2016 NBA Finals Preview: Cavs-Warriors

nba finals 2016Cavs: Eastern Conference Finals: Beat Toronto 4-2
Warriors: Western Conference Finals: Beat Oklahoma City 4-3

Season Series: Golden State won 2-0
Game 1: Cleveland at Golden State Thursday, June 2 at 9:00 p.m.
Game 2: Cleveland at Golden State Sunday, June 5 at 8:00 p.m.
Game 3: Golden State at Cleveland Wednesday, June 8 at 9:00 p.m.
Game 4: Golden State at Cleveland Friday, June 10 at 9:00 p.m.
Game 5: Cleveland at Golden State Monday, June 13 (if necessary)
Game 6: Golden State at Cleveland Thursday, June 16 (if necessary)
Game 7: Cleveland at Golden State Sunday, June 19 (if necessary)

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James during a break in Game 5 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. Photo Credit-Jeff Lansky

Tonight the NBA Finals rematch that has been a year in the making tips off, as the defending champion, Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers. After beginning the playoffs with a 10-0 start, the Cavs faced a little adversity in the Eastern Conference Finals by dropping two in a row in Toronto. Cleveland responded with a 38 point drubbing of the Raptors in Game 5 at the Q and a close out win in Game 6. The Warriors rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder to advance to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. Last year, the Warriors beat a depleted Cavaliers team in 6 games. LeBron James was without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but he still managed to have one of the greatest NBA Finals performances of all-time averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. This time King James has help as both Love and Irving are healthy and the Cavs bench is deeper. The key for the Cavaliers in this series is to play their own game and try to not replicate the Warriors playing style. The Cavs have already shown that they can hit the three ball at historic levels, but Golden State is still an elite shooting team. I expect the Cavs to not only contend with the Warriors from beyond the arc, but to also show that they can be just as dangerous when they attack the paint. LeBron James is playing in his sixth straight NBA Finals and he knows what the outcome of this series could do to his legacy. LeBron has played well throughout the playoffs, but you can tell that he has been conserving energy for this moment. I expect King James to have another historic series as he attempts to lead the Cavaliers to their first championship in franchise history.

Key Matchup

Cavaliers point guard, Kyrie Irving drives to the basket in Game 5 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. Photo Credit-Jeff Lansky

The matchup to watch for in this series is between point guards, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. The two-time reigning NBA MVP, Curry battled injuries during the first two rounds of the playoffs, but he has shown up when it has mattered the most. He scored 31 and 36 points respectively in games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Despite putting up big numbers, Curry is taking a lot of shots to get those points. In Game 6, he shot 9-22 on field goals, but he hit crucial baskets in the finals minutes of the game to give Golden State the win. Steph is still making the jaw dropping contested three pointers that he has become known for, but he is also missing shots that he should make, which shows that his knee is not at 100%. Kyrie Irving has continued to shine during the playoffs averaging 24.3 points on 48% shooting. Last year, “Uncle Drew” fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals and was  sidelined until December 20. This year he is healthy and ready for redemption. There were times during this season where Irving was criticized for playing a one on one type game. This type of game was what Kyrie was focussed on early in his career, but over the last few months that has changed as he is focused on the bigger picture. You cannot beat Stephen Curry one on one and Kyrie knows that. Irving has shown some bright spots on defense and he will have to be on top of his game against Curry. Kyrie Irving’s success against Steph Curry will be crucial to the Cavs title hopes.

Lansky’s Crazy Stat

The previous three teams to make it to back to back NBA Finals after losing the previous year have won. Those teams were the San Antonio Spurs (2014), Miami Heat (2012), and the Los Angeles Lakers (2009).

Bonus Stat

LeBron James will be making his sixth straight NBA Finals appearance. James Jones has also made the Finals for the sixth straight season, but he did not play a minute in 2011 Finals with the Miami Heat.

Prediction

The Cleveland Cavaliers will win the NBA Championship in 6 games. The Cavs have quite the challenge ahead of them as the 73 win Warriors have the momentum coming off a 3-1 comeback in the Western Conference Finals. However, this Cavaliers team has become an offensive juggernaut. The Cavs are 8-0 in both the regular season and playoffs when their Big 3 of James, Love and Irving have scored 20 plus points in a game. LeBron has delivered in the Finals before and he will need Love and Irving to be at the top of their game for this series. Cleveland will also need strong contributions from starters J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, as well as bench players Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. The sharp shooting Warriors will go on many runs throughout the series, but the key for the Cavaliers will be to weather the storm and produce on the offensive end. The Warriors may be the popular favorite to win this series, but the Cavaliers are a team that is focussed and on a mission. LeBron said after Game 3 of the Conference Semi-Finals, “We’re a team that’s destined for greatness, and I really believe that.” King James just may be right as his Cavaliers are four wins away from delivering Cleveland its first professional sports championship in 52 years.

