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Thursday, May 7, 2009
Updated: May 20, 10:03 AM ET
Sweep Dreams: Can Cavs go 12-0?

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

LeBron James
Can the King and the Cavs continue to blow by opponents en route to the Finals?

CLEVELAND -- Let me start by saying this: I don't expect it to happen. I would be shocked if it did, and it would be an achievement so remarkable that everything else that's occurred this season would pale in comparison.

But if the aptly nicknamed "Professor" John Hollinger can write about Atlanta hypothetically beating Cleveland in their second-round series, I can entertain the implausible as well.

So here goes: Can the Cavaliers, winners of their first five playoff games by an average of 18 points, sweep the Eastern Conference playoffs?

I know it sounds ridiculous. Heck, it is ridiculous. But the Cavs, with their Pacquiao-like beatdowns, are taking all the suspense out of their early rounds, so let me drum up some on my own.

First of all, know that the Cavs themselves couldn't care less about pitching a shutout en route to the Finals. Pardon the bad math, but S-W-E-E-P is a four-letter word in their locker room.

When I told coach Mike Brown I was writing this article, he looked at me like I had insulted a member of his family. Had I been a Cavs employee, I'm pretty sure I would've been fired on the spot -- and slapped too.

"What we talk about is dominating each game that we're in and if that leads to a sweep then so be it," LeBron James said. "But we don't talk about winning four games before a series starts. We talk about winning one game at a time and dominating that particular game."

It's one of the most well-worn clichés in sports, but it's how the Cavaliers operate. Brown doesn't just take one game at a time. He takes one event at a time.

After the 99-72 victory over Atlanta in Game 1, he wasn't focused on Game 2. He was looking toward the next day's practice, and after that, the morning shootaround. Then, the game.

But since the Cavs are so focused, going 8-0 through the first two rounds isn't far-fetched. It'd be an absolute shock if they lost Game 2 to the Hawks on Thursday at The Q: They're fabulous at home (42-2 this season) and Atlanta has lost three of its past four road games by an average of 27 points.

The big question in this series is Game 3 in the ATL. While the Hawks' crowds are notoriously terrible during the regular season, Philips Arena gets as rowdy as Freaknik during the playoffs. Last season, the Celtics told me Atlanta had the best postseason crowd they'd seen outside of Boston.

The Cavs, whose toughest playoff game yet was Game 3 in Detroit, split two games in Philips during the regular season and their lone victory was a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater away from being a loss. But the flawed Miami Heat won a game there last series (by 15 points, in fact), so it can be done. And if the Cavs go up 3-0, the young, undisciplined Hawks will be sunbathing in the Caribbean mentally for Game 4.

I see no way for the Cavs to sweep Boston or Orlando in the conference finals, but if one club is vulnerable, it's the Celtics. Without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, and coming off what could be two brutal seven-game series, the banged-up C's wouldn't be much of a threat to Cleveland.

Of course, that doesn't mean they're ripe for the broom, especially when the home team has won the past 15 games between the two clubs. Even without KG, the Celtics beat the visiting Cavs in March, so a sweep is almost certainly a fantasy. But stranger things have happened.

Orlando? I'd bet my new Air Jordan Dub Zeros against the Cavs' dismissing the Magic in four. In fact, while I think Cleveland would win that series, its fans should be more than a little frightened entering that one.

Eight teams have swept their way to the Finals, but five of those did it before 1958, when it took just six wins (or fewer) to reach the title round. Since then, the Lakers are the only franchise to go undefeated through the conference playoffs. They did it back in 1982, but even then they needed only eight wins to run the table out West.

The only truly comparable precedents are the Lakers of 1989 and 2001, both of whom went 11-0 before the league expanded the first round to a best-of-seven format.

If the Cavs were to somehow join that exclusive list (and assuming they finished it off by winning the NBA title), the historical ramifications would be off the charts.

How high would LeBron's stature be raised, considering that MJ never swept the East and that the '01 Lakers featured Shaq and Kobe and the other two L.A. squads had Magic and Kareem?

Through the roof? How about through the ozone.

But all of this is folly, junk food for thought. The Cavs would gladly go 8-6 over the last two rounds of the East if it preceded their first title in franchise history.

Besides, being perfect in the conference doesn't guarantee the grand prize. Those '89 Lakers of Magic, a 41-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green lost to Detroit in the Finals.

In fact, in the irony of ironies, they got swept.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.