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  Friday, October 31, 2014
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Underdogs Can't Topple Beasts
By Paul Noonan

     If they weren’t in allegiance to a playoff team this season, many fans opted instead to support one of two teams:  the Cleveland Cavaliers or the L.A. Clippers.  Both teams have had minimal playoff success in their respective histories, and neither has ever won a championship.  For the Clippers success has been even harder to come by as they finally broke their two decade playoff drought this April.  Yet, while Cleveland has seen more games in the spring, they still have yet to put together a team that could make it to the NBA Finals.  So while the Detroits and San Antonios make yet another run at the title, it was hard not to root for a little change of pace. 

             

     With Lebron James leading the way, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally made it back to the playoffs.  Earning a 50-32 record, Cleveland had a strong year and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference.  Many were unsure of how successful Cleveland would be.  A lot of pressure was put on Lebron James in his playoff debut, and how he handled his baptism would be a key factor in the Cavs’ success.  Lebron handled the pressure just fine.  While they weren’t so dominant as to make you think they were suddenly a championship favorite (three of their wins came by just one point), the Cavs did do enough to knock the Washington Wizards out of the playoffs in six games.  But now the Cavs would be put to the test.  Their second round opponent was the best the East had to offer, the Detroit Pistons.  With a 64-18 record Detroit breezed through the regular season, and on paper should have been a shoo- in to beat Cleveland.  Game one of the series seemed to support that theory as Detroit easily dispatched the Cavs 113-86.  The Cavaliers tightened things up in game 2, but it still wasn’t enough as Detroit again edged them out.  Things were looking bleak for Cleveland, but game three provided some hope.  Cleveland was the more dominant team when they returned home and cut the series lead to 2-1.  In game four, the Cavs defense came up big and they held on for a 74-72 win to tie up the series.  Suddenly, Cleveland looked like they could pull off the upset.  When the Cavs took game five from Detroit in their own arena, the buzz began.  Could Lebron take his team past the best the East could offer and make it to the Conference Finals?  Better yet, if the Cavs can knock off the Pistons, isn’t it likely they could win it all?  Could Lebron win a title at a younger age than MJ?  Well, we got ahead of ourselves.  In game six, Cleveland was in the hunt to the last minute, but poor rebounding in the final seconds cost them the chance to send it to OT or pull off the upset.  Unfortunately, the Pistons many thought they’d see all series finally showed up in game seven and they easily sent Cleveland packing.

             

     For L.A. the path was pretty similar.  With an impressive 47-35 record, the Clippers finally ended years of misery and reached the playoffs.  Better yet, the Clippers got what many felt was the ideal playoff slot:  #6.  Fans felt this way because the Denver Nuggets were not a very strong team, and only placed so high because they won their division.  The Clippers proved everyone right when they cruised past Denver in a 4-1 first round win.  The Clippers wouldn’t get so lucky in round two though.  L.A. would have to get past the Phoenix Suns, a team that made it to the Conference Finals last year, and also boasted the league’s MVP in Steve Nash.  The only plus was that Phoenix played without all- star Amare Stoudemire.  The series turned out to be another great one.  The two teams alternated wins each game, starting with Phoenix.  After losing game one, the Clippers got walked all over Phoenix in game two.  L.A. played it close in game three, but fell a long range jumper shy of the Suns on their home turf.  They wouldn’t let their home court advantage go completely to waste though, as the Clippers game back in game four to tie the series.  Things looked bleak after L.A. fell in double OT in game five, but they again were carried by home court advantage and forced a game seven.  The Clippers put up a good fight, but didn’t have enough to oust Phoenix, as they too fell in the seventh game.

             

     While both teams suffered the same fate their successes are a good starting point.  For Lebron and the Cavs, it is the beginning of what they hope will be large success over the next decade or so, maybe even enough titles for Lebron to give Jordan a run for his money.  For L.A., it is the end of a drought and hopefully the start of a flood.  No longer will the talk of L.A. be only about the Lakers, now it is the Clippers’ time to shine.  They do not have the next big thing like Cleveland does, but they do have enough talent that with another player or two they will be serious threats in the West.  Who knows, maybe these teams will be the next edition of the Spurs/Pistons or Lakers/Celtics, meeting each other in the finals on a consistent basis.  Both teams sure have been waiting long enough.



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