LeBron James has played in six consecutive NBA Finals. Given his track record, he’s a safe bet to make it a seventh.
But it’s certainly not a lock.
“Well, we always say (no one can beat the Cavs) because they have LeBron, but Boston’s had a great year, Toronto’s had a great year, and Washington’s had a great year,” former NBA head coach Lionel Hollins said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Washington should have won 50 games, but they didn’t really care in the last couple of games once they clinched their spot, but all these teams have gotten better.”
Assuming the Cavs (51-31) beat Indiana (42-40) in the first round, they’ll likely face Toronto (51-31) in the second round and potentially Boston (53-29) or Washington (49-33) in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That’s not an easy path.
“You look at Boston (with) the way they’re playing, and they added Al Horford,” Hollins said. “The kid (Jaylen) Brown has played great. We’ll see if he can have the same kind of impact in the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas has been awesome and (Tyler) Zeller has come back from injury and played really well. (Kelly) Olynyk has played well. He’s starting to be more impactful in the game and not just out there waiting for opportunities; he’s looking for opportunities now. Brad Stevens has done a great job there. He’s done a great job in putting that team together.”
Toronto, meanwhile, paired Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, while Scott Brooks has given Washington more of a defensive identity.
“Everybody is adding and trying to get better to position themselves,” Hollins said. “Everybody can’t go out and get the top-dollar free agent. Everybody won’t have a high draft pick. But you can improve your team.”
Still, Hollins believes that the Cavs are “for sure” the favorites in the East.
“It comes down to mental toughness,” he said. “That’s where LeBron has trumped everybody in the past. He’s so mentally tough that he gets his guys to play at another level from a mental perspective than from a physical perspective. So can those other teams rise up? We’ll see.”
Cleveland begins its title defense Saturday, hosting Indiana in Game 1 at 3 p.m. ET. Hollins expects the Cavs to take care of business, but he’s more interesting in seeing how, not if, they win.
“It’s going to be a good test for Cleveland and how quickly they can get their game back together,” he said. “I think it’s more mental than physical, and I look for them to come out and (play) the way they want to play. But it’s going to be a series that’s going to be very highly contested.”