Justice Is Served

May 1, 2010 12:29 AM

Cavs fans fret over LeBron's elbow


You can't grow up and live in Cleveland without understanding the one immutable fact about the city's pro sports teams: They've all found the path to a championship cluttered with obstacles.

Not that the city has had a lot of legitimate contenders for titles in the past 45 years. Aside from the Indians a couple of times in the 1990s and the Cavaliers in 2007, the sports teams here carry a curse, some sort of black magic that a voodoo priest cast on them.

That's the situation Clevelanders confront now -- a showdown with that dastardly curse once more. Here they are wearing hope and optimism about their Cavs as if the team were a Hugo Boss suit. Hope and optimism, sadly, aren't much to bank title aspirations on if all the pieces don't fit right.

And they might not all be lined up like tin soldiers for LeBron James and the top-seeded Cavaliers.

Fresh from spanking the brash Bulls in five games, the Cavs are moving into Round 2 of the NBA playoffs tonight to face the storied Celtics with questions about James on everybody's mind.

Bad luck or bad karma or a plain old curse, the questions come at about the worst time for angst-riddled Cavs fans.

As much as their minds should be on the game itself, no one is thinking much about how James will handle the Celtics and the pressure of going deep into the position. He has done the latter before -- back in 2007 when Spurs swept James and the Cavs in the NBA Finals.

His strained right elbow is the concern.

For never has LeBron James gone into a playoff game with his fitness a worry, and it is a worry -- a serious one for the worrywarts who call themselves sports fans in Cleveland.

For them, the echoes of past failures haunt them like an unfriendly ghost. Those Indians of the 1990s, the Browns and Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar in the '80s, and that '07 Cavs team, all are memories they'd prefer not to revisit. They hold too much pain.

Clevelanders were counting on 2010 to be different. It was the year when a title would land in their city, bringing with it the celebrations and the joys that had eluded them for oh-so-many years.

And 2010 might well be that year. Under ordinary circumstances, fans would have no fear of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and the aging Celtics. They are a team whose best days ended two seasons ago.

Challenge to the James Gang?

Not these Celtics.

That's what everybody here thought before James hurt his right elbow. Now, a sore elbow for a basketball player isn't as problematic as it is for a big-league pitcher or for the starting QB of the Browns. The injury shouldn't put him on the injury list as it would a pitcher or a quarterback. It could, however, affect James and his ability to play his game.

The injury could hamper his shooting; it could weigh on his mind; and if the injury does either of these, it will have a pronounced effect on the Cavaliers. This team is only as good as its marquee player. For without LeBron James, they are in league with the Knicks and the Nets and the Grizzlies and the Clippers and the other going-nowhere teams in the NBA.

James, the reigning MVP, has said over and over not to fret the elbow. He's offered his assurances to Cavs fans that he'll be fine tonight when he steps onto court inside The Q.

His words provided some solace, although assurances are often built with wet straw and not with sun-baked bricks. But even bricks wouldn't assuage the concerns of sports fans in Cleveland.

They won't be true believers until the confetti rains from the Terminal Tower. They're emotionally spent from having been so close to a championship that they could touch it. They've tired of being the first loser, and they thought from the opening of the season this would be their team's year.

They might be right; 2010 could be the Year of the Cavs. But it will be a Year of Continuing Disappointment if LeBron James has a sore elbow that is worse than he lets on.  

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