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Cavs All-Time All-Star Starting Five

The NBA All-Star game is tonight and in honor of the annual showcase of the league’s top talent, I present to you my Cleveland Cavaliers All-Time All-Star Starting Five. The selections for this roster were made based off of every Cavaliers player in franchise history to be selected to the All-Star team.

Point Guard-Kyrie Irving

3 All-Star Selections

Kyrie Irving soars for a layup in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Kyrie Irving soars for a layup in the 2014 All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Kyrie Irving’s first five NBA seasons have already seen many memories made at All-Star weekend. In his rookie season, Irving took home MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge. He put on a show scoring 34 points, including going 8-8 from three point range. The following season Kyrie was selected to play his first All-Star game where he scored 15 points. However, it was the night before that All-Star game that stood out for Irving. He competed in the Three-Point Shootout, scoring 23 points in the final round to win the contest. Irving’s third season featured arguably his best All-Star performance to date. He was voted by the fans to be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference. Irving  took over scoring 31 points with 14 assists, capturing the All-Star game MVP. Last season, Kyrie joined LeBron James at Madison Square Garden for his third All-Star game. He scored 11 points in a losing effort for the Eastern Conference. Irving did not make the All-Star team this season due to missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury, but I think it is safe to say that Uncle Drew will be making more All-Star memories for years to come.

 

Shooting Guard-Mark Price

4 All-Star Selections

Mark Price celebrates winning the 1993 Three-Point Shootout in Salt Lake City.

Mark Price celebrates winning the 1993 Three-Point Shootout in Salt Lake City.

Cleveland’s original three-point specialist, Mark Price is the other guard on this list. Price made his first All-Star appearance in 1989, scoring 9 points off the bench. The 1992 game marked the first of three consecutive All-Star appearances for Price. In 1993, he took over scoring a record of 6 three pointers in the first half. His final All-Star appearance featured another strong performance with 20 points and 5 assists. Despite his success in the All-Star game itself, Price’s performances in the Three-Point Shootout are arguably his most memorable. In 1993, he became the first player in Cavs franchise history to win the contest dethroning reigning 3-time champion, Craig Hodges. Price followed this up with a repeat win in 1994, setting the record for most points in the final round with 24. One of basketball’s purest shooters is an easy decision for this list.

 

Small Forward-LeBron James

12 All-Star Selections

February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (23) shoots during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

February 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Eastern Conference forward LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers (23) shoots during the second half of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest no brainer on this list is Northeast Ohio’s own, LeBron James. Eight of LeBron’s twelve All-Star appearances came as a member of the Cavaliers, a franchise record. He has also been voted to the starting lineup in each of his twelve apperances. The King’s first two years in the league saw appearances in the Rookie-Sophomore Game. He shined in both games scoring 33 points and 20 points respectively. LeBron followed up his second Rookie-Sophomore Game with his first All-Star Game appearance in 2005. The following year was perhaps his best All-Star game performance to date. The 21-year-old helped the Eastern Conference overcome a 21 point deficit, scoring 29 points with 6 rebounds. The stellar performance made him the youngest MVP in All-Star game history. LeBron won his second All-Star game MVP in three years in 2008. King James led the East to a 134-128 win with 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 boards. LeBron has partaken in many All-Star Weekend events including two Skills Challenge competitions failing to win either. He has many great All-Star moments, but the one thing that fans have been deprived of is seeing one of the game’s best dunkers participate in the Slam Dunk Contest. At last year’s All-Star Game he told the media that he is “over the hill now” to compete in the contest. Basketball fans around the world can only hope that the future Hall of Famer will change his mind before he ends his legendary career.

Power Forward-Larry Nance

 3 All-Star Selections

Former Cavaliers forward, Larry Nance.

Former Cavaliers forward, Larry Nance.

Larry Nance is a Cavaliers legend, but his most well known All-Star moment is when he won the first Slam Dunk Contest in 1984 as a member of the Phoenix Suns. He also made his first All-Star appearance with the Suns the following season. Nance was traded to the Cavs in 1988 and he made his first All-Star appearance with Cleveland the next year. He joined teammates Mark Price and Brad Daugherty in the 1989 game, scoring 10 points. This trio of Cavs players made a second appearance together in the 1993 All-Star Game. Nance scored 7 points off the bench in his final All-Star Appearance. This high flier is a fitting choice to be the power forward on this list.

