The Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated the return of their king in the summer of 2014. LeBron James, after four years, in Miami, decided to return home. With his return, the expectation rose and the Cavaliers were immediately picked to rise up the rankings in the East. In the first year, they made it all the way to the NBA Finals, only to fall to the Golden State Warriors in six games. The Cavs may have failed in their attempt to bring back a title in LeBron’s first season back, but they certainly did it in dramatic fashion the next season, coming back from a 3-1 deficit that no one thought they could come back from against Golden State. Now comes Part III with the Warriors again having home court advantage and the Cavaliers defending their crown. The Cavs had a tough enough time taking on the Warriors last season and this season those issues they had did not get any easier. The Warriors signed Durant for the specific reason to win the title. Can the Cavs summon enough to actually win this thing? Many don’t think they have it in them to get it done, but they actually do have a chance to win this series. Here’s a six pack of what can help them win this one and win back-to-back championships for the city of Cleveland.
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
The Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten it going in the playoffs and have dominated a lot of the competition in the Eastern Conference. But just because they have dominated the competition so far does not mean they still don’t have any issues defensively. The Cavs, for as good as they have played, still have defensive deficiencies they have to deal with. They have tightened up defensively, but this series will be the ultimate test to see if they have truly turned the page and are able to step it up on that end of the court. The Warriors will be moving the basketball as well as they usually do. So in order for the Cavs to cause them some issues, they must rotate well defensively. Second and third efforts must be made to get to the shooters of the Warriors or else Golden State will be looking at scoring 120-130 points. The Cavs are capable of playing good defense, but will they lock in and do so for 48 minutes?
Clean Up The Boards
The Cavs have put up very good offensive numbers this season. LeBron and Kyrie have been their playmakers all season long and the shooters surrounding them have benefited. But in order for them to win this series, the Cavs must clean up the boards. If they are cleaning the boards, the Warriors cannot create more offensive possessions to create havoc. We all know that when an offense gets an offensive rebound, the defense is scrambling to find people. With shooters like Durant, Curry and Thompson out there for the Warriors, the Cavs would be dead in the water if they allow those offensive boards. But what is even more important about the Cavaliers controlling the boards on the defensive end is the easy baskets. The more Tristian Thompson, Kevin Love and crew are able to control the boards, then the easier the Cavs are able to get out on the fast break or secondary fastbreak, creating easier baskets.
Be Physical Defensively
The Golden State Warriors are a very skilled team. Steph Curry can shoot with unlimited range, attack the rim and finish with style and can make some spectacular passes. Kevin Durant can score at will when he is in the zone and can be that unstoppable force that can strike fear in people. As far as Klay Thompson, we know he can catch fire at the drop of a dime. Even though he has struggled in the playoffs, he still is not someone to sleep on. The skill they have is undeniable and the precision with which they run their offense is very fun to watch. But the one thing that can disrupt timing of an offense is if you are physical with a team. On those screens and drives to the rim, the Cavs have to be the more physical team. The Warriors have to bump Curry, Thompson and Durant off those screens and things and make them feel them on that end of the court. If they are able to do so, then that could cause some hiccups for the Warriors offensively and could make them have to make adjustments quicker than they thought they would have to. And of course, we shall see if the physical play affects the mentality of Durant, Thompson and Curry as the series goes on.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have two playmakers and their names are LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Both James and Irving can be electric offensively with their individual array of skills. They both can dominate a game on their own for stretches, even in this series. But in order for the Cavs to give themselves a better chance to win this series, they must have ball movement and that has to include James and Irving as well. The two playmakers of the Cavs can get past their men to the basket at will during stretches and that can cause defenses issues. If they are able to draw the defense and find open players for either the score or the hockey assist, that will make the Warriors have to move a little bit more than they wanted to. Golden State’s defense is good, but there are always opportunities there if you move the ball enough.
Get Kevin Love Involved Early
The NBA Finals were good for Kevin Love down the stretch, but he was not the scorer that Cleveland needed, especially as their supposed third star. In this series, he enters with more confidence than last season, having hit the three-pointer at a great clip along with playing physical in the post and rebounding. Irving and James can get their own shots with as much as they handle the basketball. But for Love, the Cavs need to get the ball to him earlier and often to keep his confidence going. Give him the ball in the post and at the three-point line to keep him engaged and he will do more in the game like rebounding and his incredible outlet passes. If you don’t involve him early, you risk losing him for the game on the offensive end of the court. It will be interesting to see the game plan Ty Lue has to use him in this one.
The Cavs starting five will have their hands full all game long. Any time the Warriors can roll out the stars in their starting lineup such as the Splash Brothers, Durant and Draymond Green, they can make things mighty difficult. But the thing that the Cavs and the Warriors have in common is they both have to go to their benches eventually. The Warriors bench is not as strong as it was last year. They still have Andre Iguodala and Ian Clark, but other than that, they got vets JaVale McGee and David West coming in along with Matt Barnes. The Warriors have some solid subs, but they are not as deep off the bench as the Cavs are. Deron Williams has been solid as Cleveland’s backup point guard, Iman Shumpert has been good as JR Smith’s backup, Kyle Korver can get hot at anytime as the sharpshooter off the bench and the wily veteran Richard Jefferson is there as well. The Cavs have shooting, athleticism and defense all off their bench and they should be able to use that to their advantage. If they are able to get consistent scoring and effort off their bench, then they drastically improve their chances to win this series.
It’s Cleveland/Golden State III and like usual, Golden State is the favorite in this series. The Cavs are ready to take on the challenge though and these six points could go a long way towards seeing who will hoist the trophy this season. If the Cavs are able to hit on most of these points, then they could be looking at back-to-back titles. We shall indeed see what happens.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former co-host of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Cubs and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.