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers (156 points, 64 First Team votes), forward Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder (152 points, 54 First Team votes) and guard/forward Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors (148 points, 57 First Team Votes).

The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the U.S. and Canada. Two points were awarded for a First Team vote and one point was awarded for a Second Team vote.

Noah, who appeared in 80 of Chicago’s 82 games, ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3 rpg), 12th in blocks (1.51 bpg) and added 1.24 steals.  He was one of just three players (Detroit’s Andre Drummond and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis) to average at least 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.  Behind Noah, the Bulls held opponents to a .430 field goal percentage, second-stingiest in the league. Paul led the NBA in steals (2.48 spg) for the fourth consecutive season and sixth time in his career to earn his fourth First Team nod. George ranked fifth in the NBA in steals (1.89 spg) and was the only player in the NBA to average at least 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. In his first season with the Warriors, Iguodala averaged 1.50 steals, as the Warriors improved from the NBA’s 19th best defense in terms of points allowed last season to 10th in 2013-14. Ibaka appeared in 81 games for Oklahoma City this past season as the Thunder held the opposition to the third lowest field goal percentage in the NBA (.436).

The NBA All-Defensive Second Team consists of forward LeBron James of the Miami HEAT (57 First Team votes), guard Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets (44 First Team votes), guard Jimmy Butler of the Bulls (29 First Team votes), forward Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs (16 First Team votes) and Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers (15 First Team votes).

The following players also received votes, with first-team votes in parentheses: DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers 63 (14); Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 62 (18); Tony Allen, Memphis, 60 (17); Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 45 (12); Dwight Howard, Houston, 26 (6); Taj Gibson, Chicago, 21 (2); Mike Conley, Memphis, 21 (5); Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 19 (5); Lance Stephenson, Indiana, 14 (3); P.J. Tucker, Phoenix, 13 (2); Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City, 10 (2); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 10 (3); Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix, 9 (1); Marc Gasol, Memphis, 8; John Wall, Washington, 8 (1); Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City, 8 (1); Kirk Hinrich, Chicago, 7 (2); Trevor Ariza, Washington, 5 (2); Avery Bradley, Boston, 5 (1); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 5 (1); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 5; Andrew Bogut, Golden State, 4; Chris Bosh, Miami, 4 (1); Luol Deng, Cleveland, 4 (1); Wesley Matthews, Portland, 4 (1); Tony Parker, San Antonio, 4 (1); Nicolas Batum, Portland, 3 (1); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 3 (1); Danny Green, San Antonio, 3 (1); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte, 3; Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn, 3 (1); Victor Oladipo, Orlando, 3 (1); DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta, 2; Matt Barnes, L.A. Clippers, 2 (1); James Harden, Houston, 2; George Hill, Indiana, 2; Jeff  Teague, Atlanta, 2; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 2 (1); Kemba Walker, Charlotte, 2; David West, Indiana, 2; Arron Afflalo, Orlando, 1; Corey Brewer, Minnesota, 1; Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia,1; Darren Collison, L.A. Clippers, 1; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, 1; Andre Drummond, Detroit, 1; Monta Ellis, Dallas, 1; Danny Granger, L.A. Clippers, 1; Draymond Green, Golden State, 1; Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City, 1; David Lee, Golden State, 1; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 1; Rajon Rondo, Boston, 1.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Williams, Clippers Will Keep Pushing Through

The Clippers veteran guard chats with Spencer Davies in a one-on-one Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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For the second straight year, Lou Williams started his basketball season as a resident of California.

Despite being moved by the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline back in February, it wasn’t a long stay for the 31-year-old in Houston. After bolstering the Rockets’ bench in a big way during their playoff stretch, the organization dealt the veteran guard to the LA Clippers, meaning he was going right back to the City of Angels.

Which begs the question—did he even relocate from his old place?

“Yeah, I moved,” Williams told Basketball Insiders in Cleveland on Friday. “But I ended up moving back into the same neighborhood that I was in, so it was all good.”

The familiarity with the area must’ve been comforting, but playing for three different teams in such a short amount of time can’t be easy. It’s only been 15 games, but he already notices a discrepancy between the two that share the same arena.

“Obviously when you have different people running it,” Williams answered when asked to compare the Los Angeles franchises. “I think the Lakers were in a different space than the Clippers are. The Clippers are a more veteran group, so two completely different atmospheres.”

