During FPC NBA’s contenders series, the staff will analyze one of five teams who could potentially take home the Larry O’Brien trophy this season. These five teams include the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. For our last installment, Jared Talbot tells us how the Cavaliers can return to the NBA finals for the millionth straight year.

To say the Cleveland Cavaliers’ season has been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement. It all started this past summer when Kyrie Irving requested a trade and was moved to the Boston Celtics for a package that included Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn Nets first-round draft pick. The trade sent the NBA into a frenzy and made for a fun summer full of speculation and rumors. However, that was now long ago and both Thomas and Crowder are now gone along with Dwayne Wade. In short, the offseason experiments put together by the Cavs did not work out.

Regardless, at the trade deadline, the Cavs made a flurry of moves that sent NBA twitter into a storm as they re-geared and reloaded with some younger talent. They added Larry Nance Jr, Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and George Hill to the fold and sent out practically all their offseason pieces. Cleveland immediately won three in a row, however, dropped two of four after the all-star break. They certainly look better defensively, but it is too early to tell whether they are that much better then they were before the trades.

As we stand right now, the Cavs are in third place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 36-24. They are six games back of the Celtics for the two seed and only a half of a game above Washington as well. Seeds 3-8 are only separated by 4.5 games though, so anything can happen. What this all means is that the Cavs cannot get complacent. Catching up to the Raptors and the Celtics isn’t impossible but it is growing increasingly unrealistic. However, seeds 4-8 are not far away from catching the Cavs and although many people say it doesn’t matter what seed they get, do people really want to test that theory out?

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The Cavaliers need to at least get the three or the four seed to have home court advantage in the first round. LeBron has been on the record stating that he enjoys playing on the road more, but nobody should be worried about LeBron going forward. LeBron is one of the greatest to ever play and will be fantastic wherever he plays. What is important is that the younger guys on the roster especially the newly acquired pieces get acclimated to going to war with LeBron James and Co. If they can fully get comfortable, then the path is clear.

At this point, most anybody believes that no matter how bad the Cavs play and how great the Celtics and Raptors play they are still the favorites. LeBron has made going to the finals look like an annual holiday for the rest of us and until he doesn’t make it, they should be. The Cavs can ride LeBron all the way to the finals yet again, but a few things do need to happen for this to happen.

For starters, they need to play better team defense. There truly hasn’t been a point all year in which this team has played great defense. There’s never been a doubt that they can score, however, when playing against teams that can play both sides of the ball like the Celtics or Raptors, they will be in trouble. Both of those teams are fast, young and play hard on both ends and are also extremely well coached.

Next, each player needs to understand their role and perform well in it. If Rodney Hood’s role is to shoot 3-4 three-pointers a game and play good defense, then he should focus on that. George Hill needs to be great on defense, Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson need to play fast and score the ball. J.R Smith needs to shoot well and when Kevin Love returns he needs to be that second scorer that LeBron has been dying have all year.

If each player steps it up on defense, makes the shots that they need to make and supports LeBron in any way he needs it, they can pull this all off. They can return to the finals and remind both the Celtics and the Raptors who the Kings of the East still are.

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