We knew MJ and you’re not here: Hard times for LeBron and East

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error San Antonio was second at 13 percent.Washington, believe it or not, was third at 5 percent.The Jazz, Raptors and Celtics were tied for fourth at 3 percent.The Cavs were at 2 percent, tied for seventh with the Clippers and Celtics after going 12-10 since the All-Star break, losing by 29 points in San Antonio and dropping another game in Chicago where the 35-39 Bulls finished sweeping their season series, 4-0.Worst of all was Friday’s upset at home by the Hawks… who rested their entire starting team… after which Kyrie Irving said his surgically repaired right knee had “flared up,” signaling big trouble in the coming two months of crunch time.If Fivethirtyeight’s percentages are Looney Tunes, you get the idea. Nobody thinks much of the Cavs these days… not even the Cavs who aren’t doing the usual bleat about lack of respect.The decline of the East can be summed up in two words: LeBron James.It’s not that Bron isn’t an all-time great, having appeared in the past six Finals and winning three. He’s just not Mike, who appeared in six, won them all and captured six Finals MVPs to go with them.Nor it is all Bron’s fault. Part of the problem was due to the failure of the Cavaliers to build a championship team around him before he left in 2010. Part of it was his 2014 decision to leave Miami, where the Heat had built a championship team around him to return to the Cavs, who had just gone 33-49.Not that it was a wild time for LeBron but he claims to have made the decision on a plane from Las Vegas, where he met with the Heat … keeping it secret from his pal, Dwyane Wade, who was along for the ride back to Miami.Had Bron chosen to stay where he was, we might still be seeing the Heat and Warriors vie annually. Ah, if only …Nevertheless, having won his third title with last spring’s improbable comeback, James, who had always ducked the subject, thought it was safe to acknowledge that he was, indeed, out to show he was as good as Jordan, noting, “My motivation is in the ghost I’m chasing.”Well, at least he chased him through New Year’s Day before the Cavs, who started 25-7, leveled out. After a Jan. 23 loss in New Orleans, Bron challenged the front office — by which he meant owner Dan Gilbert — demanding reinforcements.“I’ll be 33 in the winter and I ain’t got time to waste,” Bron said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”Actually, James meant next winter, having turned 32 just 24 days before, suggesting the anxiety already rising within him.Worse, all Bron could think to ask for were veteran backups at center and point guard — meaning that whatever the answer to overhauling the Warriors was, he didn’t know it.The Cavs eventually got Bron what he sought, even if it was only journeymen Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams … only to see Bogut suffer a season-ending broken leg one minute into his debut.As to the Cavaliers’ problem, that’s easy. Like all the other teams, including the Warriors, they had decided to rest their key players and nodded off.They had already lost Kevin Love for 13 games when Coach Tyronn Lue made it official in early March, noting, “We’re still going to go about our plan. We can’t run LeBron into the ground because Kevin is out. Guys got to step up and be ready to play.”Unfortunately, guys couldn’t or didn’t. As for urgency, their No. 23 defensive average since the break suggested they didn’t feel much.Unfortunately for them, they were only No. 19 before the break — compared to last season’s No. 4 — suggesting the Cavs haven’t felt much urgency all season.Of course, even if Fivethirtyeight has the Cavs and Clippers tied at 2 percent, everyone around here knows the Cavaliers have a much better chance… if only because they’re in the East, in the lone piece of good luck the Cavs have made or enjoyed lately. Meanwhile, back with the defending NBA champions …No, that’s not Golden State, even if it feels like it with the Warriors having added Kevin Durant and now on a leisurely 67-win pace with the Cavaliers on a lethargic 54-win pace after putting it together long enough to rally from a 3-1 deficit in last year’s NBA Finals.Upending the Warriors was the last good thing that happened to the Cavs, now reduced to fighting for the No. 1 seed which they regained after dropping behind the Celtics, a glorified rebuilding program that was focused on their upcoming lottery pick from Brooklyn until realizing they were as good as anyone else in the rag-tag East.A new generation of fans has grown up having never known a time when the East ruled.center_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersIt’s no mystery what happened: Michael Jordan left the Bulls for the last time, ending their dynasty … in 1998, 19 seasons ago.Since then, the West has won 12 of the 18 Finals. It would have been even more one-sided if the Cavs hadn’t staged the Finals’ first-ever rally from 3-1 down and the Heat hadn’t come from 2-0 down to beat the Mavericks in 2006.These days, the No. 1 team in the East is known as “the long shot,” although The Little Conference That Hopes It Can is now outdoing itself in darkhorse chic. Fivethirtyeight.com, the go-to site for political polling which also tries to do sports, has a model that predicts each NBA team’s chances of winning the title.Starting the weekend it had Golden State first at 63 percent.last_img

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