With all due respect to the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the two best teams in basketball once again will take center stage in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are the last teams standing for the second consecutive season and will kick off their best-of-seven series Thursday at Oracle Arena. The Warriors ousted the Cavs in six games in the 2015 NBA Finals, but this year could be a different story against a LeBron James-led team that’s well-rested and hungry for revenge.
So, who has the upper hand in this exciting rematch? Let’s break it all down.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Warriors (73-9, 1st in Western Conference): Beat Houston Rockets in five games, beat Portland Trail Blazers in five games, beat Thunder in seven games
Cavaliers (57-25, 1st in Eastern Conference): Swept Detroit Pistons, swept Atlanta Hawks, beat Toronto Raptors in six games
HOW THE WARRIORS CAN WIN
Golden State’s blueprint for success is simple: Hit a ton of 3-pointers. The Thunder outplayed the Warriors in several categories during the West finals, but Golden State survived by making an incredible 90 3-pointers, an NBA record for a seven-game series. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lead the charge in the 3-point barrage, and if the Cavs can’t find a way to disrupt both players, they’ll be in big trouble.
On the defensive end, the Warriors could have an answer for James in the versatile Draymond Green and are very good at defending the three, holding opponents to just 33.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc this season. If they can repeat that success against a Cleveland club that’s been relying heavily on outside shots while continuing their own prowess beyond the arc, Curry and Co. will be lifting their second Larry O’Brien Trophy in as many years.
HOW THE CAVS CAN WIN
By wearing out the high-octane Warriors. The Cavs will be incredibly well-rested entering Thursday’s contest, having won 12 of 14 games this postseason. Golden State got all it could handle in a seven-game set with OKC, and now has to deal with the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom were injured in last season’s Finals.
Cleveland is one of the only teams that has the length and athleticism to match up with Golden State defensively. On the offensive end, big man Tristan Thompson could create problems down low for the undersized Warriors, while the trio of James, Irving and Love has the talent to match Golden State shot-for-shot. The Cavs are desperately seeking a title, and this time around, they have the manpower to pull it off.
PREDICTION: CAVS IN 7
The Warriors’ time in the sun is over. We saw signs of mortality in their series against the Thunder, and with Curry still dealing with a nagging knee injury, Golden State might be running out of steam in what has been a physically and mentally exhausting 2015-16 campaign.
Save for a two-game blip in Toronto, the Cavs have been unbeatable this postseason and finally appear to be living up to their sky-high potential. James endured a Finals loss before winning a title in Miami with the Heat, and history will repeat itself for King James, who will deliver in a must-win Game 7 to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images
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