February 11, 2008
You’d think that earning the top seed in this year’s Eastern Conference Playoffs would be a good thing. Home-court advantage throughout, a first-round matchup with the worst team to qualify for the postseason, etc. This year, however, I’m not so sure that’s something the Celtics or Pistons should be aiming for.
It’s a boobie trap. A cruel reward for a job well done. And you know just as well as I do why: whichever team outdistances the other in the two-horse race for the East’s top spot–Boston currently holds a three-game lead over Detroit–will be tasked with containing one LeBron Raymone James, better known as “The Man Who Stomped All Over the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 NBA Playoffs.”
And that’s not an enviable job. Just ask Flip Saunders, who helplessly watched from the sidelines last May as James willed his team to four straight victories over Detroit in the Conference Finals. In those four games he averaged 31.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 2.2 steals against the NBA’s second-best team defense. Just as importantly as the raw stats, James stepped up in crunch time and showed the world he has “it” in terms of elevating his game by leaps and bounds on the big stage.
LeBron James Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Now, a few things still have to happen before the Celtics or Pistons need to worry themselves with stopping LeBron. They’ll of course need to maintain their pace in the East and secure the top two seeds, respectively. This shouldn’t be too difficult considering that heading into tonight’s action, the Celtics held a commanding 12.5-game lead over the second-place Raptors, while the Pistons held a comfortable 9-game advantage on the Cavs. Currently slotted third in the East, the Orlando Magic are a full six games back from Detroit, and I’d be shocked if they caught up.
More on the LeBron James Dilemma after the jump…
Assuming the Pistons hold off Cleveland in the Central Division and that Orlando doesn’t sneak into the second seed, the Cavaliers would finish no higher than the East’s fourth seed, which seems likely at this point. That means a first-round matchup with the five team (Toronto? Washington?); whomever the opponent, you’d have to give the Cavs the edge because, well, they employ King James. That would then set up a showdown with the East’s top-seeded team in Round Two, again assuming whomever it is doesn’t pull a Dallas Mavericks on us.
I know the Cavaliers haven’t improved LeBron’s supporting cast whatsoever since last season. They’re a flawed team dotted with ugly blemishes, and if James is out of the lineup or off his game, beating quality teams is next to impossible for Cleveland. Still, I don’t want to deal with Postseason LeBron until I have to. Even if the Celtics/Pistons succeed in eliminating
LeBron the Cavs, it almost assuredly won’t be an easy task. It’s going to be a draining, painful, tiring ordeal, one that could potentially go on for seven grueling games. No disrespect to the Magic, but they’re still an inexperienced postseason squad and a much more preferable draw in Round Two.
The Celtics and Pistons will tell you it doesn’t matter who they play. And to a degree, that’s true. But these guys are only human, and though they’d never, ever admit it, I don’t think either relishes a postseason rendezvous with King James and His Court of Jesters until absolutely necessary.