The two teams must first shake off a little rust. The Cavs last played May 26 and the Warriors last took the court the next night. Both teams could probably use a short break.
Here’s our breakdown on the best-of-seven series and the many reasons either team could be holding the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in mid-June. By the time this season ends, training camp will only be a few weeks away.
Why the Cavaliers could win
They have the best player on the planet. LeBron James is making his fifth consecutive trip to the Finals, something that hasn’t been done since 1966. His accomplishment this season was arguably the most notable of his career, taking a completely retooled team with a first-year NBA head coach to the championship series.
James is averaging 27.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in the postseason. The Cavaliers were on fire at the end of the season, a streak that enabled the team to finish second in the weak Eastern Conference. Cleveland came together at the right time to end up in prime position to make a playoff run.
Naturally, James was the star in the conference finals as Cleveland bolted past Atlanta to sweep that series in four games, the clincher coming in a 118-88 rout in which James only had to play 29 minutes.
Point guard Kyrie Irving’s game was helped by James’ presence. The fourth-year player averaged 21.7 points and 5.2 assists per game in the regular season to serve as an excellent complement to his more heralded teammate.
Kevin Love wrapped up his first season with the Cavaliers by suffering a separated shoulder against the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. While he won’t get back on the court again until next season, Love has watched his team go 8-2 without him.
Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson have been more than capable filling the middle for Love. Mozgov has mirrored his regular season numbers with 9.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs. Thompson had 16 rebounds against the Hawks in Game 2 of the conference finals after averaging eight a game in the regular season. He has also scored in double figures in seven of his past eight games.
Shumpert and his curious haircut are scoring 10.1 points per game in the playoffs, up from 8 per contest in the regular season.
Why the Warriors will win
Golden State led the rugged Western Conference from wire to wire, powered by a 21-2 start in Steve Kerr’s first head coaching assignment at any level. His Warriors ended up with the NBA’s best record at 67-15.
The Warriors are spurred by MVP and three-point leader Stephen Curry, who averages 29.2 points and 6.4 assists per game in the postseason. Curry is shooting 43.7 percent from three-point range in the playoffs and has an uncanny ability to hit shots from the most unlikely of angles.
His daughter, Riley, has also become a press conference sensation.
Kerr expects his team’s second-leading scorer, Klay Thompson, to be in the lineup when the series starts. Thompson sustained a concussion in the clinching game of the Western Conference Finals when he took a knee to the head from Houston’s Trevor Ariza. Thompson began showing concussion symptoms after the game, temporarily putting his Finals status in question.
Kerr dismissed that talk after his team’s practice Saturday.
“I expect him there,” Kerr said.
The NBA’s concussion policy requires players to pass a series of steps without experiencing symptoms before they can come back. Players begin by riding a stationary bike and advance to jogging, agility work and non-contact team drills. Players must start over if they experience symptoms.
Forwards Draymond Green (14 points, 10.8 rebounds) and Harrison Barnes (11.3 points) have been key to Golden State’s postseason success. Green has double figure rebounds in 11 of 15 playoff games this season. Barnes had 24 points and seven rebounds in the Game 5 series clinching victory over Houston in the Western Conference Finals.
So who wins? The teams split their regular season with both clubs winning at home (Warriors 112-94 on Jan. 9 and Cavaliers 110-99 on Feb. 26).
We’re going with the Warriors in six games. They have the home-court advantage, more overall talent and survived a much tougher Western Conference.
They’ll be celebrating an NBA title by the Bay for the first time since 1975. Seems long enough.
NBA Finals schedule (All games on ABC)
Game 1: at Golden State, June 4, 9 p.m.
Game 2: at Golden State, June 7, 8 p.m.
Game 3: at Cleveland, June 9, 9 p.m.
Game 4: at Cleveland, June 11, 9 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): at Golden State, June 14, 8 p.m.
Game 6 (if necessary): at Cleveland, June 16, 9 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): at Golden State, June 19, 9 p.m.
Photo of Stephen Curry: by Noah Salzman via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of LeBron James: by David Herrera via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Steve Kerr: by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons.