In part 3 of our preview of the 2016 NBA Finals, we are going to take a different approach to how we look at the forwards matchup at the three position. This area will focus predominantly on LeBron James, who will be leading the Cleveland Cavs for the second straight year into a matchup against the Golden State Warriors starting Thursday night.
Before we get started on the actual matchup, perhaps the best way to start off any conversation regarding LeBron is his legacy, which could play into how he performs in these NBA Finals. LeBron James will be going for his third NBA championship in his Hall-of-Fame career, but the first as a member of the Cleveland Cavs. We know the story of James being a native of Akron, Ohio, drafted #1 to the Cavs in the 2003 NBA Draft, but having to leave Cleveland for Miami. He was able to win in Miami with Dwyane Wade & Chris Bosh. It was custom built for him to have that success there. It was a place where free agents wanted to go & perform at in order to gain those championships.
LeBron needed to go there to discover himself, be courted and have a bit of that college feeling that he didn’t have coming out of high school at St. Vincent St. Mary. He has come back to Cleveland as a true man. He understands the intense pressure that the people of Cleveland feel to be validated as a true sports town by bringing a major championship to northeast Ohio. When he takes the court on Thursday night in Oakland, it won’t be about Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green trying to guard him or make him work over screens or anything else that is directly basketball related. This is truly going to be about James actually trying to establish a legacy & help revive an entire city. Each possession. Each shot that he takes is going to be bigger than just a basic matchup.
As for how the Warriors will defend him, we aren’t going to do a position matchup with this post because LeBron is going to see different players guarding him throughout the series. The main player that we see that could give him a hard time would be Green. Green has the length & the size that could bother James, especially when he is looking to drive to the basket, which he will most likely do to get Green into foul trouble. Green will have to be careful on defense in these NBA Finals because of the technical foul situation that has been an issue since the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City when he kicked Steven Adams in the family jewels.
If Green is not on LeBron, and subsequently becomes more occupied guarding Tristan Thompson down low in the post or defending Kevin Love on the outside or the block, look for James to truly have a big advantage against Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala. Both of those guys are great defenders but do not have the power or quickness to really stop James from getting to the basket on a consistent basis & getting to the free throw line.
Where this NBA Finals rematch will be different than the 2015 Finals will be that LeBron actually has his full complement of players this time around with having a healthy Kevin Love & Kyrie Irving. The Warriors will shy away from double-teaming James as much this year due to the ability for him to move the ball around the court to deadly shooters from outside as well as guys who can finish around the rim. James had a great NBA Finals last year, but he was the only player that really made life difficult on the Warriors & J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavadova aren’t the type of scorers that can win a game by themselves. This NBA Finals, the Warriors are going to have to play a great deal of man-to-man, which could be a problem since LeBron is well-rested and is ready to take that beating he will have coming by getting in amongst the big guys down low.
The best chance the Warriors will have in terms of keeping James in check is making him primarily a shooter. James is shooting only 32% from three-point range & coming into the NBA Finals, he has made only 19 three-pointers, his lowest total since the 2007-08 postseason, when the team lost in the second round to the Boston Celtics – the last time LeBron would lose that early in the NBA Playoffs. If the Cavs are going to depend on James hitting three-point shots to win game, Warriors will win this in five games, tops. Ideally, the Warriors want to clog up the lanes to where James has to constantly take three-point shots, always shoot from the elbow, or try to force the action to draw offensive fouls.
Defensively, LeBron is going to see a lot of action on a variety of guys himself, mainly Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson & Draymond Green. Our money would be that he is going to see the most of his action on Green & Curry – particularly on Curry when Kyrie Irving is resting & LeBron is running a point forward spot. He is the best defender on the team & has the length and size to bother Curry enough to maybe get him out of his rhythm. James may get time on Thompson, but J.R. Smith & others should be able to handle that situation. Draymond will be an interesting test for James because while Green isn’t the most consistent shooting the ball, he can get on the block and rebound, as well as see the floor well offensively in terms of getting teammates involved. James will have to be ready to guard Green at the top of the key, on the block & using his quick hands and length to play the passing lanes, particularly when the Warriors are in transition.
Overall, LeBron James should have a strong advantage in this year’s matchup. He is coming in healthy, the team around him is coming in healthy, which should lead to the Warriors having to deal with many different mismatches throughout the series on the defensive end. This advantage goes to King James.