Winning begets rest, and rest begets winning, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are feasting on both.
They’re not satiated, either, because their singular focus is sweeping the Toronto Raptors in the second round and whoever comes next in the Eastern Conference finals, if only to get a couple more weeks off before a presumptive third straight NBA Finals meeting with the Golden State Warriors.
Or so says Cavs newcomer Kyle Korver, a two-time Cleveland sweep victim who shared this nugget in NBA.com scribe Steve Aschburner’s column on the brilliance of “Playoff” LeBron James over the years:
“I know sweeps are hard to get, but these guys have been doing that, and it’s like they want to sweep so they get that week [off between rounds]. Having that thought in their heads — ‘If we sweep this team, we’re going to have that time off’ — not many teams go into a playoff series thinking that. You’re just trying to win the series. But they were like, ‘Trust us.'”
Obviously, everyone wants to win every playoff game, which, when stretched out over a series, means everyone wants sweeps, but few can afford to think so far in advance, because only one has LeBron.
The difference in mentality between winning a series and seeking a sweep is the difference between being satisfied with a split on the road and considering Games 3 and 4 must-wins, not because you believe your opponent can come back from a 2-0 deficit, but because you want to kick your feet up.
It’s an honest, realistic and totally understandable thought. It’s also completely disrespectful. Then again, LeBron doesn’t seem all that concerned with Toronto’s feelings, given he did this in Game 1:
lebron skipping towards the beer is just perfect pic.twitter.com/qFM1qvYU6F
— nbaayy (@nbaayy) May 2, 2017
And this in Game 2:
LeBron James just spins the ball right in front of Serge Ibaka and splashes the 3 in his eye ???? pic.twitter.com/EfVqyFNJao
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 3, 2017
Of course, there are reasons beyond toying with someone else’s psyche the Cavs would want those extra off days. The playoffs already provide for more rest than the regular season, with no back-to-backs and more stretches of multiple days between games, but Richard Jefferson, for one, has cited the extra rest in last year’s playoffs — a week between each of the first three rounds and five days off before the Finals — as reason for his ability to contribute at a high level throughout the 2016 playoffs.
Cleveland entered this season with the league’s oldest average age as a team (30.5 years old), and then filled out the roster with a 36-year-old Korver and an about-to-be 33-year-old Deron Williams. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue sitting James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a nationally broadcast Saturday night game against the Los Angeles Clippers in mid-March was the impetus for NBA commissioner Adam Silver sending a memo to teams about rest, and a weeks-long debate over the issue ensued.
So, we know the Cavs need their rest. That much is obvious. They’re also comfortable playing the 32-year-old LeBron a league-high 37.8 minutes per game during the regular season and bumping that average up to 42.1 in the playoffs — the most per-game minutes of any player left in the postseason.
“I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of his minutes,” Lue told Cleveland.com last week. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games and then he had a week off again.”
Still, you can’t help but wonder why Lue gave his superstar such a heavy minutes load 14 seasons into his career, especially since Cleveland didn’t seem all too concerned with earning the East’s No. 1 seed. And it’s crazy to think the Cavaliers would be so at ease with taxing LeBron during the regular season because they anticipated several additional weeks off for him in the playoffs, but it’s also pretty wild to be openly telling new teammates, “Trust us,” the week off between sweeps is pretty awesome.
At any rate, this could spell disaster for the rest of the East once again, because it sure seems like the more the Cavs rest, the more they win, and the more they win, the more they rest. LeBron’s 21 straight first-round playoff wins has afforded his team 38 days of rest before Round 2 over the past six years. The Cavs’ second-round sweep last year freed them for eight more days before the conference finals.
LeBron’s Cavs have seen their win percentage increase along with the number of days between games since he turned 30 and the idea of resting him became more real. Here’s the breakdown since 2014:
0 days: 29-28 (.509 win percentage)
1 day: 90-43 (.677)
2 days: 32-11 (.744)
3+ days: 9-1 (.900)
So, this business about sweeps offering extra rest is all with an eye toward facing the Warriors at full strength. Golden State played three more playoff games than Cleveland entering last year’s Finals, and while that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, it does mean more than you might think when Stephen Curry is playing through a knee injury (and Draymond Green is working toward a suspension).
Whether that’s the reason Golden State faded in Games 5, 6 and 7 against Cleveland in 2016 is up for debate, but what we do know is the Cavs would like to enter this year’s Finals with even more rest than they did the last two years, when they finished each season with a 12-2 record against the East.
Yup, the Cavs are packing their brooms for Toronto, and they’re not afraid to let the Raptors know it.
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