2018 NBA Finals Preview: Can heavily favored Warriors sweep LeBron, Cavs?


OAKLAND -- After spending much of the past four seasons rewriting the record book, recording numerous impressive firsts and pulling the NBA in a new direction, the Warriors have a prime opportunity to further pad their dossier.

They can, by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, go where no team has gone in the modern, defined as the post-merger era beginning in 1976.

That is, go to four straight Finals and win at least three of them.

The Showtime Lakers (1982-85), the Larry Bird Celtics (1984-87) and the LeBron James Heat (2011-14) all made four consecutive treks, and they all came out of it with 2-2 records.

Though the Warriors go in heavily favored, as they should be, the LeBron Factor can’t be summarily dismissed.

Here is a position-by-position look at Warriors-Cavaliers, Part IV.

Stephen Curry vs. George Hill: Curry is a two-time MVP on the doorstep on becoming one of NBA’s all-time greats. Hill is a solid but unexceptional player still searching for his offense in Cleveland; only eight times in 24 games with the Cavs did he score in double figures. Though his 6-foot-9 wingspan comes in handy on defense, he’ll have more than he can deal with in trying to keep up with, much less contain, Curry over the course of a series.

EDGE: Curry, by a substantial margin.

Klay Thompson vs. JR Smith: After averaging double-figure scoring for 11 consecutive seasons, Smith has tailed off over the last two. His defense, once capable, is fading. His offense, once occasionally spectacular, is now sub-ordinary; he is averaging 8.5 points in 18 postseason games, topping 15 points only once. Thompson brings reliable defense and can take over games with his shooting. No one, not even Curry, is hotter than Thompson when he’s in a zone. He’s averaging 20.5 points this postseason and is shooting 42.6 percent beyond the arc.

EDGE: Thompson, by a substantial margin.

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James: This is a case of two gifted men headed for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Durant is a multi-skilled game-changer who puts up strong numbers against James. Durant won the personal battle last June and came away with the Finals MVP award. Anytime someone initiates the unsolvable conversation about the best player in NBA history, James must be in it. He scores, he passes, he rebounds, he controls. This is his eighth consecutive Finals appearance, with two different teams, which speaks to his historical greatness.

EDGE: James, by a hair, because he has been the best player in this playoffs.

Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love/Jeff Green: With Love still in concussion protocol at the start of the series, Green likely will get the start in Game 1. Green is a decade-long tease, dazzling one game and disappearing the next 12. Remember when the Warriors considered trading Thompson for Love? It’s one of their smartest non-moves. Love is a good player that needs to play great and rarely hurts the Warriors. That’s largely because of Green, whose defense tends to make great players mediocre and good players average. Green’s defense blows up offenses. His scoring comes and goes, but he finds so many ways to be effective.

EDGE: Green, by a reasonable margin.

Kevon Looney & Co. vs. Tristan Thompson: If, as expected, the Cavs start Thompson, then the Warriors likely will revive one of their traditional big men. Zaza Pachulia could be in the mix, and maybe JaVale McGee. Thompson is such ferocious rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass, that a big body is required. That said, the Warriors will make every effort to go small, which means Jordan Bell and Looney will get opportunities to play meaningful minutes. If the Cavs go small, that usually means Love starts at center, in which case the Warriors have multiple options, including Green.

EDGE: Even

Key Warriors: Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell, Nick Young, David West. Key Cavaliers: Kyle Korver, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood.

EDGE: Warriors.

Warriors in 4.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Oakland -- Thursday, May 31 at 6pm
Game 2 Oakland -- Sunday, June 3 at 5pm
Game 3 Cleveland -- Wednesday, June 6 at 6pm
Game 4 Cleveland -- Friday, June 8 at 6pm
Game 5 Oakland -- Monday, June 11 at 6pm
Game 6 Cleveland -- Thursday, June 14 at 6pm
Game 7 Oakland -- Sunday, June 17 at 5pm
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