The Cavaliers lost by a final score of 98-79 to the Heat on Tuesday, dropping Cleveland's record to 44-30.
The Cavs hit 30 regular-season losses for the second consecutive season after sneaking just under that mark in LeBron James' first two seasons back in town. How much of a concern should that be as James attempts to lead a franchise to a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals? After all, Cleveland finished 51-31 last season and made the NBA Finals before losing in five games to the Warriors.
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It's time to worry
Why is that 30-loss threshold noteworthy? Only six teams with 30 or more regular-season losses have won the NBA Finals since the league went to an 82-game season in 1967-68. No team has won the NBA Finals in the last 11 seasons with 30 or more losses.
Here is a look at the short list of teams who won the NBA Finals with 30 or more losses since 1967-68:
Outside of the 1970s, when Portland, Washington and Seattle won the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons, this doesn't happen in the same decade often. Houston's 1994-95 team was built around the Michael Jordan three-peats with Chicago, and Miami's 2005-06 upset came as a surprise after the Heat fell behind the Mavericks 0-2 before winning the next four games.
The current Cavs could run into multiple teams with less than 25 losses if they want to make this list, including Houston (61-14), Golden State (54-20), Toronto (55-20) and Boston (51-23). Yes, Cleveland beat a 73-9 Golden State team in the 2016 NBA Finals, but that Cavs' team finished the regular season with 25 losses. That's another number to keep in mind.
No team with more than 25 losses has won the NBA Finals since that Heat team in 2006.
There are warning signs outside of history, too. Cleveland flipped almost half of its roster at the trade deadline, and Kevin Love left Tuesday's game with a concussion. The Cavs rank fifth in offensive rating (110.3) and 28th in defensive rating (109.6). That net rating is not a promising sign.
If those trends continue, then Cleveland will be involved in several high-scoring, entertaining playoff games. James will have to lead the way.
No need to panic
The regular season doesn't matter.
If you're going to mention the losses, then you should mention the Cavs' recent five-game winning streak, injuries to Boston's Kyrie Irving and Golden State's Stephen Curry and the fact that LeBron exists. As far as the Eastern Conference playoffs go, this isn't a concern yet. A 132-129 victory against Toronto on March 21 could be a preview of what to expect if those teams cross in the playoffs.
The East still runs through James, who has a chance to lead an eighth straight NBA Finals run. At that point, the pressure is on other teams to break through, particularly the Raptors, who have a poor playoff history with its current backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Can it be done?
A total of 14 teams that lost the NBA Finals had 30 or more losses. James led two of those teams. The 2006-07 Cavs finished 50-32, and last year's team finished 51-31. Of course, those franchises combined to win one game in two NBA Finals series.
The Cavs could benefit from the "underdog" label depending on their playoff seeding. Cleveland is a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (43-30) and Indiana (44-31) for the No. 3 seed. James has thrived in that situation before, especially when the Cavs were down 3-1 in the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State.
The final verdict
The 30-loss threshold is significant, but it's not a deal-breaker for the Cavaliers. The concern isn't reaching the NBA Finals — it's winning the title.
Teams with 30 or more losses are 1-5 in the NBA Finals since the strike-shortened season in 1998-99. Miami picked up that lone win in 2006. New Jersey finished 52-30 in 2001-02 and 49-33 in 2002-03, losing in the NBA Finals both seasons. Boston finished 50-32 in 2009-10 before falling to the champion Lakers in seven games.
Given the rare occasions when it happens, it's a valid concern. The Cavs proved they can "flip the switch" in the playoffs last season. With a brand new roster, they would have to prove they can do it again. The recent winning streak is a modest indicator that could happen.
Most of all, the Cavs still have James. He's averaging 27.6 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game. If anybody is capable of leading that NBA Finals run and laughing at history, it's LeBron. Cleveland is still a good pick to reach the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season simply because James will be on the floor.
Are you going to bet against that because of 30 losses?