Cavs thirsty to end drought

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:16 PM ET

Call it attempt No. 17.

That's 16 previous trips to the NBA playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers and zero titles to show for it.

Listen to LeBron James or Mo Williams or any of this season's Cavaliers squad and the drought is about to come to an end.

And it's hard to argue against them. The Cavs have been everything and then some this season, reeling off a league high 66 wins to claim home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Treading carefully

James hasn't taken a wrong step all year unless you count walking into Gotham and stirring up the natives with hints that LeBron will be making Madison Square Garden his homecourt after 2010 as a wrong step.

Even the biggest threats -- at least the ones in the East -- to their championship hopes seem to be setting the table for the Cavs.

First the Orlando Magic loses its starting point guard and then both forwards get gimpy toward the end of the year. Sure, Dwight Howard is as healthy as a horse but can he do it all alone?

Then the defending champion Boston Celtics drop a pre-playoff bombshell that their heart and soul, Kevin Garnett, may not see the court in the playoffs because of a knee injury.

Yes, everything does seem to be coming up Cavaliers.

We'll all know for sure somewhere around mid-June.

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

#8 Detroit

Pistons

#1 Cleveland

Cavaliers

Season: Cavs won 3-1

Injuries: Detroit -- G Allen Iverson (back) out for season. Cleveland -- C Ben Wallace (knee) is day-to-day, F J.J. Hickson (back) is day to day.

The Skinny: The Pistons are going to have their hands full with a Cleveland squad that lost just twice on homecourt this season and only once when they actually put a semblance of the talent they possess on the court. Lost the season finale at home to Philly with LeBron James, Mo Williams and others in street clothes ... Addition of Williams has moved Cavs to another level although James, himself, has jacked his game to an all-time high as well ... Pistons season went in the dumper almost as soon as Chauncey Billups departed and the Answer arrived. Fortunately for the Pistons Iverson is out for the remainder of the year and will not be a distraction ... Not that they need any more help but Daniel (Boobie) Gibson has been awfully quiet this year. If he gets hot and starts draining three's, the Cavs are almost unbeatable ... The Cavs and Pistons meet for the third time in the NBA playoffs. Cleveland has won the past four playoff games these two have played. Don't expect things to change much this year.

#7 CHICAGO BULLS

#2 BOSTON CELTICS

Season: Celtics won 2-1

Injuries: Chicago -- G Luol Deng (leg) is out indefinitely. Boston -- C Kevin Garnett (knee) is out indefinitely, C Brian Scalabrine (concussion) is out indefinitely.

The Skinny: Have to wonder if Doc Rivers isn't trying to use the Garnett injury to light a fire under the rest of the team. Garnett's pain threshold is almost legendary and yet Rivers is saying he's done for the playoffs. We'll see ... Even without Garnett, the Celtics were a respectable 18-7 and should handle the Bulls without much trouble ... Chicago's future once again appears bright with sure-thing Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose running things but Rose and Boston's Rajon Rondo pretty much cancel each other out leaving the remainder of Boston's Big Three -- Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- to run roughshod over the Bulls ... Not that they needed any more motivation with their heart-and-soul player already sidelined, but the Celtics also can play up the win-one-for-the-ailing-GM with Danny Ainge suffering a mild heart attack on Thursday.

#6 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

#3 ORLANDO MAGIC

Season: Magic swept 3-0

Injuries: Philadelphia -- F Elton Brand (shoulder) is out for the year. Orlando -- F Hedo Turkoglu (ankle) is day to day, F Rashard Lewis (knee) is day to day, G Jameer Nelson (shoulder) is out for the year.

The Skinny: Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has to be asking himself what he possibly could have done to deserve all this. First he loses his point guard for the season and then with Rashard Lewis already battling knee problems, sees Turkoglu go down in the next-to-last game of the season on a bum ankle. Addition of Rafer Alston addressed some of what the Magic lost in Nelson but the outside shooting and ability of both Rashard and Turkoglu to stretch defences will be sorely missed if they require any time off ... The Sixers, after losing Brand for the season, returned to their free-wheeling ways and lo and behold became a team to reckon with again ... Erstwhile Canadian Sam Dalembert appears to be back in form but he's no match for Superman as the season sweep will attest. Even damaged, the Magic should be able to ride the broad shoulders of Dwight Howard to a series win.

#5 MIAMI HEAT

#4 ATLANTA HAWKS

Season: Hawks won 3-1

Injuries: Miami -- F Jamario Moon (groin) is day to day, F Jermaine O'Neal (calf) is day to day. Atlanta -- G Acie Law (back) is day to day.