Winning four straight games to kick off the 2017-18 campaign, the year started out great for he and his new team, but it’s gone downhill in a hurry.

The Los Angeles Clippers are hurting in every way. Literally.

Only halfway through a five-city road trip, they’ve lost eight consecutive games and 10 of their last 11. Key members of their team are absent and they have been plagued by injuries out of the gate.

First, it was international sensation Milos Teodosic who went down with a foot injury in just the second NBA game of his career. Then there’s Danilo Gallinari, whose ailing hip has kept him out of action for two weeks. To top it all off, Patrick Beverley is dealing with a sore right knee that has forced him to miss over a week as well (he’ll reportedly be active on Monday night).

Without the trio, the Clippers are missing a little bit of everything, and Williams is eager for them to return to the floor because of it.

“It’s three starters,” Williams told Basketball Insiders. “One guy’s our heart and soul on the defensive end. We have another guy who was leading us in assists and we have another guy who’s second in scoring.

“Three very important pieces of our team are missing. But we have other guys that’s stepping in doing the best job that they can. We’re just falling short.”

Aside from their most recent 15-point loss to the equally struggling Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, Los Angeles has competed and been in almost every game during the long skid.

In Cleveland, they led for most of the way until midway through the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth affair when the Cavaliers struck back, and once the game went into overtime, the Clippers went cold and ran out of gas.

Taking out the element of overtime, the “close game, but no win” trend has been apparent as they attempt to get over the hump for a victory. Williams sees his team battling. They’re just not getting the outcomes they desire.

“Just continue to push,” Williams said of how LA can climb the wall. “We’ll have a couple of guys back this week from injuries.

“We’ve been playing extremely hard giving ourselves an opportunity to win these games and just haven’t been able to finish. Get guys back, just continue to push. We’ll break through.”

If Williams keeps on producing the way he has, especially as of late, that could be sooner rather than later. Over the last five games, the scoring assassin has put up over 30 points in two of them and 25 in another. In addition, he’s averaged over four rebounds, four assists, and more than a steal per game during the stretch.

When asked about what’s made him so comfortable, he kept it simple.

“Just playing,” Williams told Basketball Insiders.” Taking what the defense gives me and try to make shots. That’s it.”

Williams is special when it comes to how much he can impact a game in the snap of a finger. Over the course of his career, he’s one of those guys that have been able to just go off at any given moment.

“Just continue to play,” he said. “Play [as] hard as I can. I never really think about it until after the game. I just go out there, play [as] hard as I can. Put myself in position to score points and live with the results.”

You can recall Williams being an elite sixth man in this league for just about every team he’s been a part of. Whether it was with the Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Lakers, Rockets or even with the Clippers now, he’s constantly been a guy to provide a powerful punch off the bench.

With the consistency and the energy he’s provided with second units throughout his career, it’s rather surprising that Williams has only won the Sixth Man of the Year award one time in his career. Having established this reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he’s rewarded again.

That being said, it’s got to be one of his aspirations, right?

“Not anymore,” Williams told Basketball Insiders, admitting he felt slighted in last year’s race. “Nah. Probably had one of the best seasons of my career and finished third, so I don’t really care no more.”

Furthermore, as one of the top sharpshooters the NBA has to offer, he told Basketball Insiders he doesn’t wouldn’t care to participate in the three-point contest, either.

Moving away from the individual side of things, Williams has enjoyed his time with the Clippers for the short time he’s been a part of the franchise.

One good reason is the opportunity to play under one of the league’s most respected head coaches in Doc Rivers, whom he credits has a unique manner of making adjustments.

“Doc is a high basketball IQ coach,” Williams said. “He knows how to break down the game on the fly, which is impressive. A lot of coaches, they make a lot of corrections at halftime or in film sessions. Doc makes them on the fly, which is great.”

Playing alongside two superstars isn’t so bad. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are a pairing that can dominate each and every time they step on the floor. In fact, having those two alone should be enough for the Clippers to get things turned back around.

When the frontcourt duo clicks on a nightly basis and the team returns to full strength, Williams believes that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

“It’s been fun,” Williams told Basketball Insiders of the experience with Griffin and Jordan. “Obviously, we would like to win some games and I think that tide is gonna turn once we get back healthy.

