LeBron delivers from day one
No matter what kind of numbers LeBron James finishes his rookie season with, he's already achieved something that dozens of ball players before him haven't been able to. Not Ricky Davis. Not Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Not Darius Miles. Not Andre Miller. Not Shawn Kemp.
Not even Vitaly Potapenko.
What monumental feat has LeBron accomplished after just one pro game? He's actually got people excited about the Cleveland Cavaliers. I mean, all we've been hearing about for months is this 18-year-old manchild from Akron. As the regular season inched closer, the national buzz escalated to a nearly deafening pitch. People haven't talked this much about the Cavs in the last decade, but now C-Town has instantly become the crux of the NBA Universe.
For proof, all I have to do is look at the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer monitor. It's now past 1:00 in the morning, which for some of you may not seem obscenely late. But, you see, I've got a seven-month old daughter, and like most seven-month old kids, she doesn't really understand that daddy needs his shuteye. And yet here I am, eyelids heavy and brain merely semi-functional, pounding away on my keyboard well past my bedtime.
The crazy thing is, I watched ‘Bron throw oops, drain fade-aways and pick pockets all night, and I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, this team could somehow slink into the playoffs. Sure, that may just be the drowsiness talking, but don't forget that the Cavs play in the NBA Least, where mediocrity reigns supreme. I mean, Orlando and Milwaukee were both a mundane 42-40 last season and yet they made the playoffs. The Wizards finished the year eight games below .500 but they were in the race right down to the wire.
So why couldn't the Cavs pry open a backdoor and slip into the postseason? Sure, it's a long shot – I'm not predicting a title run for this young team based on one memorable performance from #23 that nonetheless resulted in a loss. But it wouldn't be so outrageous to see LeBron and his teammates secure the seventh or eight playoff slot in the East.
Honestly, once you move past the Nets, Pistons, Pacers and 76ers, the rest of the conference is up for grabs. Are the Cavaliers any worse than the Hornets or the Wizards or the Antoine Walker-less Celtics? Not if LeBron continues to play as composed and controlled as he did tonight.
Now I realize that the Cavs would need a lot of luck to qualify for the playoffs just one year after stumbling to a 17-65 finish, but they'd also need Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ricky Davis to take control of the offense and lead this young squad to some hard-fought wins. Early in the fourth quarter against the Kings tonight, the Cavs secured a slim two-point lead, their first of the game, before Sacramento went on a little run to open up their own lead. James took a couple wild shots during that stretch, came out of his game a bit trying to make things happen and, like all elite teams, the Kings took advantage of the opportunity and swung the momentum back in their favor. Game over.
Those are the critical moments when Z and Davis need to establish themselves. Because as spectacular as the kid is going to be, LeBron isn't quite ready to be that dependable go-to guy down the stretch. The ability to create magic in crunch time, to squeeze the life out of an opponent with a dazzling shot or a beautiful pass, is something he'll have to develop over time. Until then, when the game's on the line, Ricky and Z are the Cavs' best options, especially in the East where quality big men are about as common as an entertaining Jennifer Lopez movie.
Still, as optimistic as I'm tempted to be with this exciting team, I'm also realistic. One close call against the Sacramento Kings doesn't spell success or doom for the 2003-04 Cavaliers. But it does unmistakably generate loads of excitement for a franchise that's traditionally been pretty damn dull.
And that's because of LeBron James.
The Savior has already been triumphant from a PR perspective for the Cavs. Now it's time to fill up the win column.
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