Thursday, May 07, 2009

Carpe diem

How much credit are you willing to give the Cavaliers?

They're 6-0 in the playoffs. But the '07 team started 6-0 in the playoffs, too, and that team trotted out a starting backcourt of Larry Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic. They've won every game by double digits, but they've done their damage against a demoralized Pistons team and an injury-riddled Hawks team.

It's true that the Cavs haven't really had an opportunity to pick on someone their own size thus far in the postseason. Detroit had been an underachieving lot all year. The Hawks needed seven games to dispatch a rebuilding Miami team, and suffered injuries to two starters for their trouble.

With that in mind, you might say that if the Cavs manage to reach the conference finals without disturbing the loss column, no one is going to give them a medal of valor. It's the outcome we're expecting. A team that won 66 regular season games should be vanquishing their early-round opponents like this, after all.

To that, I say: It's amazing what a few months of success can do to one's sense of entitlement. If you feel that way, it's a good thing the Cavs players don't.

No matter how much you might want to believe that these early series were over before they even started, that's simply not the case. Much like a duck's placid glide across a pond belies webbed feet furiously kicking below the surface, there is a whole lot of work and a whole lot of determination that goes into what the Cavs have accomplished thus far in the playoffs.

The Cavs are dominating teams because they are preparing to dominate teams. They are working to impose their collective will on every game. They are out-hustling, out-defending and out-executing their opponents. That doesn't just happen because one team is better than the other.

The Washington Wizards gave us all a reminder of what can happen when an elite team doesn't take a lesser team seriously enough. Washington beat the Cavs twice this year, and nearly beat them a third time.

What the Cavs have done during the regular season and in the postseason so far is the mark of a special team. The Cavs have had their mental lapses this year, as all teams do occasionally, but they have been isolated incidents. With few exceptions, this team's resolve has been steeled, their unity galvanized and their commitment to improvement unwavering.

That's how you loot and pillage your way through six playoff games. A lesser team might still have started the postseason 6-0, but it's a virtual guarantee that they wouldn't have netted six comfortable wins. The Cavs have gone nearly three weeks into the 2009 playoffs, and so far, a fourth quarter hiccup in Game 2 against the Pistons -- a Detroit comeback that didn't venture any closer than eight points -- is what counts for a tense moment in this Cavs playoff run.

What you are seeing is the result of a team with rare chemistry, a team of veteran millionaires willing to let their superstar leader lead, and a superstar leader who is willing to let his coach do the coaching.

It's not something that just happens, putting 15 millionaires in a locker room and having them emerge with impeccable chemistry and well-defined roles. It takes a lot of work. It takes a bunch ego-driven professional athletes putting their personal agendas aside, allowing LeBron soak up the spotlight and grab the lion's share of the accolades without letting jealousy seep into the locker room culture, and above all, adhering to Mike Brown's defense-first principles.

This is a special team storming through a special season. The same cast of characters might return next year and, for varying reasons, the performance and chemistry might not totally be the same.

The Cavs are doing what a 66-win one-seed is supposed to do -- get through the early rounds of the playoffs with little-to-no drama. But this is also a team that is having a rare run of dominance. It won't always be like this, so savor it.

It takes a lot of work to make beating the Pistons and Hawks look this easy. And, for that, the Cavs players and coaches should receive credit from the fans and media.

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