Cavs' destiny may hinge on LeBron's elbow

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:50 AM ET

In a series that pits the Celtics versus the Cavs, the King versus the Truth, the Big Diesel versus the Big Ticket, it’s the state of a franchise player’s elbow that overrides the many juicy storylines.

If LeBron James’ right elbow manages to survive the beating Boston is expected to inflict, Cleveland will win and take another step in getting the King his elusive ring.

If James’ elbow prevents him from doing what he does best, which is basically anything against whatever defence Boston decides to throw at him, then the Cavs will lose and this summer’s biggest free-agent domino suddenly becomes the story in basketball.

“I’m not concerned,’’ James said of an elbow strain that forced him to heave a free throw with his left hand in Cleveland’s close-out game over Chicago in

Game 5.

“Cleveland fans have nothing to worry about. I’m healthy. I’m ready. They (fans) don’t have any reason to panic.”

For now they don’t.

The Cavs should take the series, which begins Saturday night in Cleveland, because the Celtics aren’t as good as they were two years ago when they barely beat LeBron in an epic seven-game matchup en route to winning the NBA championship.

Kevin Garnett’s problematic knee has made him less effective, the Celtics aren’t as good defensively and there’s no answer for James, who can go off for a triple-double or score 50 points on any given night.

“They are the team to beat,” Paul Pierce said. “You got LeBron James, the best player in the NBA. It’s a huge mountain we are going to have to climb, but I think this team is ready to face the test.”

Pierce, who was named the MVP of the NBA final when Boston defeated the Lakers, has to be aggressive and can’t settle for his outside jumper.

Pierce demands the ball in crunch time and he often delivers, providing the series-changing moment in Boston’s opening-round win over the Heat when his buzzer beater in Game 3 lifted the Celtics to a 3-0 series lead.

Besides the obvious marquee matchups, this series will have an edge because of the bad blood that is real and not contrived.

There’s also a built-in family feud featuring Cavaliers’ Anthony Parker, an ex-Raptor, and Shelden Williams, who is married to Parker’s sister, Candace.

The Celtics will have to be physical and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if fines, perhaps even a suspension or two, occur.

The tone is often set in Game 1, which makes Saturday’s showdown that much more intriguing.

The most compelling playoff matchups are normally reserved on the championship stage when the stakes are at their highest.

Along comes a conference semifinal featuring the Cavs and Celtics and it has the feel of a championship and the potential to evolve into a slugfest that may go the distance.

The matchups are quite interesting.

Backcourt

Rajon Rondo averaged a team-high 42 minutes for Boston in its five-game series against the Heat. Unlike the Heat, Rondo will face some big bodies when he ventures into the paint; Mo Williams isn’t the primary ball handler because the ball is often in LeBron’s hands; Williams and Parker are going to have to make shots because one will be open; Ray Allen won’t have to worry about defending a creator as he did when matched up against Dwyane Wade.

Frontcourt

The spotlight will be on the James-Pierce matchup, two guys who will create and will be asked to win games down the stretch; Antawn Jamison doesn’t have the size when matched up against Garnett, but his ability to spread the floor will provide better spacing; Shaquille O’Neal has often said one of his toughest matchups comes against Kendrick Perkins, whose length and toughness compensate for his lack of size.

Bench

Rasheed Wallace is the most accomplished, but he has to step up after being a non-factor against Miami; Boston got good minutes out of Glen (Don’t Call Me Big Baby) Davis and Tony Allen, while the likes of Michael Finley, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels were afterthoughts; the Cavs have size and scoring in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, defence and rebounding in Anderson Varejao and a perimeter presence in Delonte West and Jamario Moon.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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