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Sunday, April 12, 2009
Updated: April 13, 10:09 AM ET
Questions about Cavs seem rudimentary

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

CLEVELAND -- The question asked of Mike Brown during pregame had to do with what kind of questions he still has about his team, and he was so flummoxed by the question that the first response that came out of his mouth was: "Man, that's a good question."

Never in our wildest dreams or nightmares did we ever think we'd start a column by using the same word four times in the same sentence, but this was the type of Sunday -- the Cavaliers crushed the Celtics 107-76 -- that ended the type of week that had us questioning everything we've assumed in the recent past, especially when it comes to the state of the Eastern Conference with the postseason about to begin.

Such as: The defending champs will be there when it counts, once they have Kevin Garnett back at 100 percent, right?

Problem is, Boston coach Doc Rivers is keeping No. 5 under wraps until Wednesday night, meaning he'll have seen Garnett play about 80 minutes of total floor time over the final 26 games to get himself prepared for the postseason.

Or: The Orlando Magic are going to be a heckuva matchup for someone, especially the Cavs, with their deadly inside-outside game anchored by Dwight Howard and all those shooters. The problem with that one (aside from Jameer Nelson's absence) is that the school of thought that produced those kinds of pronouncements underwent a curriculum change when Hedo Turkoglu's ankle crumpled Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., on the same night that Brook Lopez was outplaying Howard. This came one night after David Lee of the Knicks outplayed Howard, and the Magic's dreams of the No. 2 seed began to die a quick death.

Anyone want to buy into the premise that the Cavs might have their hands full if they meet up with the Chicago Bulls in the first round? That's about the only pre-weekend thought that endures even a little.

"The teams at the bottom, that's where you have to look who's surging," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Chicago is playing really well, and if that's who you have to face, so be it."

The identities of the teams in three of the four playoff matchups in the Eastern Conference are still not known, nor has it been determined yet (that'll come Wednesday) whether the Cavs will match the 1985-86 Celtics for the best home record in NBA history (40-1), nor whether they'll earn home-court advantage over everyone through the NBA Finals (they need one more victory of their own, or one loss by the Lakers).

So there still remain quite a few unknowns, which brings us back to where we started this column -- with the query of what types of questions Brown still has about his team.

"I was concerned about out interior defense for a while, but I think it's better," Brown said. "Our transition defense wasn't good for a stretch, but it's better. Our ball reversals, even if we come down and play random offense, we have to continue to get ball reversals, we have to make sure we try to get easies, but they don't come along much in playoffs. The guards have to run out ahead so we can get throw-aheads, and then just competing -- competing for the loose balls that are going to be 50-50 in the playoffs. So, yeah, all the little things."

And then we have the Celtics, whose little issues have grown into big ones as the months have passed. Weren't some asking if they had peaked too early when they went into their Christmas game against the Lakers with a 27-2 record? Turns out that was a legit question at the time.

And what about that sore knee of Garnett's? You know, the one he hurt right after the All-Star break to begin what has now become a nine-week-long pain that shows no sign of fully healing. Anyone who was wondering back in late February whether that injury would be a lingering concern, well, let's just say you have your answer.

Then there are the tangential questions, like how the Celtics' mojo is doing, how their chemistry is evolving, how their bench matches up against Cleveland's -- they're all important, too, and there was nothing Sunday to indicate anything other than the notion that the Celtics are in a fade, the Cavs are continuing to rise, and prospects of Cleveland having an undefeated run through the conference portion of the playoffs (the Lakers were the last to do it, in 2000-01) is not all that far-fetched.

Then again, great athletes have the ability to come back (anyone who switched the channel from this blowout to the dual charge of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the Masters knows what we're talking about), plus the course knowledge to know that one lost Easter afternoon does not define a month, a season or even a week -- unless that team lets that one particular loss suck the life out of them, which is exactly the kind of thing Boston must fight against.

"They played great, give them the credit, they attacked us early and we didn't have great focus," Rivers said. "The thing that's upsetting to me is it's a trend now for four or five games; the first quarter we're getting smashed and the second unit bails us out. Well, against a team like the Cavs, on the road, that ain't going to happen. But we'll be all right."

In Rivers' defense, the Celtics had nothing to play for, having locked up the No. 2 seed by virtue of Orlando's loss the previous night in New Jersey, along with having no chance to catch Cleveland atop the conference -- nor a need to lock up home-court advantage for the NBA Finals if anyone but the Lakers emerges from the West.

It was a nothing game, really, as are the Celtics' next two, and Rivers said he was struggling with the thought of whether to rest his regulars against Philadelphia on Monday (he acknowledged it would be somewhat of an indignity to the sport) before judging how Garnett looks in the season finale Wednesday, then preparing for whatever awaits them in the first round.

And the Cavs? Boston can forget about them for now, leaving them to be reason for concern sometime around Memorial Day weekend -- if the Celtics can stay alive that long.

After seeing them Sunday, that is far from a sure thing.

"We played awful today, but you know, it'd be nice to come back here. As bad as things have been, we can look at no other place we'd rather be in the playoffs, because that would mean we're in the Eastern Conference Finals," Rivers said. "So as far as we're concerned, we want to come back to Cleveland. That's what we're looking at."

First, though, they have to stop looking like the fat and happy champs they seem to have become, and start looking more and more like the hungry, happy fellows in wine and gold who are showing all the signs that they -- not the Celtics -- will set the standard of excellence by the time the Eastern playoffs are finished.

No question about that. Not after seeing Boston massacred like this.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.