CLEVELAND -- Long before the Cleveland Cavaliers routed the Toronto Raptors by 50 combined points in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals to take a 2-0 lead in the series with Thursday's 108-89 win, Cleveland's captain just might have seen this success coming.
It was six weeks ago and the Cavaliers were reeling from a fourth-quarter collapse that cost them a winnable game in Chicago, a game the team was treating like a dress rehearsal for the playoffs with the postseason set to open up the following weekend.
The loss had an ominous feel to it, considering the Cavs played the "we'll be at our best when it really matters" card all season long. There they were, giving their all to try to shore up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference but were being denied by the Bulls' relatively unknown rookie Cristiano Felicio, who looked like the second coming of Charles Barkley as Cleveland's late-game execution was in disarray.
LeBron James lingered in the back of the visitors locker room at the United Center that night, feet plunged in a bucket of ice water, when he was lobbed a pick-at-the-scab type of question.
"So are you guys really going to be ready to play 20-25 games that matter starting next week after a night like tonight?"
"Twenty-five games?" James said incredulously to ESPN.com and then tapped Tristan Thompson, who was seated next to him, on the shoulder to bring him in the conversation.
"Tristan, how many games do we need to win in the playoffs to win a championship?" he asked.
"Sixteen," Thompson said.
"Exactly," James reiterated. "Sixteen."
James' mood was more playful than defiant. This reporter's retort was a mix of amazement at the audacity of the perfect postseason prediction, combined with disbelief.
Following the Cavs' sweep of Atlanta in the second round that brought Cleveland to 8-0, or halfway to James' claim, the four-time MVP was reminded of what was said back in Chicago.
"You looked at me like I was crazy," James said. "We have a long way to go. But this is a great start."
It only has gotten greater since then. The Cavs are currently 10-0 in these playoffs, making James seem more sage by the day. Dating to last season, Cleveland has now won 17 straight playoff games against Eastern Conference opponents, the longest playoff win streak by a team within its own conference in NBA history, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau.
For all of James' other-worldly skills on the basketball court, his trait that might be most distinct is his intuition. Back in February, when the Cavs were one of the couple of teams vying to sign Joe Johnson after his contract was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets, James said he took a nap one day after shootaround and had a dream with Johnson wearing a Miami Heat uniform. When he woke up, he checked his phone and saw that Johnson had made his decision while James was sleeping and was indeed signing with Miami.
It's with that context that when you hear James say, "We're a team that's destined for greatness and I really believe that," as he did during the Atlanta series, you have to know he really believes it.
Any talk of 16-0 still seems silly and premature, especially with either the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder waiting out in the Western Conference as a potential NBA Finals foe. However, dismissing the significance of the Cavs becoming only the fourth team in league history to start a postseason 10-0 -- joining the 2012 Spurs, 2001 Lakers and 1989 Lakers -- would be foolish.
It has been jarring to see, especially considering that the Warriors' 73-9 record and the Spurs' 67-15 record in the regular season had conditioned people to believe that those two teams were the standard bearers, with the ne'er-do-well Cavs and their daily dramas a distant third. Well, guess what, the Spurs were 6-4 in the playoffs and are sitting at home now.
It also has made people question if Cleveland has just been beating up on cupcakes in the supposedly inferior East. Somehow, the success has seemed too good to be true. Pundits have either criticized the level of the competition -- conveniently framing Atlanta and Detroit as patsies when their records would have had them in range for the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in the West, respectively -- or claimed that all the winning could be counterproductive in the long run.
"No, I don't think we have to lose," James said after shootaround Thursday. "We don't want to lose. That's what we're here to do. We want to win every game that we step on the floor.
"We've been challenged in this postseason, multiple times by Detroit and also by Atlanta in the first two series. We just persevered and was able to come back from it and win those games. So, we don't want to lose. That's not our mindset, should never be our mindset. I don't get, people say you need to lose a game to go through something. I think we've went through some things and if we happen to lose a game, we have to be able to bounce back from it, but that's not our mindset."
The Cavs are only getting better as the postseason goes on, it would appear. But the run is being couched with a bit of skepticism. If things are this easy right now, the Cavs could be in for a rude awakening down the road. But, what if Cleveland is just making it look easy?
"It's not easy," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who passed Pat Riley's record for most consecutive playoff wins to begin a coaching career with the victory over the Raptors in Game 2. "It's a lot of work. It's a lot of preparation, trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to figure out what they're going to do next. My coaching staff today was right on point what we thought they might try to do.
"There are a lot of nights we don't get a lot of rest, a lot of sleep. You're dreaming of ATOs [after-timeout plays] and plays you can run and things that happen. So, a lot of sleepless nights, but the way things are going right now, it's worth it."
James has stayed measured, like Lue.
"I don't think it feels like a streak," James said of the 10-0 mark. "I think it feels like we won one game. We won the next game, and how do we prepare and be better the following game? We've taken one step at a time. We haven't overlooked any steps along this process thus far, and I think that's part of the reason we're in this position today."
In a couple of more weeks, should Cleveland finish off Toronto with a sweep just like it did to its first two postseason opponents, the Cavs could be in position to take their perfect record into the NBA Finals. If they win four more games to capture the championship -- be it in a sweep, or be it in a five-, six- or seven-game series -- it will feel like perfection just the same.
"We've just got to win games," Lue said. "You've got to play who's in front of you every single night. Whether they call the East weak or not, we've got to beat these teams. These teams have beaten a lot of West Coast teams throughout the regular season, so I don't care what they say. We know we have something we're trying to accomplish, game. Whoever your opponent is, whoever they put in front of you, that's who you have to play, and if we get a chance to take care of our business and match up in the Western Conference, we'll see."