INDEPENDENCE (92.3 The Fan) – Everybody loves an underdog.
But not many will be rooting for the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night – outside northeast Ohio.
The nation’s eyes will be on Quicken Loans Arena as LeBron James and the Miami Heat look for a 24th straight victory and with that keeping alive hopes that they can catch the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ 33 game run.
David vs. Goliath, Ali vs. Frazier, Joe Namath and the N.Y. Jets vs. the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, the Miracle Mets of 1969, the 1980 U.S. hockey team taking down Russia, Villaniova stunning Patrick Ewing and Georgetown to win the 1985 NCAA tournament, the Red Sox improbable rally from a 3-1 ALCS deficit to beat the Yankees and win the 2004 World Series to end the curse of the Bambino and the LA Kings finally raising Lord Stanley’s Cup.
All of those underdogs had a better chance at shocking the world and pulling off the improbable Cinderella story than the Cavaliers have of beating the Heat Wednesday night.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott is doing what he has to do – be optimistic.
“Anything can happen,” Scott said. “Just like boxers. James “Buster” Douglas against Mike Tyson. Nobody in the world thought it would happen.”
Cleveland will take on the defending champs this time without their starting backcourt. Instead of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, it’ll be Shaun Livingston and Wayne Ellington on the floor at the opening tip.
Irving is expected to miss at least 2-3 more weeks with a sprained shoulder while Waiters learned Tuesday that he’ll have to rest a week before they decide what to do about the loose cartilage in his left knee.
“We know that we have to come out and play a great basketball game against a great team,” Scott said. “We know we have to probably play our best game of the season because this team right now, they’re playing at a different level than everybody else.”
Scott can’t imagine what it’s like to win 23 straight but he got to 16 as a member of the Lakers in 1991.
“You guys might not believe this but I wasn’t on the team that won 33 in a row,” Scott joked. “That was 1971 and I was 10 years old.”
Ironically, James has now had a hand in 2 of the longest streaks in NBA history.
Following his departure in the summer of 2010, the Cavaliers lost a professional sports record tying 26 games in a row from Dec. 2010 – Feb. 2011.
In 2013, with 23 consecutive wins under their belt, James and the Heat are rolling and appear invincible.
“They’re on a high,” Scott said. “And when you’re playing that well, obviously you have to have some luck in there during that streak; some things have to go your way but you get to the point where you feel that you’re invincible and you can’t lose and I think that’s where they are right now.”
Guard Daniel Gibson, who along with Anderson Varejao are the lone remaining Cavaliers left over from the LeBron era, said that the weight that has been on James’ shoulders since he was drafted in 2003 was lifted last June by winning his first NBA title.
“When you win a championship, he had a lot of pressure on him to win it,” Daniel Gibson said. “I think now he’s just out there playing free. He’s playing at a very high clip.”
Scott already has handed James his 4th MVP trophy and he thinks that back to back Larry O’Brien trophies could be in the offing come June.
“The way they’re playing right now, it’s going to be tough [to beat them],” Scott said. “But I think there’s a couple teams in the Western Conference who feel they’ve got a pretty good shot. But right now, the way they’re playing, I don’t know if anyone can beat them, especially in a seven-game series.”
As for the reception for James and the Heat Wednesday night, in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd, Gibson expects the building to be less than friendly.
“Of course it’ll be the same for him,” Gibson said. “They’re not going to like him. And we’ll love it.”
What Gibson and the shorthanded Cavaliers won’t love is the beating they are likely to receive courtesy of James and the Heat.