It’s that time of year again, time for LeBron James.
For the fifth straight year, King James is in the NBA Finals, attempting to win his third NBA championship. This one would carry additional meaning as it would be the first professional sports championship enjoyed by the citizenry of Cleveland, OH in over 50 years. Just in case you’re weak with the arithmetic, that’s an awfully long time to be losing. When you live in a town where the river once caught fire, and winter weather is literally deadly, winning is a welcome distraction.
However, this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers squad hasn’t exactly blown anyone away with the manner in which they've been winning games. They beat a hobbled and visibly tired Atlanta Hawks team to get to the NBA Finals, a Chicago Bulls team that was also hurt and without it’s best low-post scoring threat throughout most of the series, and a Boston Celtics team that played out of its mind during the last month of the season in order to even make it to the playoffs in the first place.
As the kids say, for real, for real (sic), even after the loss of PF Kevin Love to a grisly looking shoulder injury it didn’t look as if Cleveland would face any discernible turbulence on their way to the NBA Finals. But they’re at the top of the mountain now and the weather has just taken a turn for the worse. Once considered a run-and-gun, regular season phenomenon, the Golden State Warriors are now on the verge of accomplishing something that they haven’t even come within a thousand mile radius of accomplishing in over 40 years - win an NBA Championship.
According to the pencil pushers and bookmakers alike, the Golden State Warriors are the odds-on favorite to win it all with current MVP Steph Curry averaging nearly 30 points in the NBA playoffs this season. Here are several key factors that in this highly-anticipated match-up.
The front court is one factor that appears to be lopsidedly in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ve got a center who can score with his back to the basket and is an above-average shot blocker, a tremendous offensive rebounder and glue guy in Tristan Thompson, and the best player on planet Earth in LeBron James at the small forward spot.
They’ll be going up against a Warriors front line that features the shot blocking and rebounding of C Andrew Bogut, the tenacity, shooting touch and versatility of Draymond Green at power forward, and Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes splitting time at small forward. While Golden State may have a larger stable of serviceable big men on their roster in Marreese Speights, David Lee and Festus Ezeli, none of them are rugged enough to offset the considerable girth that Cleveland has in the paint.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ back court scoring usually starts and finishes with PG Kyrie Irving. However, a series of nagging injuries limited him in the Eastern Conference Finals. His ball handling ability, penetration and hot shooting are needed, in part, to keep the Warriors honest. You can’t crowd the lane or double-team LeBron if Irving is burning you from the perimeter.
Also, a healthy Kyrie Irving means the Warriors will likely have to allow Steph to play him. Ideally, they would like to hide him on a less-talented offensive player. However, placing him on either J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert could prove disastrous as well. If either of them decides to post Curry up it will inevitably effect his offense because of the type of energy it would take to fight off being posted up all series long.
The Golden State Warriors will field a backcourt that has gained great acclaim all season. And while one half of the Splash Brothers is had been high and dry throughout the playoffs, SG Klay Thompson is about due for an outbreak offensive series. It’s either now or never as far as that’s concerned. He’s supposed to be the perfect complement to Steph Curry; a good shooter, good athleticism and good defensive instincts.
However, Thompson has been relatively mediocre in areas where he is supposed to be proficient throughout the playoffs-which is likely why PG Steph Curry has been playing so otherworldly this post season. Speaking of the MVP, Steph Curry has the ability to completely disrupt the Cavs’ defensive game plan. If he’s burning everyone up then LeBron will be the chosen cure, but that rotation could potentially cause matchup problems for whomever has to guard Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala, both of whom can get it going if left unattended.
However, with the season Steph has been having, it’s very unlikely that anyone on the Cavs will be able to slow his roll for more than one game. If you recall, the Memphis Grizzlies appeared to have his number for a game or two, but he woke up and was essential in helping stomp them out. So, even if Curry is having a bad night defensively, it is very unlikely his counterpart will be able to do much disrupt him; be it LeBron, Kyrie or Shumpert.
Additionally, the Warriors have 6-foot-7 veteran point guard Shaun Livingston coming off the bench. The Warriors have also been known to play small ball with Steph at the two, Livingston at point and Klay Thompson at the three, which is a potentially incendiary offensive unit.
Meanwhile, the Cavs’ bench looks like a “Who’s Who” of draft picks from a decade ago; C Kendrick Perkins, PF Shawn Marion, SF James Jones and SF Mike Miller? Cleveland doesn’t want to get into a situation where they have to play any of those guys more than 15 minutes a game. If they do find themselves in such a circumstance it’s like because of injury or extreme poor play by the starters. Either way, it spells doom for the Cavs in a best-of-seven series.
Additionally, the Golden State Warriors have gone deep into their bench all season long and they’ll likely continue that trend in the Finals. They aren’t too long in the tooth at any position and head coach Steve Kerr appears to instill readiness as a way of life out in Oakland.
Coaching: Both Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors and David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers are rookie coaches in the NBA, although Blatt has had success overseas while Steve Kerr did his thing in the front office as GM of the Phoenix Suns. But neither has any coaching success in the NBA. I’m going to have to call this even.
Conclusion: Although the Cleveland Cavaliers have the best player on the planet in LeBron James, and one of the sickest penetrators the league has seen in quite some time, the Golden State Warriors have many interchangeable parts all over the floor, they’re statistically the best defensive team in the league and they’re enjoying considerable depth at power forward, center and small forward. Though Tristan Thompson and Timafy Mozgov have been outstanding this post season, they’re only two guys.
Additionally, I don’t believe that both Shumpert and Smith will remain hot. Also, I feel like Iman Shumpert will wilt if he is made a priority on the defensive end.
I’ve got the Golden State Warriors winning the first game tonight and winning the series in seven games.