“But these two All-Star guys in this league that’s done an exceptional job for this organization—so it’s been a good time being with these guys.”

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NBA AM: All-Time Biggest Comeback Wins

The Warriors’ big 24-point comeback over the weekend was incredible, but where did it rank all time?

Joel Brigham

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One of the biggest NBA stories of the weekend was the Philadelphia 76ers scoring 47 points against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter Saturday night, only to blow their 24-point lead in fairly embarrassing fashion.

Kevin Durant joked about not being able to lose to Philadelphia for fear for Joel Embiid peacocking on Twitter afterward, while Embiid wrote about taking the loss in stride, adding “blowing a big lead” to their arsenal of experiences to avoid repeating in games to come.

In any event, that 24-point comeback was one of the most impressive comebacks in NBA history, though the good news for the Sixers is that there have been bigger blown leads than their own. Some of them much, much bigger. Heck, the Miami HEAT blew a 25-point lead just two weeks ago, so crazier things have happened.

The following are those crazier things. These are the biggest blown leads in NBA history:

#5 Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers (2008) – By the time Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals had started, the Celtics had taken a 2-1 lead in the series, and the pivotal Game 4 was going to go down in Los Angeles. From the get-go, the Lakers looked like they were going to tie the series with little problem, jumping out to a quick 26-7 lead and finishing the first quarter up by 21 points. The lead got as large as 24 at one point, with L.A. still holding a 20-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.

But Boston ripped off a 21-3 run to finish the third quarter, cutting the lead to two and making it a much more exciting game than the first two-and-a-half quarters suggested. Their spirits broken, L.A. lost the game and, eventually, the series.

#4 Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2010) – The Jazz came into Portland for this February game back in 2010 without starting center Mehmet Okur, whose absence was felt immensely as the Jazz fell into a 25-point deficit, trailing by 23 halfway through the third quarter. After chipping away at that lead throughout the fourth quarter, Utah still faced a four-point hole with just 30 seconds to go in the game, but Deron Williams made a couple of free throws, the Jazz got a stop on the defensive end, and Carlos Boozer put-back a last-second miss to send the game into overtime, where the Jazz put the finishing touches on the remarkable comeback win.

#3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Dallas Mavericks (2008) – The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 were not good. Still rebuilding post-Garnett, they had no business jumping out to a massive lead over the much more talented Dallas Mavericks, but that’s exactly what happened. The mediocre Wolves built a seemingly insurmountable 29-point lead, but as it happens, the lead was in fact quite mountable, as the Mavericks ripped into that lead thanks in large part to 24 second-half points by Jason Terry. With a seven-point victory, the Mavericks pulled off an impressive 36-point turnaround, albeit against one of the league’s worst teams.

#2 Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls (2009) – In one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, the Sacramento Kings rallied from being down 79-44 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter to demoralize a Bulls team that flat-out didn’t see it coming. Sacramento finished the quarter on a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 19, then got it down to 95-91 with 2:28 left in the game. Rookie Tyreke Evans outscored the entire Bulls’ team 9-3 the rest of the way, and the comeback was complete. All of this was in Chicago, and the city’s fans literally booed the Bulls off the court. Needless to say, that was Vinny Del Negro’s last season as head coach in Chicago.

#1 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (1998) – In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, a Jazz team featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton did not enter this contest against Denver in 1998 expecting to fall into a 36-point deficit. The score was 70-36 at halftime with the lead expanding further in the third quarter, but that’s when Utah started to grind their way into the lead behind big nights from Malone (31 points) and Jeff Hornacek (29 points). Despite it being a record-breaking comeback, there was no one big remarkable moment. Rather, the Jazz just dismantled the Nuggets through attrition over the course the second half en route to a truly impressive come-from-way-behind victory.

The fact that teams have come back from deficits this huge is exactly why current NBA teams talk about never taking the foot off the gas. Almost no lead is safe, and that’s the beautiful thing about basketball. Sometimes the momentum shifts, and all that planned Twitter bragging goes right down the tubes. At least in Philadelphia’s case the team on the other end of the comeback was the defending champs.

And as this list proves, it could always be worse.