The Skinny: This one should go the distance ... Dwyane Wade has been even more of a one-man gang than that guy in the cape and tight leggings who plays in the northern part o the state with the Magic ... Best thing to come out of a final month when the Heat were battling injury woes was the playing time it afforded rookie Michael Beasley. All Beasley did was average over 20 points a game in the month. As good as Wade has been, a second scoring option can never hurt even if it is coming off the bench ... The Hawks gained playoff confidence last year in extending the Celtics to seven games. This year they took another step up the ladder jumping all the way to the

No. 4 seed. Mike Bibby gives the Hawks a huge edge at point guard over the talented but raw Mario Chalmers. That and an edge at centre where young Al Horford gets the nod over a game but aging and injury-prone O'Neal should be enough to overcome Wade's brilliance.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#8 UTAH JAZZ

#1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Season: Lakers won 2-1

Injuries: Utah -- G CJ Miles (finger) is day to day, C Mehmet Okur (hamstring) is day to day. Los Angeles -- None.

The Skinny: Can anyone beat the Lakers? The easy answer, as far as the Western Conference goes this season is no. All season long, the Lakers have been replaying that

20-point lead they had midway through the third quarter of Game 4 of the NBA final last season that the Celtics rallied to win by six. It's a bitter pill and one that has been driving this team all year. Kobe Bryant hasn't had to be his masterful self every night with a better supporting cast. Andrew Bynum is back after a nine-week hiatus thanks to a knee injury and looking none the worse for wear. It all spells trouble for the Jazz, one of the most fundamentally sound basketball teams out there, but one that can't match the Lakers' talent, or in this season, their drive. The fact that Carlos Boozer isn't fully healthy yet and Okur's uncertain status makes the Lakers' size advantage with Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom that much more magnified.

#7 NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

#2 DENVER NUGGETS

Season: Series tied 2-2

Injuries: New Orleans -- None; Denver -- None.

The Skinny: All hail Chauncey. That would be Billups who has turned the previously powerful offensive Nuggets into a well-rounded team since his arrival. Billups has the Nuggets coming off a franchise high mark for wins in a season and a No. 2 seed. The hard point is going to be overcoming CP3 and the Hornets. Denver has not won a playoff series since 1994 with six consecutive first-round losses to show in the interim. Chris Paul, one of the few NBAers who is capable to pull off a triple double on a nightly basis, is the biggest threat to extending the Nuggets' streak. A disappointing season for the Hornets at least ends on an optimistic note with centre Tyson Chandler returning after ankle woes had him on the sidelines for 16 games. He should help but the combination of homecourt for the Nuggets, Billups and a suddenly red-hot J.R. Smith off the Denver bench should end the drought in Colorado.

#6 DALLAS MAVERICKS

#3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Season: Series tied 2-2

Injuries: Dallas -- G Jerry Stackhouse (heel) is out indefinitely, F Devean George (knee) is out. San Antonio -- G Manu Ginobili (ankle) is out.

The Skinny: This one seems to be everyone's pick for the upset special. No Ginobili combined with an ailing Tim Duncan has, in some eyes, made the Spurs vulnerable. Of course, those eyes are the same ones that time after time overlook the genius of coach Gregg Popovich, who invariably seems to find a way. Pop is one of the best at managing minutes in the regular season to get the most out of his stars when he needs it most in the playoffs. The Spurs still have the home-court advantage and even a less than 100%, Duncan is a handful for any team. Dallas is looking to bounce back from back-to-back first round exits courtesy of the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Hornets. It's not impossible, particularly with a court-saavy veteran like Jason Kidd running the show, but it is a large mountain to climb ... Look for Tony Parker to be the difference. He averaged more than 30 points a game in the four-game series with Dallas this year.

#5 HOUSTON ROCKETS

#4 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Season: Rockets won 2-1

Injuries: Houston -- G Tracy McGrady (knee) is out; Portland -- G Martell Webster (foot) is out.

The Skinny: It might mean staying up into the wee hours of the morning, but this is the first-round series that has that can't-miss tag. The Trail Blazers seem to be just about everyone's darlings this season what with Brandon Roy elbowing his way into the conversation when it comes to the six all-round best players in the NBA ... Portland hasn't been in the playoffs since the 2002-03 season while the Rockets haven't made it past the first round in their past six tries ... The fact that one-time Raptor Tracy McGrady is out for the season at least takes away some of the bad historical karma. T-Mac has never made it past the first round ... Houston's strength will be that stifling defence lead by the shot blocking of Yao Ming and the duo of Ron Artest and Luis Scola in front of him ... The Blazers will lean on their depth and the under-appreciated (outside the state lines of Oregon) Roy ... This one is too tough to call.


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