NBA Finals 2016: Clevland Cavilers vs. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are set to clash again in the 2016 NBA Finals, a rematch of last year’s series in which the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in six games. Obviously, the stakes are always high in the NBA Finals, but this year’s winner will truly go down in history.
*Photo via Getty Images
If Cleveland wins, it will be the city's first major sports championship since the Cleveland Browns won an NFL title in the pre-Super Bowl era. This is also a huge series for the legacy of LeBron James. LeBron James is still only 31 years old, but he is an old 31. This is due to the wear and tear LeBron has faced throughout his career. It is easy to forget that LeBron is completing his 13th season since coming straight out of high school. Plus, he has had little down time. James rarely misses games, plays big minutes, and always carries his team in those minutes. James has also had shorter recovery time in summers than most players because of his many long playoff runs (this is his 7th trip to the finals in his 13 year career) and his participation on 3 Olympic teams (and possibly a 4th this summer). James is a physical specimen unlike any other the world has seen, so it's possible he can withstand this usage much longer than most. Nonetheless it's hard not to wonder how long James can remain the game's top player. There are some that believe his final’s opponent, Stephen Curry, has already taken that title from him. Bringing home the Cavaliers first NBA title would prove that James is still the king of the NBA. A loss in this year’s finals would put a huge blemish on LeBron’s legacy since it would drop him to a 2-5 record for his career in the finals.
Golden State Warriors
*Photo via USA Today
This series is huge for Golden State because the difference between winning and losing is the difference of being remembered as a one of the top teams to ever play or simply a great team. Finishing the regular season 73-9, the best in NBA history, will mean nothing if GSW doesn’t finish the season with an NBA title. The 95-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10, won the championship. In order to be truly comparable to that historic team the Warriors must also win the title. Winning back-to-back titles in a season in which the Warriors had the league’s best record ever, the MVP, and the Coach of the Year would make it hard to argue against the Warriors as one of the greatest teams in sports history.
*Photo via USA Today
The Warriors will be using essentially the same lineup against the Cavs that they had in last year’s finals. The Warriors main seven-man rotation is intact with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston. I expect the Warriors to play a lot of small-ball against Cleveland, so don’t expect too much of Festus Ezeli, Mo Speights, or ex-Cavalier Anderson Varejao. Playing small could open the door for a few more minutes for Leandro Barbosa or Ian Clark.
Unlike the Warriors, the Cavaliers rotation will be entirely different from last year’s finals. They even have a new coach after Tyronn Lue took over mid-season for David Blatt. The five players from last year’s rotation that will play major minutes in this series are LeBron James, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson. The two huge additions are Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love missed the entire finals last season, and Irving was out after being injured in Game 1. Love and Irving have both made multiple All-Star teams for a reason, and the Cavs are obviously a much better team with them than without them. Nonetheless it should be noted that playing these two major minutes does make Cleveland a weaker team defensively. Both Irving and Love have never been known as strong defenders, but the Warriors present a difficult matchup that make them both even more of a liability. Irving will have a hard time guarding either Splash Brother, and is probably too small to guard a bigger perimeter player like Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala. Love should be fine when the Warriors play a traditional big man like Andrew Bogut, since the Warriors don’t have any particularly threatening post players. Where Love and the Cavs will be in trouble is against the Warriors famous small-ball lineups where they employ Draymond Green at center. In these lineups Love will be forced to guard the perimeter, which he has never proven capable of doing in his career. All that being said, the Cavs have a much better chance at dethroning the defending champs with Love and Irving. Irving’s ability to handle the ball, shoot, and attack the rim plus Love’s proficiency as an outlet passer, shooter, and rebounder will greatly help the Cavs in their quest to a title.
Love and Irving are the more notable additions when comparing this year’s Cavalier roster to last years, but Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson should also play major roles. Along with Shumpert and Dellavedova, Frye and Jefferson have given the Cavs a formidable bench. This is definitely saying something after last season’s injuries forced Cleveland to play guys like James Jones and Mike Miller major minutes. In his days playing alongside Steve Nash with the Phoenix Suns, Channing Frye proved that he was a very capable floor spacing big man. Playing on a young and struggling Orlando Magic team was not a great use of Frye’s skills. Frye has re-found his calling as the backup big to Love and Thompson for the Cavs. Frye has always been a good 3-pt shooter, but he has been absolutely on fire so far this postseason. Frye is a staggering 26-45 (57.8%) from three in the playoffs and has been a consistent bench presence throughout Cleveland’s run to the finals. Jefferson has surprised many, including myself, by playing a big part for the Cavs this postseason. Jefferson has proven to be a smart and valuable veteran presence with the ability to finish on the break and hit the outside shot.
*Photo via USA Today
This should be a great and entertaining series, but I would be surprised if the Warriors don’t end up repeating as champs. Experts and fans picking Cleveland will point to the fact that a depleted Cavaliers team was competitive against the Warriors last season and now they are healthy and revamped. While all of this is true, I still think the Warriors are the better team. Cleveland doesn’t matchup well against Golden State’s small-ball units, and I think this will be their undoing. I do expect GSW to win, but you can never count out a team led by LeBron. The only thing we know for sure is that no matter who wins Anderson Varejao will be receiving his first NBA Championship ring.