Howard Beck: ‘LeBron Success Diminished By Weak East’

Historically, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not fared very well in Game 1s on the road, but they got the job done Wednesday, beating Atlanta, 97-89. That’s four straight wins for Cleveland, which is playing without Kevin Love and with a hobbled Kyrie Irving.

“They’re winning in different ways every night,” Bleacher Report senior NBA writer Howard Beck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “They’re winning in unique ways. I’d say J.R. Smith hitting eight three-pointers and scoring 28 points – and a lot of them on high-degree-of-difficulty shots – is a unique way of winning. LeBron also had a pretty great game – one of his better games of the postseason. So that mattered. Kyrie was still making plays for other people, but he didn’t obviously score a ton. So the Cavaliers, to their credit, have found ways to gut out wins.”

Atlanta, however, is not exactly an offensive juggernaut, and Cleveland has the best player in the world.

“The Hawks are not the most offensively potent team in the world,” Beck said. “They’re a very, very good team, but as we know, their whole model has been that they have a bunch of very, very good players but no one transcendent type – no LeBron type, no one who’s going to dig them out of a hotel singlehandedly. So it’s tough for the Hawks when they get down. And then obviously losing DeMarre Carroll, who’s obviously been not only their best perimeter defender but one of their leading scorers in this postseason too was just kind of a crushing blow there in the fourth quarter.”

Looking specifically at James, though, is it possible that we are taking his greatness for granted? After all, he is three wins away from a fifth straight NBA Finals – and his sixth in nine years. This year, he’s doing it with a bunch that essentially came together at midseason.

What he’s been able to do is pretty mind-blowing, no?

“That’s probably true, but I would put this in two different ways,” Beck said. “One, yes, if he gets to a fifth straight Finals, that is phenomenal – for anyone. And the fact that he has changed teams twice in the last five, six years, I think probably distracts from the accomplishment because it’s not the Cavaliers going five straight times. It’s not the Heat going five straight times. But it is LeBron going five straight times, and in some ways it’s even more impressive because he had to keep changing up the team around him. But I think (the) change of uniform and city distracts to an extent.

“But I would also say this,” Beck continued, “and this is not to denigrate his accomplishment at all. Don’t misread this. But the Eastern Conference is not very good – and it has not been very good for most of this run with the Heat and now with the Cavs. The teams that were supposed to be his greatest rivals – the Bulls fell apart the last couple years with Derrick Rose out and this year they just fell apart for all kinds of strange reasons, including the Thibodeau situation. The Hawks are one of the less-impressive 60-win teams we’ve seen. No one seems to fear them and they came into this series as the underdog despite having the higher seed. Washington, decent. Toronto, not so good. There’s just not been a real rival. The Pacers were a rival to the Heat and LeBron for a couple years there, but injuries degraded them and we’ll see if they can pick themselves back up with Paul George returning next season.

“But the West is brutal. It’s one team after another that you could see as being a potential championship contender as you’re going through the playoffs. And the East, there’s just not much there. So that’s not to denigrate an accomplishment. You get to five straight Finals, it’s great regardless, and if he wins another championship – three in five years – that would be a phenomenal accomplishment, too. I don’t think they’re going to beat whoever comes out of the West, though.”

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