Are LeBron’s Cavaliers a Warning for the Bucks?


Usually, the NBA Finals provide tremendous excitement for two cities and four-to-seven fun popcorn nights for everyone else. While the Heat and Lakers battle, however, one franchise can only gaze in agony: the Cleveland Cavaliers. How can they watch both teams LeBron James joined after leaving his hometown?

Yes, we know about the Cavs’ four straight Finals — with three losses — but Bucks fans should look further back to observe a caution about current shortcomings. LeBron’s failures in the 2009 and 2010 postseasons, despite fantastic regular-season records, sent him to Miami and Cleveland to the junkyard.

If Milwaukee can’t give Giannis Antetokounmpo his needed help, back-to-back disappointments could devastate the team.

2008-2009 Cavs: 66 Wins Don’t Mean Bleep

When a team combines a 39-2 home record with 66 wins — an NBA-best — the path to a championship seems preordained. James earned the MVP behind 28.4 points a game, much more than Mo Williams’ 17.8.

Granted, LeBron’s East four-peat Cavs didn’t give the king the best support. Consider that the only other two Cavs who averaged double figures were Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Hardly a core-four! Understandably, Cleveland only finished four games clear of Boston, seemingly projecting a tense East Finals.

The Cavs quickly swept lowly 39-43 Detroit in the first round (some teams never improve). The second round against Atlanta was similarly effortless. James led another sweep, with each game a double-digit triumph. The King accepted his MVP trophy, and the Cavs seemed poised to overwhelm the East. In the conference finals, Cleveland surprisingly faced Dwight Howard and Orlando. The Land tragically fell in game one, with West and Williams missing last-second shots. With only a second left in game two, it seemed the Cavs would fall behind 0-2. James said, “NO!” as Hedo Türkoğlu couldn’t deter the King’s passion.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Magic easily won all three games in Orlando, winning the series 4-2. Cavs fans now faced trepidation with only one year left on James’ contract. When comparing the near-miss with Giannis’s first chance to win a championship, frustrating similarities cause Milwaukeeans parallel concerns.

2018-2019 – Bucks  Raptors in Six???

The Bucks raised expectations after a 2018 first-round slip.

Nevertheless, after a promising preseason, the real campaign induced fear in jaded Milwaukee fanatics. In the Charlotte opener (why can the Bucks never begin at home?), the Bucks clung to a one-point lead in the last possession. Mercifully, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum missed, preventing a dispiriting loss. In game two, Milwaukee officially opened the gorgeous Fiserv Forum. The middling Indiana Pacers, however, threatened to demolish Bucks promise.

In the Forum’s first possession, Myles Turner, of all players, scored the first bucket. Indiana raced to an 8-0 lead, leading to a Bucks timeout. In Mario’s words, Bucks fans could only think exasperatingly, “here we go again!” This time, however, Milwaukee wouldn’t quit. The Bucks seized a massive run to bury the Pacers 118-101.


The Deer had all the confidence they needed, racing to a 7-0 start. Giannis dominated in his first MVP season, and Milwaukee earned an NBA-best 60 wins. After a laugher of a first round, Boston shockingly blew out the Cream City in game one of the East Semifinals. Thankfully, the Bucks scraped past the Celtics in the next three games, setting up the game five blowout. Yes, Bucks Lead often mentions the closeout win, but also consider Giannis’s effort in Boston. (For the record: TNT stating “Bucks miss last eight shots” is probably the perfect jinx for a four-seed.)

Depressingly, despite winning the first two games against Toronto, Nick Nurse made the adjustments Mike Budenholzer couldn’t. The Raptors snuck past the Deer in games three and five, smacked Milwaukee in game four, and triumphed in a must-win game six in Canada. It was easy to reason that Giannis was warming up, and would improve for a near-guaranteed 2020 Finals. Life, as it always seems to, planned differently.

2009-2010 Cavs: The Final Charge

After signing Shaquille O’Neal, Cleveland seemingly had every needed tool to win rings. The Cavs again finished with the best NBA record, with James winning another MVP. However, he almost doubled the horsemen’s second-leading scorer, and Shaq only played 53 games due to a thumb injury. Still, Cleveland surely wouldn’t fall in the playoffs again.

Against the 41-41, not-quite ready Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose, Cleveland led 3-1 entering a potential game-five conclusion in Ohio. In a precursor to his 2016 Finals heroics, James closed the series from the line after a late Rose miss. (By the way, considering his $80,000 check to the Ronald McDonald House, don’t let anyone smack-talk the King’s morality.)

Regrettably for James, Boston charged past Cleveland in the East semis. The Celtics confidently entered Ohio with a 2-2 tie, then whacked the Cavs 120-88. The poorly-pronounced Celts ended the series in Boston, leading to a frightening offseason.

2019-2020 Bucks: Bubble Burst

Milwaukee struggled to start, “only” beginning 2-2. True, a 129-112 shellacking of Orlando seemed to swat away doubts. When Toronto cut a 26-point lead to four with only two minutes remaining, it seemed a challenging East would awake the Cream City from its championship dreams. Thankfully, Milwaukee maintained its composure, and success followed.

The Deer won their next two before falling in Utah. It would be their last loss in over a month as Giannis led an 18-game winning stampede. True, the Bucks lost their last three before the coronavirus shutdown and struggled during the seeding games. After a game one disaster against Orlando, Milwaukee won three straight and prepared for a gentlemen’s sweep.

First, a quick word on “gamesmanship.” Usually, this word is a synonym for bad sportsmanship, like a horrendous flop or ear-blow. Thankfully, the Magic believe in playing basketball with decency. Orlando refused to accept Milwaukee’s attempted game-five forfeit, allowing the Bucks to express their opinions without embarrassment. The Bucks refused to gift a win, holding off a Magic charge to end a forgettable series.

As we know, Miami decimated Milwaukee’s self-worth in five games. Examining Cleveland and Milwaukee, one franchise fell to the cellar, and the other must regroup.

Gazing To Finals Stars

When James went to Miami, the Cavs suffered through four awful seasons, even suffering a humiliating loss despite the Lakers running out of players. Yes, LeBron returned, but he set an unsettling precedent. The King indicated he would leave to a better team if Cleveland failed, and left again after back-to-back Finals losses. Had the Cavs won in 2009 or 2010, James may not have departed. He could still be in Cleveland, or at least earned multiple championships. Instead, the Cavs are again one of the worst NBA teams.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee is still in the race after two shortcomings. Giannis has indicated unrelentingly that his future is in Wisconsin. As Oklahoma City fans observe, however, Kevin Durant made similar statements before destroying the Thunder franchise. No one knows what 2021 holds for pro basketball, and the Bucks probably need to readjust if they are to make a realistic Finals run. One fact is absolute: Giannis’s patience, like every man’s, is finite. If Jon Horst follows Danny Ferry’s failures and doesn’t bolster the Freak’s support, Milwaukeeans could quickly moan “here we go again!” as Milwaukee slinks back to obscurity.

Stats courtesy Basketball Reference. Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight.


About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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