Exactly who is going to beat Cleveland in a seven game series when they have home court advantage?
Not Boston, which lost to Chicago. The Celtics will play at least one and maybe two rounds without home court advantage, and even with Kevin Garnett coming back they are injured and slumping at the wrong time.
It won't be Orlando, who, in a must win game in Cleveland Tuesday, found out why it is next to impossible to beat the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena: They have LeBron James, who can take over a game and hit you with the dagger three to end it all. The Magic lost 97-95.
The only hope Orlando really had in the game — other than Jameer Nelson getting a miracle at Lourdes — was Dwight Howard, because no team has an answer for stopping the best center in the game when he gets the ball near the basket.
So Cleveland never let him get the ball, they worked hard on defense to take away entry passes to the post. And jump-shot happy Orlando guards were all to happy to oblige and launch up long shots. Howard had just eight shots on the night and got to the line five times. That is fewer shots than any other starter — half as many shots as Rafer Alston took. That borders on basketball blasphemy. Did you see the threepeat Lakers not giving the ball to Shaq so Rick Fox could take some more jump shots? When you have the most dominant big man in the game, you feed him. A lot.
Despite all that, Orlando had a nine-point lead with 1:39 left in the third. But while Orlando ignored its superstar, James simply refused to be ignored. From the time Orlando went up nine, LeBron scored the next 12 points in a row for his team. He finished with 21 points in the final 14 minutes. He was a beast. An MVP-like beast.
Orlando couldn’t stop him despite a shot-blocking power in the paint. The Celtics play better team defense but they have never really contained him. And the supporting cast around LeBron can now make you pay as well. The only hope for those teams in the playoffs is to get the kind of breaks you get with home court advantage.
With the win Tuesday, the Cavaliers basically have that too, five-games up in the loss column over either challenger. And with that, the East may be over, too.