LeBron James is the unquestioned King of the Eastern Conference.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue their quest for a third straight Finals appearance, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin recently spoke about his responsibility to build a contender around James.
In addition to comparing the four-time MVP to Babe Ruth, Griffin put the onus on himself and the organization to consistently deliver. Just last week, Griffin acquired former All-Star Kyle Korver, and he might not be finished stocking his roster for another postseason run.
Even before he joined forces with the likes of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James had been a mainstay at the top of the East. After he missed the playoffs his first two seasons, his teams have been a top-four seed each of the last 11 seasons.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently gives the Cavaliers a 92 percent chance of finishing with either the first- or second-best record in the Eastern Conference. That would make it nine straight seasons that James enters the playoffs with a top-two seed.
In the Eastern Conference, the road to the NBA Finals goes through LeBron. Not only has he played in six straight Finals, something no player has done since the days of Bill Russell’s Celtics, but he also has been to the championship round in seven of the last 10 seasons.
The three times he didn’t make it, the team that eliminated him ultimately represented the Eastern Conference. You have to go back to the 2005-06 season for the last time the road to the Finals didn’t go through James.
In terms of being a consistent contender, how does James stack up historically? Among the 31 players in NBA history who have won an MVP award, five had a better win percentage in the regular season.
Though he missed the playoffs his first two seasons, James has never been eliminated in his team’s opening series. Of the five players with a better regular-season win percentage, the only other player who can make that claim is Russell.
Of course, his Cavaliers remain overwhelming favorites to again represent the Eastern Conference. According to the Westgate SuperBook, the Cavaliers have 1-6 odds to reach the NBA Finals. After Cleveland, the teams with the next-best odds are the Celtics and Raptors at 6-1, followed by the Bucks at 40-1.