Almost as soon as the buzzer sounded on last summer’s NBA Finals and the Golden State Warriors officially finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers, the entire basketball world expected a rematch between the two powerhouse teams to finish off this season. Now — after the Cavs took care of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Dubs outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder out West — that expectation has become reality.
Plenty of storylines will be floating around in the coming days prior to the start of the long-awaited battle for the 2016 championship: everything from the Warriors’ quest to complete a historic season to the Cavs’ search for their first-ever NBA title. With superstars all-over the court, from Stephen Curry to LeBron James t0 Kyrie Irving to Klay Thompson, the series has the ability to be an instant classic and to go the full seven games. Regardless though, we feel that their is one clear favorite in the matchup. That favorite is Cleveland.
Rest assured, this is not any kind of vicious reverse jinx. We have three key reasons why the Cavs will end their city’s epic championship drought (across all major sports) and avenge their defeat from last summer.
3. Keeping up at the three-point line
The success of the Warriors over the last couple of seasons can be attributed to many things — they play excellent defense, they capitalize on that defense with fast-break opportunities, almost every one of their players is an above-average passer for his position — but despite Golden State’s excellence in several key areas of the game, it’s clear that the one thing that really allows them to be dominant is their uncanny ability to knock down three-pointers. While the Cavaliers may not be as good as the Warriors from beyond the arc, they certainly can give them a run for their money in this series.
With several solid shooters like Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Channing Frye, Cleveland has been lights out from three-point territory for much of the season. During the regular season, they were seventh in team three-point percentage, but the Cavs, not the Warriors, have actually led the playoffs in three-point shooting so far — hitting an impressive 43% with 14 makes per game from deep. With LeBron’s ability to drive the ball and hit wide open guys on the perimeter, this facet to their offense has made the Cavs nearly unstoppable (well, that and the fact that they’ve had to go through the comparatively-easy East).
If Cleveland can continue to make deep baskets at that sort of clip, Golden State will have a hard time winning their second-straight title. The Warriors are dangerous when they have a hefty margin over their opponent from three (they had a plus-30-point advantage over OKC in their Game 7 win in the Western Conference Finals), but the Cavs should be able to nullify at least some of that advantage.
2. Playoff success
Other than a couple of hiccups against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs have saved their best basketball of the season for the playoffs. After sweeping the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds, they handled Toronto is six games — four of which were blowouts in favor of Cleveland. This strong play in the postseason has allowed the Cavs to find their rhythm on offense and defense, allowed the likes of Irving and Love to (finally) mesh alongside LeBron James, and, perhaps most importantly, has allowed them ample rest throughout their run. All of that should be key against a Warriors team that had to get through a dog fight in the Western Conference just to reach this point.
Golden State cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs with relative ease — winning in five games over both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers — but the battle with the Thunder in the conference finals required a full-fledged effort from their entire roster. Aside from the series going the full seven games, the Warriors needed to be at their best in order to overcome a 3-1 deficit — and, to their credit, they were at their best in those final three games. Heading into the Finals, the wear and tear of that series could come into play against a Cavs team that has been simply preparing for this series all along. The Cavs are playing as well as they ever have in the second LeBron-era, but with an added rest advantage, they might just cruise to the title.
1. A healthy roster
Above all else, the reason to like the Cavs’ chances in this series is the fact that they are healthy — something they couldn’t say in last season’s series. Kyrie Irving missed all but one of the games during the Finals due to injury. Kevin Love missed all but the first-round of the playoffs a year ago. Now, the other two-thirds of Cleveland’s big three is healthy and playing well — Irving is averaging 24 points per game during the playoffs; Love is averaging 17. The Cavs also have others in their supporting cast that are contributing to their championship cause, making their situation more desirable than it was last summer.
This isn’t to say that the Warriors aren’t healthy. Everyone of their key players is active heading into the series, which could make this series one of the best we’ve seen in years. However, seeing as the Cavs played decently well in the Finals last season (when LeBron James essentially carried them to two wins), a healthy roster should lead to even better results this time around. The series should be a classic that goes at least six games, but given what we’ve seen this postseason, it’s certainly not a stretch to consider the Cavs as the favorite.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.go.com.