As the 2016 NBA Finals fire off at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, we gathered opinion on how the rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will turn out.
Check these out.
1. Fact or fiction: Cleveland will be the strongest team Golden State will face in the playoffs.
Jude Turcuato (SVP/General Manager-PH, FOX Networks Group): Fact. Cleveland only lost twice in 3 series and their big 3 is better than okc big 2.
Enzo Flojo (Veteran basketball analyst and blogger): Fact. The Spurs would have been great, and the Thunder were much, much better than expected. The Cavs, however, are playing their best basketball of the entire season at exactly the right time, and are certainly the fresher, healthier team entering this series. Cleveland has difficulty defending the pick & roll, which is GSW’s bread & butter, but, hey, if the Cavs can match the Dubs shot for shot, anything can happen.
Rolly Mendoza (Basketball analyst and blogger for HoopNut): Fact. The Cavs won their first 10 games in the playoffs and 9 of their 12 wins had a winning margin of at least 10 points. Sure, the East is weaker compared to the West but the Cavs’ dominance can be traced to the leadership of LBJ, their hot shooting and much improved team defense. Moreover, the Big 3 of the Cavs are healthy and their role players (Smith, Frye, Jefferson, Delly) have been productive in the playoffs.
Josiah Albelda (FOX Sports): Fact. While public perception is that the East is weaker, the Cavs have actually faced — and dismantled — teams with better win-loss records (than Houston, Portland and OKC) and some of the league’s best defenses in Atlanta and Toronto. Using a dominant offensive attack, Cleveland breezed past the Pistons, the Hawks and the Raptors en route to setting a rematch with the reigning champs.
2. Will the 3-point shot be the most important factor in this series?
Turcuato: Yes. Mostly on GSW side. If Cleveland can disrupt the rhythm of Klay and Steph, then they have a good shot at winning.
Flojo: Nope. I think it’ll really be all about defense, or, to be more specific, how GSW defends LeBron, and how the Cavs react to the Dubs’ constant passing and movement. Make no mistake, LBJ will be GSW’s biggest headache in this series, especially since the King has a chip on his shoulder and wants nothing more than to upstage the reigning MVP on the biggest basketball stage. On the other end, GSW will try and exploit the Cavs’ inconsistent defense, and they will focus particularly on Kevin Love. Whomever Love is guarding will probably be the main screener in a pick & roll or the main post passer. Coach Tyronne Lue has to drill his wards well on how to react to this kind of situation because they will see it time and time again.
Mendoza: The 3-pointer will be very crucial for both teams because the long ball is a big portion of their offense. During the regular season, the Warriors led the NBA in threes made while the Cavs were tied for second. However, in the playoffs, their positions have switched. The Cavs are making 14.4 threes per game at an astounding rate of 43.4%, while the Warriors are making less threes (12.5) and shooting at a lower clip (40.3%).
The Splash brothers rely on threes to make up a big portion of their points, so if they misfire often, the Dubs are in big trouble. Meanwhile, the Cavs also use the three often because they surround LBJ with shooters. If the Cavs are able to sustain their good fortune from long range, then they have an excellent shot at winning this rematch.
Albelda: Both teams are putting up historic numbers from rainbow territory this postseason. The Cavs have been actually making more threes, but it is Golden State that has the ability to blow a game wide open with their sniping from beyond the arc.
Triples aside, what I think will decide this series is defense. How will the Warriors stop LeBron from taking over with his playmaking? How will the Cavs prevent the Dubs from making this a shootout? With both squads red-hot from three-point range, it’s easy to overlook how important defense is. But yes, it will make or break their chances this year.
3. Who will be the x-factor for the Warriors? For the Cavs?
Turcuato: For GSW, it’s Iggy on how well he can contain LBJ. For Cleveland, it’s Delly if he can frustrate Curry again, although the problem is less playing time because Kyrie is healthy in this series.
Flojo: GSW: Iggy. I suspect Andre Iguodala will be the Dubs’ main defender on LeBron, and, naturally, GSW’s success will largely depend on how much they can limit LBJ. Iggy was able to make life tough for KD in the WCF, and he’ll have pretty much the same job in the Finals.
