Cleveland Cavaliers: How the Cavs have emerged as a legit Finals contender

Cleveland Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
Cleveland Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) /

How the Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged as a legit NBA championship contender in the Eastern Conference. 

For nearly 20 years, the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise has always seemed to be in LeBron James’ shadow.

Although the franchise has been around since 1970 and experienced some success during the late eighties and much of the nineties, it is still seen in many people’s eyes as “LeBron’s team.” It doesn’t help matters that the Cavaliers historically have a 223-453 record without James and a 546-303 record with him decked in maroon.

With James on the team, Cleveland had a winning season in all but his rookie year. Without him, they experienced none this century until last season’s play-in tournament appearance.

For all intents and purposes, many expected more of the same with a once again LeBron-less Cavaliers team. However, this time, Cleveland and its general manager Mike Gansey decided to do something about it.

The Cleveland Cavaliers went all-in for the first time post-LeBron

The new-look Cavs showed its first signs of success last year as the Cavaliers went 44-38 and lost a hard-fought game in the play-in tournament against the Atlanta Hawks. The old Cavs would have just been proud of the progress and rested on their laurels. These Cavs, though, decided to kick the door down and trade for All-Star Donovan Mitchell and show the world that the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t need LeBron James anymore.

With Mitchell added to an already solid roster, Cleveland sits at 8-2 and in second place in the Eastern Conference standings. After an opening night loss to the Raptors, the Cavs have ripped off nine wins in a row including two overtime wins over the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Celtics.

They have shown they can win in a variety of ways, be it high-powered shootouts or grind-it-out defensive battles. The roster is geared to win against any type of playing style and the team has completely bought into the hard-nosed toughness that their head coach J.B. Bickerstaff preaches.

So, how are they doing this? How have the Cavaliers taken such a huge leap and established themselves as contenders in an already crowded Eastern Conference?

Let’s break it down.