For five straight seasons, now, LeBron James has sat in the Eastern Conference throne. Only two of his past four trips to the NBA Finals, however, have resulted in championships. And if James is to win a third this June, he’s got his work cut out for him.
The Golden State Warriors were the NBA’s best team this year, and it wasn’t close. Their 67-win campaign makes them one of the 10 best regular-season teams of all time. The bad news for the Cavs is that Golden State hasn’t looked much worse in the postseason.
The Warriors can do pretty much everything, and do it very well. Their collective basketball IQ on both sides of the ball is unparalleled across the league, as is their ability to switch assignments on defense. Perhaps most daunting of all for Cleveland is that Golden State has arguably the best possible collection of players to throw at James, in Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. The lengthy Shaun Livingston may even get spot minutes covering LeBron.
The Warriors, by all rational measures, are the favorites to win this series. They’ve been historically great in every statistical category. Teams who play this well simply win championships.
But the giant caveat, as always, is that one of these teams has LeBron, and the other doesn’t. Despite an inefficient run by the numbers, James’ postseason has been remarkable. He’s put an injured, inexperienced team on his shoulders. And the depleted Cavs have found lightning in the surge of Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov in the front court, who look emboldened by a bigger stage. Add the the hot shooting of a mercurial J.R. Smith to the mix — along with a hopefully healthy Kyrie Irving — and this is an improbably dangerous squad.
The Warriors should win this series, but don’t be a surprised if the duel is a more hotly contested struggle than anticipated.
Prediction: Warriors in six.
— John Wilmes