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NBA Sunday: Raptors Aren’t Extinct Just Yet

The Celtics should be a concern to the Cavaliers, but the Raptors shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

Moke Hamilton

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The Toronto Raptors aren’t extinct—not yet, anyway.

With the whirlwind of movement that dominates the headlines this past NBA offseason and the growth of several young players, we’ve spent far more time discussing the likes of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks than the team from up North.

We’ve asked ourselves whether LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers can win the Eastern Conference for a fourth consecutive year and whether or not the Washington Wizards are finally ready to give some credible resistance. Some of us have even gone as far as to predict that, in the ultimate irony, Kyrie Irving will lead the Celtics to the conference crown this season.

And that doesn’t even begin to talk about the storylines from out West.

All the while, quietly and meticulously, Dwane Casey and his Raptors have stalked, and you peer at the standings and realize that they enter play on November 19 at 10-5, tied with the Pistons for the second-best record in the conference.

What has made the Raptors thriving especially improbable is the fact that they’ve done it despite missing a few key contributors for a game or two. To this point, they have ranked respectably both in points allowed per game (102.6) and points allowed per 100 possessions (107.8). Those metrics rank them eighth and 11th, respectively.

So, where exactly do the Raptors fit in the grand scheme of things?

It seems like a question we’ve been asking for a few years now.

* * * * * *

Having qualified for the playoffs four consecutive years, Dwane Casey’s team has won three playoff series over the course of that duration, but haven’t exactly found timely and efficient play from their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

Now, as the Eastern Conference begins to feature younger players with appreciable upside—Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown to name a few—it’s totally fair to wonder where the Raptors fit in. It’s also fair, believe it or not, to wonder whether they’ll be able to provide as much resistance to the Cavaliers as the Celtics.

In effect, the Raptors have become a modern day version of Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. After signing with the Hawks prior to the 2005-06 season, Johnson led the revival of the franchise. They would end up qualifying for the playoffs five consecutive years, but never advanced past the second round. A similar story can be told of Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers.

The point is, however, that over the years, the Raptors have developed an identity and are a team whose hallmarks have come to be toughness and ball-sharing—two characteristics that most coaches would love to embody their team. While we’ve been paying close attention to the things that are brand new and exciting, the Raptors are the same old crew that they have been. And for a team like that, the 2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks will continue to be the gold standard.

The Mavericks notably rebuilt and tore down several incarnations of their team around Dirk Nowitzki until the team was finally able to surround Nowitzki with the right complement of players to score one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it, the Cavaliers are vulnerable.

Entering play on November 19, LeBron James leads the league in both total minutes played (617) and minutes played per game (38.6). Of the players who will comprise James’ supporting rotation in the playoffs, the majority of them are players whose impact will be mostly felt on one side of the floor: offense. To this point, the Cavs have 10 different players averaging 20 minutes played per game—an incredibly high number. More than anything else, that’s a result of Tyron Lue playing with his rotations to figure out which units work best, while also taking into account that the team has been playing without both Tristan Thompson and Derrick Rose for long stretches.

Still, of those rotation players—James, Rose, Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green—the simple truth is that it is only James who has performed like a true two-way player.

It’s a troubling trend upon which the Raptors—and other teams in the conference—could capitalize.

The best two words to describe the Cavaliers to this point in the season are “old” and “slow,” and that’s simply a fact. The club still ranks dead last in points allowed per 100 possessions and 28th in the league in points allowed per game.

In short, the Cavaliers, at least to this point, have certainly appeared to be vulnerable. It is those same Cavaliers that have ended the Raptors season each of the past two years.

You know what they say about third times—they’re often the charm.

* * * * * *

There’s obviously a long way to go, and any chance that Toronto would have to get past the Cavs rests in the ability of Lowry and DeRozan to find some consistency in the playoffs. Still, as the complementary pieces around them have slowly improved, we have spent the early goings of the season fawning over the brand news teams and storylines in the conference and have paid no attention to the old guard.

And depending on how the brackets play out, any Cavaliers foray in the conference finals might have to go through the familiar road of Toronto.

If that happens to be the case—if the Cavs do have to square off against their familiar foe—they’re ripe for the picking.

Just as they have been over the past few years, the Duane Casey’s team will be there waiting for their opportunity.

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