NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

With two incredibly entertaining Conference Finals battles now in the books, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will duke it out for the fourth time in a row in the upcoming NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors were nearly toppled in the Western Conference Finals. The Houston Rockets took a 3-2 lead in the series before ultimately dropping the final two games with Chris Paul sitting on the sidelines with a hamstring injury. While many fans believed that the Warriors could not be beaten, the Rockets gave them a real challenge for the first time since 2016.

Unfortunately, that Rockets team may have presented the Warriors with the last real challenge in their postseason run. The Cleveland Cavaliers also barely survived their seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals after going down 3-2 against the Boston Celtics. This Cavaliers team is not the same as the team that vanquished the Warriors in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors have added Kevin Durant since then, while the Cavs have slowly downgraded from Kyrie Irving to Isaiah Thomas to Jordan Clarkson over the course of this season. While LeBron James will certainly challenge the Warriors (as he does every year), he simply does not have the kind of superstar talent around him to defeat the Warriors--especially if Kevin Love's concussion continues to impact him going forward.

Season Series: Golden State 2-0 over Cleveland

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers 99-92 in a rock fight of a Christmas Day game where the Cavaliers shot 31.8% from the floor. The Warriors also triumphed in a more aesthetically pleasing 118-108 victory in Ohio. The Warriors turned that game around in the second half, and Steph Curry and Kevin Durant combined for 55 points in the win.

However, those two games say virtually nothing about how this series will turn out. Both of these games came before the February 8th blockbuster that completely changed the Cavaliers' roster. The Cavaliers will probably try to force the Warriors into a slower game (as they did on Christmas Day with a pace of 91.3 that would rank well below the slowest pace in the league during the regular season).

Scouting Report: Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors' scouting report is pretty well-known at this point. They will look to attack Cleveland's overmatched backcourt with a barrage of triples from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant will try to come as close as possible to matching LeBron's output and will have to hope for a swift return from Andre Iguodala to give him some time to breathe on the defensive end.

Golden State's biggest advantage, however, will probably be their bench. The Cavaliers are a top-heavy team, and the Warriors will definitely look to attack Jordan Clarkson on defense for every minute that he is on the floor. Despite this year being a down year for both of them, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston would both probably start for the Cavaliers. That does not bode well for their chances.

Scouting Report: Cleveland Cavaliers 

LeBron James.

It's a bit unfair to call that the Cavaliers' scouting report. Kevin Love's health could play a huge role in this series; despite a poor track record against the Warriors, he is still an All-Star and Cleveland's second-best player. Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance could hurt the Warriors up front if both of them play their best as hustle rebounders, versatile defenders, and excellent rim runners. However, the Cavaliers have only gone as far as LeBron could take them this entire postseason. That's not going to change now.

3 Keys to Victory

1. Steph plays well in the first two home games.

2. Draymond Green keeps his emotions (somewhat) in check.

3. KD plays LeBron to as close to a draw as possible.

Key Matchup

The biggest matchup in this series will be between the two best forwards in the NBA. Kevin Durant will need to try to come as close as possible to matching LeBron James' impact on this series. Durant will need to shoot better from deep than his 32.8% mark thus far in these playoffs. He will also probably be tasked with spending most of Game 1 guarding LeBron with Andre Iguodala on the sidelines.

LeBron continues to add to his already spectacular resume with his ridiculous eighth straight Finals berth. He is still the best player in the league in his 15th NBA season, and just put up 35, 15, and 9 while playing all 48 minutes in Game 7. LeBron is putting together another historic postseason, and the fact that he made the Finals with this team almost defies belief. 

Series Prediction

This series will be a letdown after two fantastic Conference Finals battles. The Golden State Warriors nearly swept the Cavaliers last season en route to their second trophy in three tries against Cleveland. The Warriors have not improved from last season, but they haven't gotten significantly worse. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, traded away their second-best player and got back two players who have been minimal minute bench players in this postseason. 

LeBron James will not go down without a fight. He will probably be the most impactful player in the series, and averaging a 35-point triple-double or some equally absurd equivalent is not out of the question. However, he was overmatched from the moment that Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. LeBron might be able to snag a win in this series, but he won't get much more than that.

Final Prediction: The Golden State Warriors defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

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