The Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are fighting a war of attrition.
For those of us watching at home, the games have been practically unbearable — save maybe for the tension of the closing minutes. Were it not for the stakes, even those waning moments would be worth skipping over. It’s been excruciating, like staring into the sun while getting punched in the face by Canelo Alvarez.
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For the players, the pain caused by this series is more acute. Luol Deng and DeMarre Carroll joined Hassan Whiteside and Jonas Valanciunas on the list of casualties in Game 5, leaving both teams trying to devise patchwork solutions on the fly.
Meanwhile, LeBron James gets to sit on his throne and watch as his two potential Eastern Conference finals opponents beat the hell out of each other. After last year’s injury-plagued postseason, things are setting up nicely for the Cleveland Cavaliers — and that’s especially true after Toronto’s Game 5 win over Miami.
Given James’ recent comments about playing Dwyane Wade and the Heat in the playoffs, you might think LeBron would be disappointed with Wednesday’s result. But take a moment to really consider what’s going on here. The Cavs are clicking on a level they haven’t seen since LeBron’s return to Cleveland. The last thing they need is any outside distractions at this point.
Just the very possibility of facing Miami has already served as a small diversion for LeBron & Co. Imagine the questions they’d face in a seven-game series? That midseason sojourn James took down to south Florida to work out with Wade and bask in the good vibes would be rehashed a million times before the first practice.
“How did that make you feel, Kevin Love? Can you ever be the Robin to LeBron’s Batman that Wade was, Kyrie Irving? Tristan Thompson, are you a better big man for LeBron’s game than Chris Bosh? J.R. Smith, why can’t you be more like Shane Battier?”
Okay, you caught me; we could ask questions until the heat death of the universe and no one would possibly consider that last one. The rest, though? They and countless others are on the table.
If the Raptors can close out the Heat, none of that happens. Instead, the only Toronto-related narrative is about Drake’s favorite team finally making it to the conference finals and casting off years of playoff failure.
A storyline in a Cavs series that doesn’t focus on LeBron’s many curious decisions? That’s manna from heaven for Cleveland.
LeBron said he watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Interview with a Vampire" and "The Punisher" w/ his kids instead of MIA-TOR Gm 5
Perhaps this all goes against what LeBron has said publicly. There are those comments about Wade from earlier in this round, after all. Let’s go through those one by one, though. First, LeBron was asked if he’s thought about playing Wade in the playoffs (via ESPN.com).
“Naturally, of course.”
We all gasped at that not-at-all-surprising revelation and acted like it meant LeBron wanted the Heat immediately, before the Cavs-Hawks series had officially ended. More rationally, this is just an honest admission of the fact that yes, the thought has crossed LeBron’s mind.
“It’d be great to play against those guys in the postseason.”
This is the closest LeBron comes to saying he’d like to face the Heat this season, and that’s a pretty narrow read of his comments. Within the context of his overall statement, it seems more likely that he means, “in the postseason [at some point].”
“Throughout my whole career, I’ve always wanted to go against Wade in a playoff series. We’ve always talked about it even before we became teammates in ‘10.”
You know what was different in 2010? LeBron didn’t have the pressure of returning to his hometown as a savior figure promising championships resting on his shoulders. He was still trying to win a title for Cleveland, but the stakes were radically different.
“It’s not been heavy on my mind but it’s crossed my mind throughout my whole career.”
And it will continue to cross his mind. But there’s no reason for it to be heavy on his mind, because it doesn’t make sense for LeBron to want to play the Heat this season. The only thing that can derail the Cavs — at least until they reach the Finals and have to play the Western Conference’s champion — is Cleveland collapsing internally.
With the Raptors and Heat on the verge of having to ask their coaches to suit up, neither’s going to offer much of an on-court challenge to the Cavs. If everything else is equal, LeBron should be rooting for the path of least resistance, even if it means cheering for a friend’s elimination.
So here’s the ideal scenario for Cleveland: Toronto and Miami continue to wear each other down in Game 6, as the Heat win and extend the series to seven. In that final game, fatigue continues to pile up for the Raptors, who somehow squeeze by Miami thanks to some Kyle Lowry hero-ball, which convinces Toronto that’s a viable option in late-game situations moving forward. Then Toronto has to turn around and immediately start their series with the Cavs. The Heat shift their attention how to get better for next season and whether to re-sign Whiteside rather than making LeBron’s life complicated, and the King doesn’t have to worry about a thing other than a looming rematch with the Warriors. What could go wrong?