CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers’ journey toward a second straight NBA Championship begins Saturday as they take on a Central Division foe in the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season with a 51-31 record, good enough to win their third straight Central Division Championship by nine games over the Milwaukee Bucks and earn the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Here are five reasons the Cavaliers will beat the Pacers and advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third straight season.
LEBRON JAMES FACTOR
During the regular season, James averaged 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 37.8 minutes of play over 74 games.
James had 13 double-doubles of points and rebounds and another 16 of points and assists for the Cavaliers. Also, James tallied 13 triple-doubles this season, including seven since March 1.
Additionally, James has made six straight trips to the NBA Finals, four with the Miami Heat and two with the Cavaliers, and has the internal motivation necessary to push his teammates through the Eastern Conference once more.
HEALTHY AT LAST
Injuries besieged much of the Cavaliers’ starting lineup for the 2016-2017 season, starting in December with shooting guard J.R. Smith breaking a thumb and needing surgery, as well as 12 weeks of rest and rehabilitation, to heal the ailment.
Then, there was shooting guard Iman Shumpert suffering through lower body injuries in mid-January and power forward Kevin Love, after dealing with back spasms early in the year, needing surgery on Valentine’s Day to clean up a loose body in his knee.
However, all of those players, along with ailing guard Kyle Korver, made their respective returns to the lineup ahead of the final two weeks of the regular season and will be available for postseason play.
Fully healthy entering the season after two years of dealing with knee issues, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving had his most productive all-around season in the NBA, and it resulted in an All-Star start for the sixth-year pro.
Irving averaged 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 35.1 minutes of play over 72 games. Additionally, Irving converted 47.3 percent of his looks from the field, 40.1 percent of his three-point tries and 90.5 percent of his free-throw attempts.
All of those percentages and the points total were well above his career averages and set new single-season career highs for Irving.
The Cavaliers know a thing or two about protecting home-court advantage, and their motto for the 2017 NBA Playoffs, “Defend The Land,” says it all.
Although the Cavaliers lost six of their last 10 games heading into the postseason, three of those four victories came at Quicken Loans Arena. For the season, the Cavaliers went 31-10 in front of the home fans, and should the opening-round series against the Pacers go the full slate, Game 7 would be in Cleveland.
Last year, the Cavaliers went 7-0 at home through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and 2-1 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
SUCCESS AGAINST INDIANA
Since James returned to Cleveland three years ago, the Cavaliers have had their struggles with the Pacers, but the opposite proved to be true during the 2016-2017 season.
After losing the first game of four against the Pacers this season, the Cavaliers won the final three matchups, including a 132-117 decision at Indiana followed up by back-to-back wins at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavaliers won those three games by an average margin 9.67 points.
EDITOR’S NOTE: FIRST-ROUND SCHEDULE
Here is a look at the complete schedule for the Cavaliers’ first-round series against the Pacers.
Game 1: Saturday, April 15 at 3 p.m. (in Cleveland)
Game 2: Monday, April 17, 7 p.m. (in Cleveland)
Game 3: Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m. (at Indiana)
Game 4: Sunday, April 23 1 p.m. (at Indiana)
Game 5: Tuesday, April 25, TBD (in Cleveland)*
Game 6: Thursday, April 27, TBD (at Indiana)*
Game 7: Saturday, April 29, TBD (in Cleveland)*
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