June 01, 2016

Cavs vs Dubs ... who wins the rematch?

Kyrie Irving: Difference maker?
Cleveland's got a healthy Kyrie Irving this year. And a Kevin Love who's on the active roster (except the fourth quarter). Plus the midseason addition of Channing Frye.

So, this is not your grandma's Cavaliers, or just LeBron James'. Add in a new head coach in Tyronn Lue (while not overrating him) and this will be a different team in this year's NBA Finals.

Cleveland will certainly be deeper than last year, and have more rotation options than before.

Steph Curry: He's back, rested
On the other hand, Steph Curry appears to be fully healed (and the rest with his down time might have been a bonus), and Klay Thompson is playing his best playoffs ever.

Meanwhile, coach Steve Kerr, having made his midseason roster adjustments a year ago to win the title, has had the luxury this year of doing more playing around the edges with the record-setting Warriors.

My prediction?

Same as last year: Warriors in six.

Yes, this year's Cavs team, at least as far as playoffs Cavs teams, and definitely as far as Finals Cavs teams, is definitely better than last year's. But, this year's regular-season Warriors were almost as much better than last year's. They're more flexible, and can counter the changes/healthiness Cleveland has.

One of the trio of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and/or Draymond Green can guard Frye out at the three-point line, while still boxing him off boards and keeping him from posting up. Nobody in the Cavs' previous playoff opponents had people who could do this. Either one of the trio, or even Andrew Bogut in short spurts, can guard Love, depending on what lineups Kerr uses. If Cleveland goes big, playing Timofey Mozgov or Tristan Thompson with Frye, or those two together, two of the trio, or more likely, Bogut plus one of the trio, occasionally Festus Ezeli plus one of the trio, can handle it. And I hadn't even mentioned Swiss Army knife Shaun Livingston.

Meanwhile, Irving is still no better of a defensive player than a year ago, while Klay Thompson is one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, as shown by his work on the sometimes unstoppable Russell Westbrook.

In short, the Dubs have enough defensive weapons to make sure not more than one Cavalier at a time is "beating" them. Cleveland doesn't.

And, even with a healthy Irving and active Love, a "rest of the lineup" of Mozgov, Frye, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova as your next five after the Big Three plus Thompson just doesn't compare with Golden State depth, which allows Kerr to push tempo more.

Finally, per a parenthetical comment above, while making some allowance for a transition period, and for offensive and defensive experimentation, let's note that Lue's regular-season record was three games worse than David Blatt's, and that the team didn't exactly overwhelm the lesser-level Eastern Conference, at least until the first two playoff rounds.

As long as Green doesn't play dirty like he did against Steven Adams, and risk firing up the Cavs, this series is the Warriors' to win or lose.

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