 

Center-Zydrunas Ilgauskas

2 All-Star Selections

DENVER - FEBRUARY 20: Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars drives against Kevin Garnett #21 the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2005 All-Star Game on February 20, 2005 at The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DENVER – FEBRUARY 20: Zydrunas Ilgauskas #11 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars drives against Kevin Garnett #21 the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2005 All-Star Game on February 20, 2005 at The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Choosing a center was the toughest decision I had to make for this list. The decision came down to Brad Daugherty and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Daugherty made 5 All-Star appearances to Ilgauskas’ 2 appearances. In the end, I went with Big Z because even though he made less appearances than Daugherty I thought he was more impressive. Ilgauskas’ first taste of All-Star Weekend came at the 1998 Rookie Challenge at Madison Square Garden. He was one of three Cavs players selected for the game, but it was his night. Big Z won MVP honors scoring 18 points, adding 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. It is rare that big men take over in All-Star games and Ilgauskas is the only true center to win the MVP at the Rookie-Sophomore Game. His first All-Star appearance would come in 2003, where he failed to score in 4 minutes of action. Ilgauskas’ second appearance was much better as he joined his teammate LeBron James for the game in Denver. He scored 12 points off the bench with 2 blocks. The Cavs all-time leader in total rebounds and blocked shots is a great addition to this roster.

 

Coach-Mike Brown

Former Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown.

Former Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown.

The Cavaliers have had three head coaches in franchise history named the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Lenny Wilkens coached the team in 1989 in a losing effort. Mike Brown coached the 2009 squad that featured Cleveland’s own LeBron James and Mo Williams. Brown also returned to Cleveland with an All-Star loss. Current Cavaliers head coach, Tyronn Lue is coaching this year’s team after former coach, David Blatt was fired last month. I chose Mike Brown because 2009 was a career year for him. In addition to earning All-Star head coaching honors, he guided the Cavs to a franchise-best 66-16 record. He also coached the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference Finals and was named Coach of the Year for the 2008-2009 season. Only time will tell if Lue can replicate the success that Brown had during his time in Cleveland, but if I had to guess I would say a NBA Championship this season would be a pretty great start.

 

March Madness: Cavs Rolling Towards Playoffs

Since returning from the All-Star break, the Cavaliers have lived up to the expectations that were put on them at the beginning of the season. The Cavs have been dominate since January 15, posting a league best 24-5 record. Cleveland’s success has largely been due to the trades for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. The brilliant play of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James has also been key during the Cavaliers run.

The Cavs have been hard to beat at home, winning 13 straight at The Q. However, Cleveland’s toughest challenge of the second half of the season has been it’s grueling road schedule. The Cavs have had to play of 10 out of the 13 games since the All-Star break on the road. They have proven to be road warriors by notching huge wins in Washington, Toronto, Dallas, and San Antonio. The Cavaliers wrap up a four game road trip tonight in Miami. After the game, they will return home for a quick two game homestand, before heading back on the road for three more games.

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James, in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 25, 2015. Creative Commons

Cavaliers forward, LeBron James, in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 25, 2015. Creative Commons

The Cavaliers big three are finally starting to come together. The three stars connected for a big play during the Cavs 89-79 victory over the Suns on March 7. Irving chased down a loose ball and kicked it out to Love, who then passed it behind his back to James for the layup. The hustle play was a thing of beauty and it showed what this group is capable of. LeBron is having a great season and is still in the discussion for MVP. Since ditching his trademark headband against the Suns, James has been all business. He has scored over 20 points in each of the Cavs last 3 games, including a 31 point performance in San Antonio. Kyrie has been spectacular during the Cavs current four game win streak. Irving put on a show in Thursday’s 128-125 overtime win against the Spurs. He set a franchise record with 57 points and was 7 for 7 from 3 point range. Irving drained a three pointer as time expired to force overtime. He went to hit another tough 3 pointer in overtime to lift the Cavs over the Spurs.

In order for the Cavs to make a long postseason run, they must stay healthy. The Cavs have managed to avoid major injuries since the All-Star break. Shawn Marion suited up on Sunday night in Orlando after missing 12 games with a hip injury. Kevin Love was given the night off in Orlando to rest. He has suffered from back spasms since November and experienced a flare up during the game in San Antonio. James suffered a minor injury in Sunday’s win as he tweaked his knee. He finished the game and will receive treatment before tonight’s game against the Heat. Cavalier fans should not be too worried about the injuries as there are only 14 games remaining in the regular season. The Cavs starters will soon get some much needed rest as the team prepares to make a deep run into the playoffs.