Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Historical perspective

Monday, the Cavaliers finished off a sweep of the Wizards to advance to the second round of the playoffs. And Cleveland, as a population, nodded in approval, straight-faced, and went back to fawning over the Browns.

It's about what you'd expect for a basketball team playing a less-than-compelling series in a football-crazed town during an NFL Draft in which the local football club might have just transformed the entire future of their franchise.

LeBron James rules Cleveland when it comes to individual sports figures, but if it's a question of football versus basketball, of brown and orange versus wine and gold, sorry Cavs, your seats are in the back. We'll revisit your standing when and if you reach the NBA Finals.

There might not have been many reasons to get pumped for a Cavs-Wizards rematch. The Wizards were greatly hindered without Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. The Cavs were expected to take care of Washington in short order, and they did.

It's like expecting the waiter to bring your order to your table at a sit-down restaurant. The waiter is supposed to do that. You only take notice if the food doesn't arrive.

But what the Cavs completed on Monday night is still noteworthy, if only because Cavs playoff history has been so lackluster. No amount of success can be taken for granted right now.

Let's count the ways the Cavs made and revisited history on Monday:

Monday's win marked the first-ever sweep of a playoff series in team history. The closest the Cavs had previously come to sweeping a series was in defeating New Jersey 3-1 in the first round of the 1992 playoffs.

This is the first time since 1993 that the Cavs have won playoff series in consecutive years. One more series win would equal the most successful two-year playoff stretch in franchise history, in which the Cavs won a total of three series in the '92 and '93 playoffs.

Monday also marked the first time the Cavs had ever won back-to-back playoff games on the road. That's right. Thirty-seven years of franchise history, and prior to Games 3 and 4 of this series, the Cavs had never won consecutive road playoff games.

The Cavs have now won six playoff series in franchise history. Three of them have come against Washington -- in 1976 as the Bullets, last year and this year. Two of the remaining three series wins have come against the Nets, Cleveland's likely opponent in the next round.

The Cavs are fortunate to be awaiting the winner of the Toronto-New Jersey series. Both cities are east of Cleveland. For whatever it's worth (not much, I'm guessing), the Cavs have never won a playoff series against a team from a city west of Cleveland. They are a combined 0-7 against the Bulls, Pacers and Pistons.

Obviously, if the Cavs want to reach the NBA Finals this year, that streak would have to come to an end in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would face the winner of the upcoming Chicago-Detroit series.

Should the Cavs get to the East Finals and win three games, it would mark the deepest penetration into the playoffs in team history. The Cavs have won two games in each of their two previous trips to the conference finals, 1976 and 1992.

But we can cross that bridge when we get there. Right now, let's take the time to enjoy the fact that the Cavs are starting to build a respectable postseason resume.

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