By John Schmeelk
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This is the NBA Finals that fans have been waiting for all year long. Everyone obsesses over the stars, and odds are guys such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson are going to play somewhat close to their skill level.
Last year, there were a number of surprises that helped determine the NBA champion: Curry didn’t play like himself due to injury; Draymond Green missed a game due to suspension; and Andrew Bogut missed most of the series after hurting his knee. Those types of things are unpredictable, but there are things to keep an eye on in this series. Here are five keys that may determine the 2017 NBA champion.
Can The Cavs Slow Down Golden State’s Offense?
The Cavaliers’ defense was a problem for most of the season. They finished 22nd in the NBA with a defensive rating of 108.0. Part of their poor final numbers come from their final two months when their overall effort level was wanting, but they still aren’t a good defensive team. James is going to have to guard Durant as well as carry the offense. He is capable, but it will tax his stamina. Irving will have to guard either Curry or Thompson. Kevin Love will have to guard Draymond Green. The Warriors could average 120 a game in this series, which would mean a five-game defeat for Cleveland.
Can The Cavs Counter Golden State Small Ball?
Tristan Thompson and Love were dominant on the boards against the Celtics when Boston went with a smaller lineup. They got Cleveland a ton of second-chance opportunities and didn’t let the Celtics get out and run. If the Cavs can do the same to the Warriors and protect the ball, they can slow down their transition game and have a chance to win. Golden State wants to play small, with Green at center. It’s the death lineup. Can the Cavaliers figure out a way to counter it? If going big doesn’t work, maybe Love at center does. If they can find a solution, they have a shot.
How Healthy Is Andre Iguodala?
Iguodala has been dealing with a sore left knee and missed time against the Spurs, but did return to play in games 3 and 4. Iguodala is not a starter, but he does play starter minutes. In the last two seasons, he was the Warriors’ go-to defender against James. If Golden State can save Durant’s and Thompson’s energy for the offensive end, it will help the Warriors immeasurably.
Can Someone On The Cavs Play Above Their Station?
The Warriors are so stacked with talent, the Cavaliers are probably going to need someone besides James, Irving and Love to step up and make some big plays for them. It could be J.R. Smith getting hot for a few games, Tristan Thompson dominating inside with second-chance points, Kyle Korver getting hot from three, or Deron Williams reliving past glory. Someone is going to have to step up.
Can James Play Out Of His Mind?
James playing well to his season averages (26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 55 percent on field goals, 36 percent on 3’s and 67 percent on free throws) isn’t even going to be enough for the Cavs to win. In order to beat the Warriors, he is going to have to average 30 a game and be in triple-double territory with the rest of his numbers. Perhaps, and most importantly, he is going to have to make his free throws at the end of the game. It has been a struggle all year from the line for James, who has changed his form and routine countless times. He will have to be the man at the end of games, and that means be willing to go to the basket late without any fear of going to the line.
As you can see, the Cavaliers are mentioned a lot more than the Warriors above, and that’s because Golden State is the better team. Cleveland will have to go above and beyond what it normally does in order to win the series. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t likely. I would like nothing more than a seven-game series, but I don’t think it gets there. Warriors in six.
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