Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NBA SEASON PREVIEW ; Cavs Still the Team to Beat in East

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NBA SEASON PREVIEW ; Cavs Still the Team to Beat in East

Article excerpt

It's become an annual tradition: LeBron James enters a season with tons of expectations on his shoulders, challengers coming at him from all sides, then somehow finds his way back to the NBA Finals. When James was in Miami for four years, getting to the title round was practically necessary to keep the critics at bay. In Cleveland last season, a trip to the Finals was surprising to many maybe even James himself.

This year, it seems expected.

While there's plenty of teams that think they have a legitimate path toward getting into the Eastern Conference playoff race, it's James and the Cavaliers that look like the unquestioned favorites to represent that side of the league in the Finals again next spring. Yes, they'll be missing an injured Kyrie Irving for a while longer, just got the Tristan Thompson contract impasse solved and Kevin Love is coming off a horrible shoulder injury.

They have questions. But they also have James, who typically has all the answers and is bidding for a seventh Finals trip in his 13 seasons.

The real race might be for No. 2. Miami is getting a healthy Chris Bosh back and improved its bench, Atlanta won 60 games last season, Chicago still is loaded with talent though faces the annual question of Derrick Rose's health and have a new coach in Fred Hoiberg. Toronto, Milwaukee and Washington have reason to think big, Indiana is welcoming back Paul George but lost a fixture in David West, and Boston coach Brad Stevens has been working wonders.

A look at the East:

PLAYOFF BOUND

1. Cleveland Expect a slow start mainly because of injuries, then a late charge toward the NBA Finals. In short, a repeat of last season.

2. Miami Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic finally are together, Dwyane Wade is back and talent got added. If healthy, they could challenge.

3. Atlanta Surprise of the East last season, went 33-2 in one unbelievable 35-game stretch. Now they must find a way to rekindle that level of success.

4. Chicago Fred Hoiberg takes over and gets a great backcourt in Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. If they remain elite, Bulls will contend.

5. Toronto This could be the wild-card team in the East. Masai Ujiri has built a strong roster, and DeMarre Carroll certainly won't hurt. …

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