Had his Cleveland Cavaliers been playing a more threatening opponent, LeBron James might have been more cautious or effusive with his response on Wednesday morning when the topic was broached of a potential Eastern Conference finals matchup against good buddy and former teammate Dwyane Wade. Though his team was one game into a second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, James didn’t hesitate to admit that his thoughts have drifted to the same place as many fans’ have – and that’s well beyond a Hawks team that he has owned for some time and that will be preparing for the offseason some time in the next week or so.
James wants to face Wade in a postseason series that has somehow never occurred before or after they decided to pal around with the Miami Heat for four years. “It’s not been heavy on my mind, but it’s crossed my mind my whole career,” James said, refusing to dance around a direct question.
The first James-Wade matchup still requires the Cavaliers and Miami Heat to advance, but James is already looking through a translucent opponent in Atlanta after a 123-98 trouncing Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena that included an NBA record 25 3-pointers. The Hawks, losers of nine straight to the Cavaliers dating to last postseason, are of little concern for James. (When the team’s own Twitter account hilariously makes light of its troubles with the crying Jordan meme, that’s pretty much established).
The Cavaliers, up 2-0 in the East semifinal series, are building toward something special, leaving James with few opportunities to get lost in the moment. Near the end of the first half of Cleveland’s Game 2 victory, James let loose because of a different kind of special moment that was so euphoric, so lit, as the kids would say. J.R. Smith nailed another insane, one-legged, fall-away, heat-check 3-pointer, and James, observing from the Cavaliers’ bench, began hopping and swinging his fist in a manner reminiscent of championship celebrations by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
“We understand that we’ve got bigger goals, but I always stress that when you accomplish something special along the way that you don’t take it for granted,” James said after scoring 27 points and nailing four of those record threes, “and I’m one of the guys that kind of always takes it for granted. I never get to appreciate what I’m a part of. I’ve always said, when I’m done playing, I’ll be able to appreciate it more, but [Wednesday] was a special night for our organization … to be able to set an all-time record, it’s special. It’s truly special.”
No Eastern Conference team has had the look of a viable challenger to the Cavs, who have always seemed to be the most talented but have never looked better nor appeared more unified in their cause. So this postseason is about proving something to themselves, not to the teams they’ll face trying to reach the NBA Finals. The Cavs want to show they are good enough to get the job done, regardless of what Golden State and San Antonio have already done.
Smith said after the game that the Cavaliers aren’t trying to send any messages with their performance thus far against Detroit and Atlanta. Nothing needs to be said that hasn’t been shown. The Cavaliers are making it clear that they are on a mission. They are the only unbeaten team in the playoffs and might never have a better opportunity to deliver that title to Northeast Ohio.
When the Warriors ended the best regular season in NBA history with 73 wins, the next two months were set up to be a coronation. But then Stephen Curry sprained his right ankle and later his right knee, creating some genuine suspense for the remainder of this postseason. Until Curry comes back and starts to resemble his old self, teams with hopes of dethroning the defending champs – such as Cleveland – won’t have the same trepidation.