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5 Players That Need to Step Up for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals


The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season, LeBron James himself is in the finals for the eighth straight year, and for the fourth time in a row the Cavs will take on the Golden State Warriors for the title. What makes this year different from the previous three is that "King James" doesn't have the supporting cast he once did. He's averaging 34 points and 41 minutes per game during these playoffs, but he's practically willing his team to victory on his own. More often than not, he hasn't gotten the production needed from his teammates, which is why the Cavs have needed 18 games to get to this point. So here are five of James' teammates who need to come through in this series if the Cavs hope to win their second title in three seasons.

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1. Kevin Love, C/F

The Cavaliers announced this afternoon that Love has been cleared to return from the concussion he sustained in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. While it remains to be seen how many minutes he will play in tonight's Game 1, he needs to step it up a notch when he returns to the floor. Aside from James, Love is the only player averaging a double-double (13.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg). But not only does he needs to chip in more offensively, he also needs to step up defensively, especially when it comes to defending the paint. Golden State big man Draymond Green leads his team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. And he'll definitely be looking to exploit weaknesses in Love's game.

2. Tristian Thompson, C/F

Even with Love set to return, Thompson will see plenty of action. This means he'll have to defend the aforementioned Green when the two are on the floor together. Thompson likely will see extended minutes as the team may choose to slowly work Love back into the rotation. Before Love's exit, Thompson was averaging 6.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 21 minutes a night. He'll have to double some of those numbers to give the Cavs a chance.

3. Kyle Korver, G

The former Creighton standout has become legendary for his ability to hit 3-point shots out of nowhere. But if he wants to win his first career Larry O'Brien Trophy he'll need to do more. He'll need to shoot more than just treys and hit his shots consistently. Cleveland needs more energy on offense and Korver can bring that if he gets more chances to shoot the ball.

4. J.R. Smith, G/F

Smith has scored in double figures in just eight of the Cavaliers' 18 postseason games. His playoff high was 20 in Game 1 of the Toronto series. He was held scoreless in Game 5 in the opening round against Indiana, Game 3 vs. the Raptors, and Game 2 of the conference finals against Boston. Smith can't afford any more scoreless games and he'll need to post double digits on a nightly basis, which could give James a huge assist from a scoring standpoint. The more production Smith can provide, the better the Cavs' chances.

5. Larry Nance Jr., F

The son of the Cavaliers legend has gotten his opportunities this postseason. He's played in 16 of the team's 18 playoff games, logging at least 10 minutes in 12 of those. But he's averaging just 4.6 points per game in the playoffs and has a total of two double-digit scoring performances. That discrepancy needs to be corrected, as the Cavaliers will be counting on him to keep pace against Golden State's potent offense.

-- Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)