Nothin' but Net: NBA Finals primer

We are so close to actually contesting the NBA Finals.

It's a little over a day until Game 1 and now seems as good a time as any to delve into some of the themes, questions and intriguing aspects of this highly-anticipated, albeit slow-to-arrive, championship matchup.



On Monday, Cleveland coach David Blatt described Irving's health the same way my parents tell me about my grandmother. She's 98 and had a stroke and heart attack in a two-week span a few years back, but she's okay now. As good as a 98-year-old woman can be, but there's always himming and hawing around the facts.

Blatt was the same on Monday.

"We're just hoping he can get out there and play," he said. "I wouldn't say he's had a setback, but progress has been slow ... He's not out of the woods entirely."

That's not a ringing endorsement of Irving's knee. However, Blatt was quick to point out that was Monday and Game 1 is Thursday, but if Irving is still hobbled, it's trouble for the Cavs.


Offensively, Cleveland will have no real second option behind LeBron James at least in terms of creating a shot. J.R. Smith may knock down some jumpers and Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson can continue to be brutes on the interior, but the lack of another play-maker could cripple the Cavaliers.

The ball will be in James' hands most of the time even if Irving was healthy and Irving can still be effective. He's shooting a ludicrous 48 percent from 3-point range, so he can space the floor for James on the post or when he penetrates.

The real problem will be defensively. The Golden State Warriors' strength is in the backcourt. You might have heard of the Splash Brothers, or Stephen Curry. He's Riley's dad. Irving will have to cover Curry, or Klay Thompson, and in a weakened state, the Golden State guards could go crazy.

Iman Shumpert and Smith, or maybe even James, could slide over to handle the guards, but where do the Cavs put Irving? Harrison Barnes? He'll slaughter Irving in the post. Andre Iguodala? It's more favorable for Irving since Iguodala is less imposing offensively than Barnes, but size and strength is a reality.



Not a single member of the Warriors' roster has been in an NBA Finals. On the Cleveland side, LeBron James and James Jones have been in the last five. Cavs' bench guys Kendrick Perkins, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood all have rings.

The Finals are a different animal than even the conference finals. The time commitment for media is different, the intensity, all of it is ratcheted up for the Finals.

How the Warriors respond will fall squarely on the shoulders of their head coach. Steve Kerr has the championship experience his squad can lean on. He won five titles as a player and learned at the feet of Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. That's some Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi stuff right there.

And experience can be overrated once the ball goes in the air. Then, it's just basketball again. Nerves will be present on both sides and a week-plus layoff won't help that either.

Keep this in mind about the experience - the Warriors had one player - Leandro Barbosa, who made it as far as the Western Conference Finals. They beat the Houston Rockets in five. All of those Cavaliers with NBA Finals experience are mostly out of the rotation.



Lost in yet another postseason of dominance (27.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg and 1.3 bpg), is the fact that James is shooting TERRIBLY from long range. He's at 17.6 percent from 3-point land, which is really bad, but consider he shot 40 percent from deep for the Miami Heat in last season's run to a Finals loss. James is also shooting 32.9 percent in long twos, according to basketball-reference. com, which is also way down from playoff runs of the past.

"Oh, they've been short, they've been long, they've been left, and they've been right. They haven't been in," James said of his shooting. "But I've gotten some great work in this week, so we'll see what happens.

"It's not like I'm taking crazy 3-point shots. If the shot is there, I'm taking it and shooting it with confidence."

Those shooting numbers should improve. They can't possibly get any lower. But, the Warriors led the NBA in opponents' field-goal percentage, so chances are, James' percents won't improve dramatically.

If Irving is ineffective, that lumps even more pressure on James to score. The interior of the Warriors' defense is stout. Andrew Bogut is a good rim protector in the sense that he's a huge body, not a great leaper. Draymond Green is very physical. That might prevent James from going to the basket as much as he'd like, which means ... more outside jumpers.



This is the eternal question that has plagued teams for a decade. The Warriors are better-equipped than most considering they play sensational team defense. Golden State's scheme is based on switching since the versatility between Klay Thompson, Barnes and Green is awesome. Couple that with Bogut and Green waiting with physical play on the interior and it could be a challenging series for James. But, LeBron will still get his.

So, who guards James?

Barnes is most likely to start on James. He's athletic, although not considered one of Golden State's premiere individual defenders. Barnes might struggle in the strength department when James takes him to the woodshed.

Andre Iguodala will see time on James and is one of this generation's premiere wing defenders. He possesses a great combination of strength and speed, but James torched the Warriors for 45 during the regular season with Iguodala spending most of the time as the primary stopper. Iguodala should be brimming with confidence after his performance versus James Harden in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Harden committed 13 turnovers with Iguodala draped all over him.

Green is the most intriguing of all possibilities. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and can cover all five positions, which makes him a natural fit to check James, who can play all five positions. Green will need to work to keep Tristan Thompson off the glass, but late in a close game, you can definitely see Green playing James. Physically, they're similar as Green works hard on the post. Green can also be something of an agitator, which makes this possible matchup even more fascinating.


But. the Warriors' strength defensively is as a unit. James may not see consistent double-teams, but there will be very punishing forces waiting after he beats the first man.

It's as good a formula as you can hope for in guarding the unguardable.


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