Thirty-four, for Mr. Cavalier, Austin Carr, random pregame pindowns -- including another prediction -- leading up to Game 7 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers today at Quicken Loans Arena...
1. When it comes to Game 7, two of the most magical words in all of sports, there are few certainties. That having been said, there are two certainties for today's winner-take-all clash, the first in the 24-year history of The Q.
2. First, look for LeBron James to revert back to being The Terminator on Hardwood, as he was in Game 2 and Game 5. Facing elimination in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his decorated career, you can bet the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and three-time NBA champion is not going down without a fight. LeBron won't leave any bullets in the chamber.
3. Second, the Pacers aren't going down without a fight, either. They showed during the regular season they have no fear of the Cavaliers, winning three of four games, though all were played before Cleveland's roster redo Feb. 8. However, they've also blown out the Cavs twice, in Games 1 and 6, so don't look for them to give and inch.
4. Look for George Hill to give it a go today. He simply has to. After all, he has the entire offseason for his back spasms to calm down. Hill, originally injured when hit by an illegal back screen by Indiana's Trevor Booker in Game 1, had it flare up at halftime of Game 3 and has not played since being lifted halfway into the third quarter of Game 3 when it was clear he could not continue. Hill had scored nine quick points in the game. The Cavs haven't been the same since.
5. Hill's presence has a huge impact on the Cavs' two All-Stars, James and the struggling Kevin Love. During the regular season, when James and Love were on the floor at the same time with Hill, the Cavaliers had a staggering offensive raring of 130.1. That number is roughly 37 points higher than Cleveland is posting in this series, so even if Hill is less than 100 percent, his mere presence could only be seen as a positive for the Cavaliers.
6. James, Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson were all starters on the Cleveland team that shocked the world with a 93-89 win in Game 7 in the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State at Oracle Arena. Hill has Game 7 experience, from his days with the Pacers going up against LeBron when he was with Miami.
7.Rodney Hood also has played in a Game 7, doing so last season with the Utah Jazz, who won on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 104-91 win, the 6-foot-8 lefty scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, adding three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 20 minutes off the bench.
8. “Last year’s Game 7 was on the road, so you know the type of atmosphere,” Hood, acquired from Utah at the trade deadline, said. “It’s kind of different, but at the same time it’s win or go home. We don’t want our season to end, so we’ve got to come out ready to play. Play confident and I think we’ll be all right.”
9. It would help Cleveland's cause greatly today if Hood, who scored 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting in Game 6, could make some more contributions. While Hood has been on the floor in this series, the Cavaliers have been outscored by 17.2 points per 100 possessions.
10. Back to Hill, who in his five seasons as Indiana's starting point guard, lost three playoff series to James-led teams. He said going against LeBron in the postseason is akin to what teams such as the Lenny Wilkens-era Cavaliers and the Pat Riley-era Knicks faced while tangling with Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference at the height of his powers.
11. “In the Jordan era, teams ran across a player who was the best the world had to offer for numerous years,” Hill said. “That’s what we ran across with LeBron. Guys like that always give their teams a chance to do something special.”
12. Which is what teams in the East, such as Indiana, Boston, Toronto and Chicago, have dealt with the last seven years, when James has led his team to seven consecutive Eastern Conference championships.
13. “I mean, LeBron has been to the Finals so many times and there are only eight playoff teams in a conference,” Hill said. “He’s beaten a lot of teams a lot of times.”
14. When asked about his playoffs wars against the Pacers after the loss in Game 6 on Friday night, James did not single them out.
15. “I mean, I don’t know,” James said. “You can throw Indiana, Boston in there. Between those two, they’ve been very difficult. Very difficult challenges, no matter what round it’s been. So, it’s been fun. That’s for sure.”
16. The Cavaliers will be in their black uniforms today, the Pacers going with the gold that was so, well, golden, to them in Game 6.
17. James has been on fire from the free-throw line the last two games, going 20 for 20 and making 28 of 29 (96.6. percent) over the last three games, upping his percentage for the series to 83.9 (52 of 62), 10.8 percent higher than his regular-season percentage of 73.1.
18. However, something to file away and save, in case it's called today -- James commits a violation with the style he's using now, his right foot crossing the free-throw stripe before the basketball reaches the hoop. It's rarely, if ever, called, but...
19. With the Cavaliers not named Kyle Korver (15 of 35, 42.9 percent) having shot horribly from the 3-point line in this series -- a collective 29.5 percent (48 of 163) -- it allows the Pacers to play what amounts to a zone defense.
20. After James took 18 of his 24 shots in the paint en route to his 44-point performance in a Game 5 victory, Indiana coach Nate McMillan, as expected, adjusted in Game 6. When James had the basketball, the Pacers had a man chasing him, with the other four defenders playing just outside the elbows and the blocks, almost in a box-and-one.
21. It had a ripple effect on the Cleveland offense. First, it gave the Cavs the idea the 3-ball was there, resulting in them hoisting 38 attempts, only 12 of which they made (31.6 percent). However, they misfired in 23 of their final 29 shots from deep (20.7 percent).
22. Second, the defensive changeup by McMillan kept James from wrecking havoc in the paint. Of the 16 shots he attempted Friday night, only five were in the paint, a stark contrast to what went down in Game 5.
23. “We were shooting the 3s for a reason,” Korver said. “They were loading up in there (the paint). As long as we are shooting good 3s, I don’t think we are going to say, ‘Don’t shoot them.’ It’s a big part of who we are. We just got to shoot the ball better.”
24. All of that having been said, a huge chunk of history is on Cleveland's side today. Irrespective of win order or of round, home teams in best-of-7 NBA playoff Game 7s have a 103-26 (.799) record.
25. Though he is facing elimination in the first round for the first time in his career, playing in elimination games is anything but new for James.
26. LeBron has played in 19 such games in his career and his teams are 10-9 in those games.
27. For perspective, Jordan played in 13 such games. And for all his greatness, his teams were only 6-7 in those contests.
28. Then, there's this -- no player in the history of the NBA has averaged more points in elimination games than LeBron, who has averaged 32.9 points the 19 times he's played in winner-take-all contests.
29. Las Vegas odds opened with the Cavaliers as 6-point favorites for Game 7. That has dropped, but the smart guys still have Cleveland as a 5.5-point favorite, with the over-under at 199 points.
30. Yours truly started making picks for each game with Game 4 and has been lucky enough to correctly call the winner of Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6, proof that a visually impaired squirrel does indeed find a nut every great once in a while and that the sun really does shine on a dog's... well, you get the picture.
31. There are plenty of reasons to believe Indiana can pull off the upset, at least according to the wise guys in Vegas, today. As colleague Sam Amico points out in his terrific (as always) Dribbles, the Pacers might very well be the better team, especially when Hill cannot answer the bell.
32. Yet, Cleveland has the best player on the planet wearing its uniform, for at least one more game, anyway (yikes!).
33. Reposting in case something historic happens today, here are LeBron's career-high numbers for a single game in the playoffs:
- Points -- 38
- Rebounds -- 19
- Assists -- 14
- Steals -- 6
- Blocked shots -- 5
- Turnovers -- 10
- Field-goal attempts -- 38
34. Somehow, some way, the Cavaliers will get it done today. As I've mentioned previously, I'll believe an Eastern Conference team can beat a LeBron James-led squad, even one as flawed and confidence-crippled as the current model he's lugging around, four times in a seven-game series when it happens.