Odds of Eastern supremacy still favor Cavs

Even when the Cavaliers aren’t at their best, they should still be able to beat anyone in the Eastern Conference in a seven-game series.

But are there some teams about which they should worry? Well, maybe.

One things for sure — there are some that won’t concern them come playoff time, should everything remain the same, or close to the same, come mid-April.

And with good health, it appears that the No. 1 seed is the Cavs’ to lose.

Here are some of the contenders, and not-so-contenders, when it comes to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, new coach Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers:

Contenders

TORONTO RAPTORS

Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan may not always beat the Cavs, but they usually give them fits. Coach Dwane Casey’s bunch really defends, too.

As of late, the Raptors have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams — in either conference. So they maybe saving their best for the season’s second half, which is when it matters most.

With center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Luis Scola, the Raptors can put up a good fight with Love and Tristan Thompson on the boards. And small forward DeMarre Carroll, if he can ever stay healthy, is always a determined defender on James.

But questions remain about the Raptors when it comes to the postseason. Namely, they’ve had home-court advantage in the first round each of the last two seasons, yet failed to advance.

So could they really be expected to beat a Cavs team that reached the Finals without that home-court edge?

CHICAGO BULLS

Right now, some folks may even say the Bulls are better than the Cavs. That would solely be based, of course, on head-to-head matchups so far this season.

It is true that the Bulls have won both games, but that doesn’t actually mean a whole lot. For one, the Bulls won the season-opener, by two points, at home. For two, the Bulls’ other win over the Cavs came in Lue’s first game.

Still, those Bulls wins shouldn’t be brushed off as merely aberrations. They played the Cavs tough in last season’s second-round, taking a 2-1 series lead before James canned a miracle buzzer-beating jumper in Game 4 at Chicago.

The Cavs didn’t lose in the series again. That was then, though, and this is a whole new ballgame.

The Bulls still boast an outstanding backcourt in Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, and veteran center Pau Gasol has title-winning experience and is always a major nuisance for the Cavs. (The same even holds true for unsung small forward Nikola Mirotic and power forward Taj Gibson.)

This is a rivalry that goes back to the Michael Jordan era, and the Bulls always get fired up to face LeBron. So perhaps they truly are the one true threat when it comes to upending the Cavs in the East.

Pretenders

ATLANTA HAWKS

Nobody really believed in the Hawks when they won 60 games last season, and they’re not close to the same this year.

In fact, you could almost describe them as being a bit of a mess — as trade rumors involving center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague have been hovering over the team for weeks.

Trade them, keep them, doesn’t matter. This group just lacks the star power to beat the Cavs in a seven-game series. And after getting swept in the conference finals last season, it makes you wonder if the Hawks can even beat the Cavs in a meaningful game.

BOSTON CELTICS

Brad Stevens is perhaps the NBA’s best coach, always driving what is viewed as an undermanned team to respectability.

The Celtics will fight for every inch. But they’re not catching the Cavs in the East and they’re certainly not gonna beat them four out of seven.

MIAMI HEAT

With Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and the like, the Heat are veteran team that’s won titles. Of course, a huge reason for those titles now wears Wine & Gold.

It will be interesting to see how the Heat fare in a return to the playoffs after injuries derailed them last season. But there’s a difference between "interesting" and actually making some noise. They’d play the Cavs tough. And that’s it.

INDIANA PACERS

Remember when Pacers guard Monta Ellis was good?

Anyway, the Cavs beat the Pacers in the last meeting, at Indiana, and the Cavs didn’t even play well. Paul George is fantastic, but this team just doesn’t have enough to concern a star-studded team like Cleveland.

THE OTHERS

The final two playoff spots are likely to come down to Indiana, Detroit, Washington and Charlotte. New York may be in the conversation, too.

All could cause the Cavs some problems, because all are hard-nosed teams that play with a bit of an edge. The difference, of course, being that the Cavs have LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin, and no one else does.