The NBA playoffs start this weekend with the Cleveland Cavaliers taking on the Indiana Pacers in the first round for the second consecutive season.
Unlike last year though, these Cavs are not the defending NBA champions, and personnel wise they are a much different squad than a year ago.
That’s why we are very interested, and a but unsure as to how this playoff run will play out or ultimately end.
They no longer have Kyrie Irving, their second best player a year ago, and a guy capable of taking over a game scoring the ball.
There are only five players left from last season. LeBron James and Kevin Love are the mainstays, players who Tyronn Lue has to know what he will get on a night in, night out basis.
Two of the other three, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson have been wildly inconsistent all season, and the latter may not see a lot of playing time in the playoffs this season.
The fifth player in Kyle Korver, a professional shooter who can change a game with his three point accuracy, but no one, except perhaps Lue, is sure how he will be used in the playoffs.
The trades made at the deadline, while needed to revive what had become a team in the doldrums, also brought mostly players who are unproven in the playoffs.
George Hill is the lone experienced player, having been in 83 playoff contests, and has been on two squads which went to the conference finals.
Yes, the Cavs have James, the ultimate equalizer. And they have Love, who has scored 15.5 points and grabbed 9.4 rebounds in three years of post-season play.
Other than that, what else can Lue’s crew hang their hats on during a playoff run?
Defensively, they are improved since the deals, but still rank 29th (out of 30) in defensive efficiency, so they will have to outscore their opponents.
They are capable of that, ranking 5th in the NBA in offensive ratings, but as the old saying goes, defense shows up every night. The question is, will the shooting?
The playoffs are different. Just ask Rodney Hood, who shot 42.4% from the field, and 38.9% from three during the regular season last year with Utah, but shot 35.2% from the floor (26% from behind the arc) in two post-season series for the Jazz.
Remember that two key members of the rotation, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., have never played beyond the regular season. Clarkson has provided instant offense off the bench since arriving here, but will it carry over starting this weekend?
Who will step up to help James and Love with the scoring load? Will Hill be a reliable option? Will Smith return to the form of the previous playoff runs (he has shot much better since the first of March)? Has Hood learned from last year? Or will veteran Jose Calderon be a bigger contributor than anyone could have imagined when he was signed last summer?
Regardless, this will be the toughest playoff test for the Cavs since James came back to the wine and gold. There is that much uncertainty. Maybe we will have a better answer after the first series, but right now the only thing to really bank on for this team is the presence of James.
But since we are talking about the sport’s best player, that may be enough.