CLE: Love. This is the first time ever that Kevin Love is playing in the NBA Finals, and his play will be a barometer for the Cavs’ fortunes. He averaged just 6.5 points in the team’s two postseason losses so far, and that means his scoring sock will be crucial if the Cavs want to make this a long series, if not win the whole thing. Oh, and let’s never forget how Love is possibly the team’s worst defender at any given point in time. That’s even more reason for him to compensate on the offensive end.
Mendoza: For the Dubs, Harrison Barnes will be the x-factor. He is their 4th best scorer during the playoffs and his performance as a starter allows Coach Kerr to continue having last year’s Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala come off the bench and play fewer minutes. Additionally, Barnes also provides another body that can try to defend LeBron James when Green or Iggy take breathers.
For the Cavs, Channing Frye will be the x-factor. He has been sizzling hot from downtown, shooting 57.8% and making 2 threes per game while only logging 15.7 minutes. His presence allows the Cavs to play more small ball on offense when he is paired with Kevin Love. Aside from that, Frye can also substitute for Love as a stretch 4.
Albelda: Iggy was the Dubs’ x-factor last year, and he will be it again this time for the defending champs. Only the veteran has the ability to play lockdown defense on LeBron while also possessing the knack for delivering killer blows from the perimeter when it matters.
For Cleveland, Love has to step up on both ends. He’s gonna face his toughest defensive assignment in Draymond Green while also staring at the possibility of being shackled offensively by Green himself. For the Cavaliers to have a chance, they need Love to play the series of his life.
4. Who will be the 2016 NBA champs?
Turcuato: GSW. Home court will matter. It will be over in 5 games if GSW wins the first 2 games, and 7 if they split at home. The Warriors are tired so maybe they split first 2 then win in 7.
Flojo: If the Cavs win, that’ll be nothing short of historic, nothing short of a fairy tale finish, and nothing short of an amazing heroic journey for LeBron. As heartwarming as that prospect seems, however, I don’t see it happening. Even with a complete and healthy roster, the Cavs will be the significant underdogs in this series, and, ultimately, the Dubs should prove to be the better team, heck, the BEST team in basketball once again. Cleveland will stretch them to the limit, though, and that’s why I see this going the full distance. GSW in 7.
Mendoza: The Cavs are healthier and have a stronger bench this season. LBJ was able to win 2 games on his own last year and with a more complete supporting cast, I think he can navigate the Cavs to 4 wins. Hence, I think the Cavs will win in 6 games to avenge their loss last year and bring the city of Cleveland their first NBA title.
Albelda: Cavs in 6. Well-rested and fresh, Cleveland has to take advantage of the weary Warriors in Game 1, defend their home court and then finish Golden State at home in Game 6. Way easier said than done, but LBJ has a chip on his shoulder and with a better supporting cast, expect him to have a better chance of making it all the way this time.
Bonus: Who has been your playoff MVP so far? Steph or LeBron?
Turcuato: Can it be Klay Thompson? The Warriors would have beem eliminated without his hot shooting in Game 6 of the WCF and he’s been more consistent than Steph throughout playoffs. Steph also missed some games while Cleveland dominated except those 2 games in Toronto that they probably could’ve won a few even without LeBron. So the value of Klay is highest among all players.
Flojo: Definitely LeBron. A 12-2 record speaks for itself and so does a sixth straight Finals appearance. He has to make do with less talent compared to GSW, and the Cavs have gone through so much this season. Curry has been nothing short of amazing, of course, but missing a few games due to injury kinda hurt his MVP-ness for me, and, well, I don’t think he has really been the Curry we all want to see… yet.
Mendoza: LeBron James is my playoff MVP because he provides the Cavs with whatever is needed to win: score, rebound, pass and defend. As for Steph, he missed 6 games due to injury and the Dubs still managed to go 4-2 during that span, so that somewhat lessened his impact during the earlier rounds.
Albelda: LeBron. Without needing to take over in scoring, LBJ impacts the game in so many ways the box score can’t show, helping his team win through his playmaking, his defense and his on-court leadership. And it’s not as if he’s a slouch in stats, as he’s posted 24.6 points on 54.6% shooting, 8.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.2 steals in less than 38 minutes per game.