LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James prepares to shoot a free throw against the Toronto Raptors during Game 3 of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on Toronto, Canada on May 5, 2017. Reuters/John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The idea that a team in the Eastern Conference can stop the Cleveland Cavaliers can be put to rest. LeBron James and Co. should close out their series with the Toronto Raptors with a win in Sunday afternoon’s Game 4, putting the league’s best player four victories away from reaching the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year.

Cleveland appeared to be vulnerable in the regular season, falling to the No.2 seed with a poor second half that was marred by defensive struggles. The Boston Celtics finished two games ahead of the Cavs in the standings, and FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model even gave the Raptors and Washington Wizards a better chance to win the title.

The Cavs still have some work to do, but any questions regarding their path to the finals seem to have been answered.

Much has been made about Cleveland’s defense, which ranked just 22nd in points allowed per possession. Maybe the Cavs were saving their energy for the playoffs, or maybe the amount of rest in between postseason games has made the difference. Whatever the case may be, Cleveland’s ability to get enough stops no longer looks to be a concern.

The defensive turnaround began when the Cavs had a strong second-half performance in their Game 3 comeback against the Indiana Pacers in the first round. They limited the Pacers to 102 points when they clinched the sweep in Game 4 and haven’t looked back since.

Cleveland’s defense has been everything it’s needed to be against a Raptors team that can put up points. Toronto didn’t get beyond the 105-point mark in the first two contests, which were played at a rapid pace. With an injured Kyle Lowry unavailable in Game 3, the Cavs took advantage and held the Raptors to 94 points. Cleveland made a statement with its fourth-quarter defense, limiting Toronto to just 17 points in the game’s final 12 minutes.

An improved defense will be key in Cleveland’s chances at repeating as champions, though James might be able to lead just about any defense past the Raptors and either the Celtics or Wizards in the conference finals with the way he’s playing. James is performing at a level that hasn’t been seen since Michael Jordan was winning championships each year, and it can be argued that what the Cavs’ star is doing in 2017 is more impressive than any one of His Airness’ playoff runs.

Every night, James seems to post a stat line that only a few players have ever accomplished in postseason history. It started when he had 25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and four steals in Cleveland’s second playoff game. He put up 41/13/12 three nights later while leading the biggest comeback in NBA history, and James closed out the Cavs’ sweep of the Pacers by nearly averaging a triple-double and scoring 32.8 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting.

James was more of a distributor against Indiana because Toronto simply can’t stop him from scoring. He’s averaging 36.3 points on just 17.7 shots per game, playing the most efficient basketball of his career. James has made 37 of 45 free throws against the Raptors, correcting his greatest flaw.

In all seven of Cleveland’s playoff games, James has shot better than 50 percent from the field while leading the Cavs to a win. He’s scored more than 30 points in all but one game, and Cleveland is on a 10-game playoff winning streak dating back to the 2016 NBA Finals.

What reason is there to think any of Cleveland’s remaining Eastern Conference postseason games will be any different?

The Cavaliers have absolutely owned the Raptors in the playoffs, going 7-2 against Toronto since 2016. All of Toronto’s losses have been by double-digits, and six have come by at least 19 points.

Once Cleveland gets by Toronto, taking care of business against Boston or Washington shouldn’t be much of a chore. The Cavs will be well rested after their short series against the Raptors, and neither the Celtics nor the Wizards have the defense to slow down James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Much is made of the three-point shooting ability of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, but the Cavs are nearly as good from behind the arc. Averaging 13 threes per game in the regular season, Cleveland is hitting 14.1 shots from behind the arc on 44.2 percent shooting this postseason, leading the NBA in both categories.

Players like Channing Frye, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are playing their roles perfectly as members of James’ supporting cast. If they continue to hit open shots, anyone in the East or the West will be hard-pressed to stop the Cavs.

The only question regarding Cleveland’s path to the finals is how many games it will take for them to win the conference, and with the way the team is playing, it’s looking like it could end up being close to the absolute minimum.