NBA 

Fun With WhatIfSports: How LeBron’s Teams Match Up

With LeBron James one win away from his sixth NBA Finals appearance (he will be the 33rd player in NBA history to go to six or more Finals), it makes sense to compare this Cavaliers team to the previous five teams he led to the biggest stage in basketball.

I could have compared the 2015 Cavs to the ’07 Cavs and 2011-14 Heat by crunching the numbers, examining the analytics and poring over the rosters. However, I let the other writers and statisticians handle that chore. Instead of looking at the stats, we’re going to play the games.

Using WhatIfSports.com’s sports simulation machine, I played out a best-of-seven series pitting the 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers against LeBron-led teams of the past. It’s more fun than a standard comparison article, and James guarding himself would be a sight to behold.

How did the current Cavs team fare? Eh…

Note: Kyrie Irving played, Kevin Love did not.

First series: 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers v.s. 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 1: 2015 Cavs 105, 2007 Cavs 80

’15 Cavs- James 27, Mozgov 20, Irving 14, Thompson 13, Dellavedova 12

’07 Cavs- James 14, Hughes 14, Ilgauskas 14, Gooden 11

Game 2: ’07 Cavs 96, ’15 Cavs 88

’07 Cavs- Ilgauskas 23, James 22, Marshall 14, Hughes 10

’15 Cavs- Irving 22, James 19, Thompson 15, Smith 10, Mozgov 10

Game 3: ’07 Cavs 102, ’15 Cavs 89

’07 Cavs- James 25, Gooden 15, Ilgauskas 15, Hughes 12

’15 Cavs- James 25, Smith 19, Thompson 19, Irving 16

Game 4: ’15 Cavs 111, ’07 Cavs 93

’15 Cavs- Irving 29, Thompson 20, James 18, Shumpert 15, Mozgov 12

’07 Cavs- James 20, Hughes 16, Ilgauskas 12, Gooden 10

Game 5: ’15 Cavs 105, ’07 Cavs 87

’15 Cavs- Irving 29, James 24, Thompson 14, Mozgov 13, Smith 11

’07 Cavs- James 23, Gooden 15, Marshall 10

Game 6: ’07 Cavs 102, ’15 Cavs 89

’07 Cavs- James 15, Hughes 15, Ilgauskas 14, Varejao 12, Marshall 10

’15 Cavs- James 17, Irving 17, Smith 15, Thompson 12, Shumpert 12, Mozgov 10

Game 7: ’07 Cavs 102, ’15 Cavs 95

’07 Cavs- James 24, Hughes 20, Ilgauskas 18, Gooden 13

’15 Cavs- Irving 21, James 18, Thompson 18, Mozgov 14, Smith 10

Reaction: Well, I don’t think many people expected this result. 22-year-old LeBron outplayed 30-year-old LeBron for most of the series, locking him up defensively when it mattered most. The fresher legs may have had something to do with it- 2007 was 22,708 minutes played ago for the King. His supporting cast, which many consider to be one of the worst rosters to appear in a Finals, also answered the bell in this series, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Larry Hughes playing crucial roles. The ’07 version may have gotten swept by the Spurs, but maybe they weren’t so bad after all?

Second series: 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers v.s. 2011 Miami Heat

Game 1: 2011 Heat 110, 2015 Cavs 104

Heat- James 36, Wade 19, Bosh 12, Bibby 10

Cavs- Irving 22, Thompson 22, James 21, Mozgov 16

Game 2: Heat 91, Cavs 79

Heat- Wade 21, Bosh 19, James 18, Bibby 11

Cavs- James 22, Irving 13, Smith 10

Game 3: Cavs 103, Heat 101

Cavs: James 30 including the game-winning shot with two seconds left, Thompson 22, Irving 12, Smith 12

Heat: James 30, Bosh 21, Chalmers 16

Game 4: Heat 90, Cavs 86

Heat: James 32, Wade 26, Bosh 14

Cavs: James 27, Thompson 27, Irving 15

Game 5: Heat 106, Cavs 99

Heat: Wade 30, James 29, Bosh 12

Cavs: Irving 22, James 18, Mozgov 17, Thompson 16, Smith 14

Reaction: Without Love this wasn’t a major surprise. 2015 LeBron was clutch in Game 3 to avoid the sweep, but 2011 LeBron dominated with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side. Once again, one of the teams James lost the Finals with defeated his current team. Tristan Thompson was one of the lone bright spots for Cleveland, as he continued to put up monster numbers.

