The Cleveland Cavaliers’ latest additions have put them in contention for an NBA championship. During the free agency period, the Cavaliers made huge moves in bringing Ohio native, LeBron James back home and acquiring Minnesota’s superstar power forward, Kevin Love in a trade. To mention some of their smaller offseason moves, they also acquired players like Shawn Marion and sharpshooters Mike Miller and James Jones, and they are still looking to sign another shooter in Ray Allen.
On paper, the Cavaliers are the championship favorites, but there are a few teams in the Eastern Conference that will look to stop their chances…
The Chicago Bulls, with their newly equipped roster, have the necessary tools to give the Cavaliers a run for their money. This season they will have their MVP point guard back, Derrick Rose, who looks healthy judging by his play with the USA Men’s Basketball Team. They have also made some offseason moves, such as signing Pau Gasol in free agency, using the amnesty clause to remove Carlos Boozer from the roster, drafting sharpshooter Doug McDermott, bringing over foreign sensation, Nikola Mirotic and picking up veteran point guard Aaron Brooks. The Bulls finally have the necessary offensive firepower to compete in the Eastern Conference if ever they should meet the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Point guards Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving are two players definitely looking forward to the Bulls and Cavaliers rivalry, as they are both confident in their teams ability to compete against each other.
The early 2000’s rivalry of the Wizards and Cavaliers has plenty of history, and could very well be revived. With the emergence of guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, a solid front line of Marcin Gortat and Nene, and the veteran acquisition of Paul Pierce, the Wizards could do more than just compete, they could actually beat the Cavaliers. At the beginning of last season, the Wizards were questionable to make the playoffs, but they now stand as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James has had plenty of battles against the Wizards but more profound is his individual battles against his arch nemesis, Paul Pierce. While Pierce isn’t the young and prolific superstar he once was, he could definitely provide Wall and Beal enough assistance to get past the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers vs Heat game will probably one of the most premier matchups this season. This could be because its James’ former team or because the Heat have found some way to keep their team elite even with James not on their roster. Regardless of the reason, the Heat are infuriated because James fled town and they want revenge. Their best player and leader, Chris Bosh is looking forward to proving the league wrong about the Heat, and becoming the elite superstar he was while with the Toronto Raptors. They also spent $20 million in free agency funds to bring in veteran small forward Luol Deng, who provides championship pedigree. Their declining star, Dwyane Wade is also looking to remain healthy in order to compete against the Cavaliers. Although the Heat no longer has their Big 3, who were loved by many, they do have 2 players out of the 3 and enough pieces to remain a force to be reckoned with. Their first chance to compete against the Cavaliers will be Christmas Day which could be James’ worst present and the Heat’s best.
Last season, James and the Miami Heat had the luxury of easily advancing past the Charlotte Hornets. This could be due to the facts that their best player Al Jefferson suffered injuries, the Hornets had minimal playoff experience or the Heat were just a more superior team than the Hornets. This season they look to be in full swing with their new addition of underrated guard, Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was a key piece in the Indiana Pacers’ endeavors to beat the Miami Heat and is somewhat infamously known for frustrating Lebron James by blowing in his ear while playing defense against him. The Hornets have their own Charlotte Big 3 in Lance Stephenson, Al Jefferson, and Kemba Walker that will compete with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. While the Cavaliers may not think of the Hornets as a problem they must solve, the Hornets will make sure they are problematic especially if their superior low post leader remains healthy.
While the Raptors have been under the radar with their minimal free agency moves, they did do justice by keeping their improving guard and possible future all star, Kyle Lowry. Lowry caused havoc in the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs and could very well do the same against the Cavaliers. Not only will Lowry cause problems for the Cavaliers but so will DeMar Derozan, who will have responsibility of going head to head with James. While the Raptors seem to have a complete team, their roster is young with little playoff experience. The Cavaliers will likely take advantage of the fact that they aren’t seasoned, but the Raptors could have enough talentto compete against anyone. The Raptors and their NCAA game-esque crowd are going to be difficult to defeat, especially since they will likely be fueled by their first round playoff loss against the Nets.
The Eastern Conference has improved drastically and these are the top teams that could compete with, if not beat, the Cavaliers. The Indiana Pacers are also an honorable mention but will likely have a below average season due to Paul George’s injury. While the Cavaliers look like the favorite now, once the season starts, these teams could be their albatross.
This post was written by Jared Hill. Jared is a freelance sports and entertainment blogger for DirectStarTV.com who specializes in NBA coverage. You can follow him on twitter @JaredHill341