CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Cavaliers might be the defending NBA Champions but they aren’t the favorites to repeat.
Some don’t believe that the Cavs will even get out of the Eastern Conference and back to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season, and that’s just fine with Cavs general manager David Griffin.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s reasons for concern,” Griffin said. “We had a very rocky and adverse regular season. In many ways that’s a real blessing for us because it’s how we like it. This team is much more comfortable with it’s back against the wall and when everybody says we can’t.”
Cleveland finished a tumultuous regular season marred by injuries 51-31, tied with Toronto for second-best in the conference but the 3-1 regular season series tie breaker over the Raptors gave them the second seed and a first-round date with the Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.
Griffin explained why he doesn’t feel they are any more vulnerable entering the playoffs this year than the previous 2 years.
“Not if we’re the good version of us, we’ll be better,” Griffin said. “We’re more talented than we were at this time last year. We’ve been through more. We’re more hardened than seasoned than we were at this time last year.
“This team lost 2 starters and made it to the Finals and was 2 games away from winning a championship 2 years ago and most of these same guys are the ones who did that.”
After the All-Star break the Cavs went 12-16 and 26-24 since the calendar flipped from 2016 to 2017 after starting the season an impressive 25-7.
“I’m no less confident,” Griffin said. “I’m more pissed off we put ourselves in this position because we certainly didn’t need to but damn we’re good when we put ourselves here so I hope that’s what we do.”
The Cavs essentially gave away the final 4 games of the regular season after blowing out the Celtics in Boston on April 5 to cap a 4-game win streak that stopped a stretch that saw them lose 5 of 7.
At times the Cavs seemed bored, disinterested and complacent.
“I think we’ve treated the regular season where we’re going to flip a switch,” Griffin said. “Most of that brought on by injuries and changes in lineups, but I think some of that is we tend to think we’re better than we are at times.
“You’ve seen we have the capability in the regular season to be very, very good when we’re all connected and dedicated to the same thing.”
Case in point: a convincing 114-91 win at Boston on April 5 followed by a 114-100 loss at home 2 days later to the Atlanta Hawks who sat 5 players – including 3 starters – due to injury or rest.
The Cavs followed that ugly loss last Friday night up Sunday afternoon by blowing a 26-point fourth quarter lead in Atlanta where they lost in overtime. Monday in Miami saw the big-3 sit and they sat again Wednesday night against Toronto – both losses.
“I don’t think we were playing that bad,” head coach Tyronn Lue said.
But that 4-game win streak is why Lue remains convinced his team is ready for the post season.
“My confidence is that we can win. We can win the series,” Lue said. “I know our team and we have the confidence to win.
“[The playoffs are] here and it’s put up or shut up time. I believe we will put up.”