Third series: 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers v.s. 2012 Miami Heat

Game 1: Cavs 103, Heat 94

Cavs: Irving 31, James 22, Smith 18, Mozgov 10

Heat: Wade 26, James 22, Bosh 16

Game 2: Cavs 105, Heat 97

Cavs: James 23, Irving 20, Mozgov 19, Smith 14, Thompson 12

Heat: Wade 27, James 25, Bosh 12, Cole 10

Game 3: Cavs 95, Heat 94

Cavs: James 29, Thompson 18, Mozgov 14, Irving 11

Heat: James 24, Wade 22, Bosh 18

Game 4: Heat 104, Cavs 82

Heat: James 32, Bosh 16, Wade 16, Haslem 10

Cavs: James 22, Shumpert 14, Thompson 11

Game 5: Heat 116, Cavs 93

Heat- James 37, Wade 29, Bosh 13

Cavs- James 21, Smith 14, Mozgov 12, Irving 11, Thompson 1o

Game 6: Cavs 117, Heat 90

Cavs- James 25, Thompson 22, Irving 21, Smith 16, Mozgov 14

Heat- James 19, Wade 18, Bosh 15, Chalmers 13

Reaction: You didn’t really think LeBron was going to surrender a 3-0 lead, even against himself, did you? The Cavs’ balance and depth won out in that series.

Fourth series: 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers v.s. 2013 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Cavs 98

Heat- James 30, Wade 19, Chalmers 18, Bosh 13, Allen 13

Cavs- Irving 17, James 15, Smith 14, Mozgov 14, Shumpert 11

Game 2: Heat 105, Cavs 91

Heat- James 28, Wade 18, Bosh 14, Chalmers 14

Cavs- James 18, Irving 17, Smith 17, Thompson 13, Dellavedova 11

Game 3: Cavs 99, Heat 97

Cavs- James 24, Thompson 20, Mozgov 16, Irving 14 including game-winning three, Smith 12, Shumpert 10

Heat- James 21, Bosh 19, Wade 15, Chalmers 11

Game 4: Heat 102, Cavs 86

Heat- James 23, Wade 21, Bosh 14, Allen 11

Cavs- Thompson 22, James 21, Smith 12

Game 5: Cavs 106, Heat 100

Cavs- James 22, Irving 17, Smith 15, Shumpert 14, Thompson 13

Heat- James 34, Wade 17, Bosh 10, Haslem 10

Game 6: Heat 103, Cavs 93

Heat- James 27, Wade 24, Bosh 14

Cavs- Irving 19, James 18, Smith 13, Mozgov 11, Thompson 10

Reaction: The Cavs put on a good showing against the best of the Miami teams, but Miami LeBron thoroughly outplayed Cleveland LeBron and Kyrie Irving couldn’t pick up enough slack. Games 1 and 4 showed that Miami was simply the better team.

Fifth series: 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers v.s. 2014 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 112, Cavs 88

Heat- James 40, Bosh 16, Andersen 14

Cavs- James 28, Smith 12, Thompson 10

Game 2: Heat 105, Cavs 96

Heat- Wade 26, James 20, Chalmers 16, Beasley 11

Cavs- Irving 27, Smith 25, Thompson 11, James 8 (fouled out, went 3-for-10 from the field)

Game 3: Heat 89, Cavs 86

Heat- James 31, Bosh 14, Chalmers 13

Cavs- Smith 27, Thompson 18, James 16, Irving 10, Mozgov 10

Game 4: Cavs 108, Heat 95

Cavs- James 28, Irving 19, Mozgov 17, Thompson 11

Heat- Bosh 22, James 20, Wade 18

Game 5: Cavs 111, Heat 109 (OT)

Cavs- James 32, Thompson 20, Irving 18, Smith 17, Mozgov 15

Heat- James 23, Bosh 21, Chalmers 15, Wade 12

Game 6: Cavs 106, Heat 103 (OT) 

Cavs- James 30, Irving 23, Smith 15, Thompson 15

Heat- Bosh 28, James 25, Chalmers 13, Wade 11

Game 7: Heat 108, Cavs 86

Heat- James 22, Bosh 20, Wade 18, Chalmers 18

Cavs- James 22, Mozgov 14, Thompson 13, Irving 11

Reaction: Very close series with a very one-sided finale. Bosh and Wade got the job done in Game 7, while Chalmers outplayed Kyrie to secure a blowout victory.

The current Cavaliers beat LeBron’s past Finals teams in just one series, while current LeBron traded blows with his younger self like a heavyweight prizefighter. He performed well no matter what jersey he was in, but he was on the winning side far more often when he was wearing the black, red and white. Much of that has to do with his supporting cast; with Kevin Love out, the Cavs would usually be no match for the big three of James, Wade and Bosh.

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