We’ve finally made it down to the two that will battle each other in The 2016 NBA Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The rematch is here and it’s the matchup most wanted to see once their favorite team was sent fishing for the summer. The story lines are more than abundant for this series. But, the story lines that will get the most play will be, can the Warriors finish off what’s possibly the best season ever by one particular team – perhaps in any sport, and could Lebron James actually fall to 2-5 in his seven Finals appearances? If that happens, would that be the final piece of key evidence needed to prove two-time MVP Steph Curry has actually dethroned ‘The King’ and surpassed him as the best player in the game? We’re all going to have to wait a while to find out. This should be a long series that has the potential to be one of the most memorable. Let’s dig a little deeper to see why I think The Dubs will repeat as NBA champions.
SEASON SERIES: Warriors 2-0
The two matchups between these two were two games the Cavaliers would rather forget. The Christmas Day showdown in Oakland was really not that pretty at all as neither team shot the ball particularly well and the second meeting, played in Cleveland, was over before the National Anthem. The dominant 40-point statement by the Warriors that night was ultimately the final nail in the coffin for David Blatt’s head coaching tenure in Cleveland. The good news for the Cavs is things have changed dramatically ever since and these two matchups mean absolutely nothing. Tyronn Lue is now the head coach and just about every button he’s pushed so far has worked, and Channing Frye has been an incredible mid-season pickup. With that said, the Cavs would still likely be in the finals if things had stayed status quo. However, they would arguably be a lot lesser of a threat to win this series.
KEYS TO VICTORY
CAVALIERS: First and foremost, the Cavs have to find a way to deal with the Warriors small ball lineup. Steve Kerr inserting Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup and using David Lee more often than Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, starting with Game 4, changed the outcome of the series. This time around Kevin Love is healthy. That could be a good thing on offense. But, on defense Love is going to have problems when it becomes necessary for him to switch in pick and roll situations. One way to combat that may be for the Cavs to play a little small ball themselves. Love, or Frye at center, Lebron at power forward and so on is probably their best bet, especially in key situations. Frye, is the much better perimeter defender. Love, is the much better rebounder. Lue, has to find the right mix between those two and Tristan Thompson.
Second, Kyrie Irving is also healthy this time around. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Kyrie offensively. It’s the defensive end that’s the question. He doesn’t have to be spectacular on defense. But, he at least needs to be adequate.
Third, production and consistency from J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert will be vital. Again, neither will likely have to do anything super-human. But, they have to keep the Warriors D honest. That means knocking down shots when they’re open. We all know just how streaky they can be. They can’t be streaky like that and win this series.
WARRIORS: The Warriors are coming off a long, draining series against OKC, in which they came back from a 3-1 deficit. That series had to take it’s toll. While, they were in a fight for their lives, Cleveland was at the house. Chillin. Could that eventually take its toll? Maybe.But, they should be relieved that the Cavs are not quite the matchup nightmare the Thunder were on defense. Exploiting the Cavs with ball movement and perimeter shooting hasn’t been a problem at all in the last two seasons. As stated above, Channing Frye could change the dynamic of that to some degree. But for the most part, the Warriors should have the advantage, at least offensively. Defense could be a different story. The Warriors have had trouble keeping guys like Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook from getting to the rim. Keeping Irving in front of them will be just as difficult. But, keeping rim runs by Kyrie to a minimum would be advised. Irving, lit up the Warriors in Game’s 1 and 2 of last year’s Finals before going down to injury. Figuring out who will guard Kyrie will be very important. Curry, will have his moments on him. But, look for several Warriors including Thompson and Iguodala to have a shot at him, if necessary.
Keeping Lebron out of the paint will be important as well. Last year, with no Love or Irving, Lebron was a one-man show. This year will be different. Sure, Iguodala and company had success against ‘the others’ (Smith, Shumpert, Dellvedova etc.) in last year’s Finals while they allowed Lebron to get his. However, the game plan probably can’t remain exactly the same this time around. Not when ‘the others’ include Kyrie, Love, and Frye who’s red-hot from three. Trying to force Lebron to beat you with jumpers won’t be nearly as simple with a better cast around him. Also, keeping Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass will be huge. Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter beat up on the Warriors pretty good. The Warriors hung in their as well as they could have hoped for. A repeat performance, if not better could be critical.
The changes made, especially offensively by Lue and the Cavs should make this one fun series to watch. Both teams are capable of lighting it up from 3. Both teams are lethal in transition. The team that’s able to stop the other more often is going to win this series. Expect a series where the momentum swings will be huge. There could also be a blowout or two along the way, which is nothing new in these playoffs. But, when all is said and done, the Warriors are still a bit more versatile and their ‘others’ are probably a bit more reliable than Cleveland’s. That doesn’t mean The Dubs can get down 3-1 to these Cavs and expect to come back. The Cavs are far more disciplined than OKC. However, it just won’t be enough as Steph Curry and company repeats and completes the greatest season ever in major sports history. And maybe more importantly, Anderson Varejao won’t have to worry about having to accept a championship ring with a team he no longer plays for…………..WARRIORS in 7