• Dicky Fung

NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers Coverage


It’s happening. The most inevitable NBA Finals match-up is set. The Cleveland Cavaliers will travel to Oakland on Thursday to take on the Golden State Warriors in another NBA Finals rematch, the 3rd between both teams. The Cavs took care of business in the Eastern Conference Finals finishing off the Boston Celtics 4-1 to punch their 3rd straight NBA Finals appearance. For LeBron James, it’s his 7th straight. SEVENTH. Let that sink in for a moment. For more on LeBron, be sure to check out our LeBron watch, as he continues to shatter records after records. The Cavaliers are about to face a team who is on a completely different level than any opponent they faced thus far in the playoffs. If you think this year’s NBA Playoffs were missing somewhat of an excitement, this NBA Finals trilogy won’t disappoint.

Regular season match-up:

Dec 25 – Warriors 108 – Cavaliers 109

Jan 25 – Cavaliers 91 – Warriors 126

According to Westgate Las Vegas, the Warriors enter the series as the clear favorites. The booking site positions the Warriors at -290 and the Cavaliers at +240. In other words, Steph Curry and DubNation have about a 71 percent chance of taking the series, while LeBron James has a 29 percent chance at hoisting his fourth Larry O’Brien trophy.

Let’s be honest, not many are giving the Cleveland Cavaliers much of a chance in the NBA Finals. They may be the defending champions and they may have LeBron James who is the best player in the NBA, but against Golden State that features a deadly offensive attack of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson? Yeah, I can see why people aren’t willing to bet on the Cavaliers.

So, what must be done for Cleveland to have a chance? A LOT more than you think.

The Kevin Love X-Factor

Kevin Love was spectacular against Boston in the conference finals, averaging 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game while shooting a blistering 53.5% from three. He had plenty of motivation in dominating against Boston, probably thanks to Kelly Olynyk. It helps too that the Celtics had virtually no answer for him because he was just far too physical for any of the Celtics defenders. The Cavs did a great job to put Love in favorable situations vs. the Celtics, letting him anchor bench lineups and at times force-feeding him the ball in the post.

Love averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in the 2016 Finals, shooting a dreadful 26.3% from deep. He was a non-factor for much of the series, but he made up for it in Game 7 with tremendous defense on Steph Curry late to protect the lead. Anytime you have Kevin Love putting up monster double-doubles, Cleveland is much more dangerous. He must be spectacular for the Cavs to stand a chance.

Don't hesitate and let it fly, Kevin Love.

Which team will play better defense?

The Warriors are No. 1 in defensive efficiency in postseason play, and they were second in that category in the regular season. The Cavaliers stepped up their defense during the postseason, with a DEFRTG (Defensive Rating for players and teams it is points allowed per 100 posessions) of 104.6 compared to 108 in the regular season. Problem is the Warriors carried their defense over from the regular season of 101.1, 2nd best in league to an even better league-best 99.1 in the playoffs.

The stats don't lie. There's multiple reasons why the Golden State Warriors are the overwhelming favorites heading into this series.

Can LeBron James activate Playoff Superhuman LeBron mode in this series?

For the Cavs, like year after year, everything begins and ends with LeBron James. Can he do it against a defense of the Warriors-caliber? History will say yes, as he is on a personal quest to prove all the doubters wrong. He wants to become the Greatest Ever.

LBJ literally has to do it all.

LeBron is chasing ghosts. He’s playing at what is possibly the highest level of his career. In last year’s playoffs, he averaged 26.3 points per game on 52.5 percent shooting from the floor and 34 percent from three. This year he looks better. He’s playing fresher than ever, averaging an absurd 32.5 points per game while shooting 56.6 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from three. The King is a freight train, an unstoppable force that makes everything possible with this team. LeBron James is going to have score the ball efficiently while also making sure his teammates are in scoring positions. We are going to expect a faster paced series because the Warriors love to run, which is a good thing for LeBron as he can get out on the open court to expose the Warriors defense. His ability to get his knockdown shooters ties into one of the most important keys to upset the Warriors.

Kyrie Irving vs Steph Curry

Quite frankly, there aren’t many possible ways to defeat the Warriors that don’t include Kyrie Irving at the very least matching Steph Curry’s production, if not outplay him. Uncle Drew has improved since last year’s Finals and while he doesn’t always play like a top-tier point guard or dish out 10 assists, he is capable of outplaying anyone over a seven-game series.

Kyrie will need to zone in his Mamba Mentality in this rematch.

Irving came through in a big way against the Celtics. He became the first player since Dwight Howard in 2009 to have four straight playoff games of over 20 points while shooting 60 percent from the field. It was impressive as he was guarded heavily by Avery Bradley, who is arguably one of the best defenders in the league at that position. The Warriors will throw a lot of Klay Thompson on him throughout this series, trying to neutralize Irving with his size. Irving will need to show maturity and not be baited into turnovers by Golden State’s top tier defense.

