The Toronto Raptors put up a valiant fight against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night. Alas, it was not to be, as the Cavs came away with a 116-112 win after DeMar DeRozan's game-tying 3 was waved off because he was out of bounds.
An optimist in Canada might see that result and be encouraged about Toronto's chance against Cleveland moving forward. Here in reality, however, the Cavs' ugly win proved what most of us already know: No one in the Eastern Conference stands a chance against LeBron James' team.
Don't believe me? Here's one major reason each Finals "contender" in the East is doomed in a potential playoff series against the Cavs.
The Atlanta Hawks will struggle to score 70 points per game
This isn't a particularly new trend for the Hawks, who ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in scoring last season and suffered a sweep at the hands of the Cavs in the second round of the 2015-16 playoffs.
Yet things have become even worse for Atlanta this year after an impressive start to the season. With Dennis Schroder as the starting point guard, the Hawks turn over the ball on more than 15 percent of their possessions, good for the second-worst rate in the league. Atlanta is also taking fewer 3-pointers and continuing to get to the line at an atrociously low rate.
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: Cleveland sweeps by double-digits per game.
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The New York Knicks will surrender 150 points per game
The Big Apple's "superteam" is particularly skilled at one thing: giving up points. New York's early-season defensive struggles haven't gotten any better with Kurt Rambis as the team's lead defensive assistant. Who could have guessed?
Most alarming is the Knicks' utter inability to rebound the basketball on defense. The Knicks are a top-five offensive rebounding team — and in the bottom three on the other end of the floor. Unfortunately for New York, only defensive rebounding correlates to actual wins. Offensive rebounding, on the other hand, is simply a nice bonus.
And for good measure, the Knicks are sending opponents to the free-throw line at one of the highest rates in the NBA. On the bright side, at least LeBron is not a very good free throw shooter. Right?
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: LeBron feels sorry for Melo and lets him win one game at Madison Square Garden.
LeBron James knows Dwyane Wade better than he knows himself
The Bulls aren't a threat to the Cavs in any sense, to be frank. But if Chicago somehow gets its act together and stands toe-to-toe with Cleveland, LeBron has the ultimate trump card: his intimate knowledge of everything Wade can do on a basketball court.
When Wade tries to get to his spots on the floor, LeBron will direct his teammates to make Wade's life hell. When he rises up for a game winner, LeBron will be there to greet him. And every time the Bulls try to create an open look for Wade behind the 3-point line, LeBron will let him fire away.
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: No mercy for Wade. Cavs steamroll to a 4-0 series sweep.
The Charlotte Hornets can't pressure the Cavs in the slightest
There are very, very few ways to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. One of the soundest strategies is trying to force LeBron's squad into a ton of turnovers, getting easy baskets on the other end to counteract the offensive prowess of the Cavs' Big Three.
The Hornets are an outstanding defensive team, but they get the job done with discipline and decision-making, not turnovers. To wit, Charlotte is in the bottom five in the NBA in forcing turnovers. Without those transition opportunities, the Hornets don't stand a chance against the Cavaliers.
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: Cleveland goes cold for one night, allowing the Hornets to take a game at home before the Cavs close out the gentlemen's sweep.
The Boston Celtics don't have the necessary star power
You need a superstar to win in the NBA playoffs. It helps to have two, of course, but you need one at a bare minimum.
As good as Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are, neither is a real "superstar." All-Stars, yes. Outstanding players, absolutely.
Superstars? Nah. And without that one player you can rely on in when the game is on the line, you're simply not beating the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: Brad Stevens is too good a coach to be swept by any team. Cavs win 4-1.
The Raptors are built to fail against the Cavaliers
For the next four-plus months, we're going to hear a lot about how Toronto is the biggest threat to the Cavs in the East. If you're smart, you won't buy a word of it.
Unlike the rest of the teams on this list, the Raptors can put the ball in the basket. They have a solid (if unspectacular) defense, as well, and they're one of the best teams in the NBA at forcing turnovers. Stop there and you have a potential Finals contender.
Of course, that's not the end of the story for Toronto. With Bismack Biyombo gone and Jonas Valanciunas a middling presence at best, the Raptors are awful on the defensive glass. Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland bigs will have a field day on the boards against Toronto in the playoffs.
Most important, the Raptors can't shoot from deep — and if you want to knock off the Cavs, you have to keep up with Cleveland from the 3-point line. Trading two points for three over and over again is a recipe for disaster.
Prediction in a playoff series against the Cavs: Toronto extended the series to six games in last year's playoffs. This year, LeBron knows he needs to be well-rested for the Finals. Once again, I'm predicting the Cavs in five games.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportTom Szczerbowski
As for the rest of the East? Well ...
With apologies to the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers — you're nowhere near good enough to make this list this season. Maybe next year.