Neither point guard will likely spend much time as the primary defender on the other. But in situations where Irving is on Curry, he will need to be attentive and stay glued to him through those tough (or dirty? pun intended) screens set by the Warriors' bigs. Irving must also expose Steph Curry on defense when he is switched onto him. We all saw a tired Steph Curry at the end of Game 7 last year. Forcing him to use energy on the defensive end is one way to neutralize the head of the snake.

3-Point Shooting

Cleveland has been the No. 1 team from downtown in the playoffs, both in terms of makes per game and 3-point field-goal percentage. The Cavaliers must continue to shoot it from deep and not be complacent when the open shot is there. We all know Kyle Korver and Channing Frye are going to launch it without hesitation. That must mean the likes of Iman Shumpert, JR. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Deron Williams must be ready to shoot the ball when they catch it. It's a make or miss league, and the Cavs have to be confident in their shots. That’s probably the Cavs best path to winning against the Warriors—out shoot them from three. That’s easier said than done for multiple reasons. Golden State is by far the best defense Cleveland has seen during the playoffs.

The Warriors will play a lot of small ball, giving them quickness to close out on the Cavs shooters. They are more comfortable than any other team switching out onto the Cavs’ shooters, and they also have an arguably superior offensive attack to match Cleveland’s 3-point prowess.

The Cavaliers are a staggering 27-1 when they shoot over 42% from 3-point land this season. The Cavaliers set an NBA record, with 14.6 three-pointers made per game this postseason. It's safe the say the Cavaliers want to let it fly and the Warriors are aware of this in their scouting report.

The Others

On the boards, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love will need to make their presence felt. Tristian Thompson will need to expose the size of Golden State and gobble up all the rebounds, offensive and defensive. Giving second chance points to a team like Golden State will likely result in a loss because they are just so talented offensively. While on the court, he needs to remain assertive and attack, even if he isn’t getting offensive touches. His ability to put back missed shots with his offensive rebounding is a huge key to force the Warriors to change their game plan. With his improved confidence, defensive ability, and physical shape, he should have more impact than in previous match-ups.

When Tristian Thompson is engaged like this on defense, it will lead to easy transition buckets for Cleveland.

Cleveland’s shooters will also have to hold their own defensively. J.R Smith has done a wonderful job on guys like DeMar DeRozan so far. Kyle Korver has shot the ball very well, and has always been underrated as a defender for much of his career. He has good size, and many don't know that Korver is actually very physical on the defensive end. However, their defensive assignments will now be Hall-of-Fame level talents. Ultimately, if the Cavs keep shooting well without giving up a three every time back down the court, they can start thinking of bringing another trophy back to Cleveland.

More LeBron James

LeBron James’s legacy is on the line. Surely, he’s got nothing much to prove to media and the basketball world because he has already established himself as a top 5 basketball player of all time. However, he wants to aim for the impossible. He wants to take a swing at becoming the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time. If he is able to somehow pull off this feat by defeating a Golden State Warriors team that features Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, he will surely be in a discussion that puts him above his Airness. You want to know why LeBron is being compared to Michael Jordan a lot lately?

There's been a lot of talk lately on LeBron surpassing Jordan, and they make great arguments. LeBron James is overall the better all-around basketball player, where Michael Jordan is more of a scorer. It's also true that MJ also never had to play a stacked team like the Warriors. Aside from scoring, LeBron is arguably better than MJ in everything else.

Prediction:

Cavaliers will have to steal one at Oracle Arena, and I think they will go in Game 1 doing just that. History loves to repeat itself, as the Philadelphia 76ers went into Staples Center in the 2001 NBA Finals shocking the LA Lakers in Game 1, a team that also went 12-0 and was undefeated until that point. I predict this will happen, as the Cavs will be locked in and motivated after the whole “underdogs” narrative, when they are actually the defending NBA champions.

Cavaliers in 7.

2017 NBA Finals: Schedule, dates, times, TV channel

* — if necessary; all times ET

Thursday, June 1, 9 p.m Cavaliers at Warriors | ABC Sunday, June 4, 8 p.m Cavaliers at Warriors | ABC Wednesday, June 7, 9 p.m Warriors at Cavaliers | ABC Friday, June 9, 9 p.m Warriors at Cavaliers | ABC *Monday, June 12, 9 p.m Cavaliers at Warriors | ABC *Thursday, June 15, 9 p.m Warriors at Cavaliers | ABC *Sunday, June 18, 8 p.m Cavaliers at Warriors | ABC

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