NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Even since Kevin Durant shocked the basketball universe on July 4, 2016 and decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors, this is the matchup that every NBA fan has been expecting and desperately looking forward to witnessing. As everyone knows, the Dubs and Cavs have met in the last two NBA Finals, which makes this showdown the ultimate rubber match. This will mark the first time in NBA history that the same teams will meet in the finals for the third consecutive season.

This matchup is the subject of NBA fan’s dreams because of the multitude of stars that will grace the hardwood at once this series. Between the Cavaliers and Warriors, the teams have 7 current All-Stars and 3 more former All-Stars. In addition, these are not just any All-Stars that will be on display. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry rank as 3 of the 5 best players on the planet and this trio has won every MVP award since Derrick Rose won the award in 2010-2011. Along with Durant, James, and Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving can all be considered top 15 to 20 players in the league of their versatility and excellence.

Reasons for Cleveland’s Second Consecutive Title:

The Cleveland Cavaliers have a great chance of staking claim to the 2017 NBA title because of the man who will wear 23 for the maroon and gold. Even at age 32 and having played nearly 50,000 minutes between the playoffs and regular season, James continues to play at the highest level and improve his game. Although he does not possess the same athleticism or explosiveness as he did when he was 23, he has never been better at analyzing defenses, exploiting his opponents, and elevating his teammates level of play. This season, James set career highs in rebounds, 8.6, and assists, 8.7, per game while posting 26.4 points per game on 55% shooting from the field and 36% from three. During the playoffs, LeBron has taken his play to an even higher and more efficient level as he has been scoring 32.4 points per game while shooting 57% from the field and 42% from three. This level of play is the main reason why the Cavs have rolled through the Eastern Conference while only dropping one game. As with every team, except with the potential exception of the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, the Warriors do not have a player on their team that can stop or even limit LeBron’s ability on the offensive side of the floor without committing multiple defenders. Over the past two finals, LeBron has gauged the Dubs because they do not have an interior presence that inhibits LeBron from driving to the basket.

While LeBron has definitely improved his overall level of play since last year’s finals, Love, Irving, and the Cavaliers’ roster can stake the same claim. Unlike the first two seasons, when Love looked lost and uninterested in his role on the team, Tyron Lue has been able to place Love into situations that have enabled him to excel and even return to his All-Star form that he displayed in Minnesota. During the series against Boston, Love was incredibly valuable because of his ability to stretch the floor, provide competent interior defense, rebound effectively, and complete incredible outlet passes. While Love has raised his play considerably since last season’s final when he averaged only 8 points per game, the Cavs should expect the same dynamic scoring ability from Kyrie that he demonstrate in the finals last season and against the Celtics in game 4. Although LeBron was the catalyst for the championship team, Kyrie was the offensive finisher. The Dubs will need to discover an effective way to guard Irving because last year’s strategy of switching Curry will only lead to disaster once again. The Warriors will need to stick Thompson on Irving so that he can leverage his defensive acumen.

Outside of the Cavs top three, the rest of the team has improved due to shrewd additions by GM David Griffin. Deron Williams is an excellent backup point guard that can create plays for others while James or Irving need a blow. Korver was a great addition at the deadline because he is one of the best dead eye shooters in the history of the NBA and will have the Warriors thinking twice about helping on James, Love, or Irving. Smith and Shumpert should continue to provide quality minutes for the team because of their athleticism and finals experience. The most important role player for the Cavs will once again be Tristian Thompson. Thompson is a monster on the glass because of his never ending motor. The Warriors are going to be looking to play small so if Thompson can abuse the team for placing Green at center by providing the Cavs with offensive rebounds, the Dubs are going to be forced to alter their plans. In addition, Thompson is going to have an incredibly important role for the team because he will be asked to guard the Splash Brothers behind the arc when the Cavs decide to switch on defense. Last year, he used his agility and did an extraordinary job of limiting the Warriors’ three point barrages.

 

Reasons for Golden State’s Revenge:

Even after winning the championship in 2015 and breaking the record for most wins in a season in 2016, this Warriors’ team may the best of the trio. The Warriors’ big four of Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green are each destined for the Hall of Fame because of the team’s and individual success. The Warriors are an all-time great team because they are an offensive juggernaut that shares the ball incredibly well and possess multiple defensive stalwarts that know how to play as an unit. Even though the Cavs have LeBron James, the Dubs have the best scorer in the league and potentially the best scorer in the history of the league in KD. Durant’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the court and finish in traffic near the room as a seven foot player makes him nearly unguardable. During the post season, Durant has been the Warriors most consistent player, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Even when Klay and Steph were struggling from the outside, Durant’s consistency from anywhere on the court kept the Warriors afloat in many games, until one of the Splash Brothers regained their form. The Warriors must ensure that Durant will never feel the need to solely take over the game and continues to trust his Hall of Fame teammates. While Durant’s offense will not be questioned, he will be given the unenviable task of guarding James for a majority of the series. Although he does not have the strength to contend with James, his incredible wingspan, speed, and determination to finally defeat James should allow him to limit the All-Pro.

The entire Warriors’ team will be driven to avenge their loss in last season’s final, but the player that needs to improve the most is Steph Curry. Curry was held to only 22 points per game on 40% shooting and routinely did not show up in the biggest moments. In addition, his defense against Irving was abysmal. Curry will no longer need to carry the team due to the addition of Durant, but he will need to shoot a higher percentage as well as taking better control of the ball in the half court. Although Curry will not be asked to stay in front of Kyrie, he should take on the challenge of either guarding JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, or Kyle Korver because they do not possess the same explosiveness or dynamic ability. While Curry has played at a high level this postseason, the Dubs are going to need a significantly better effort from Klay Thompson if they are going to overcome the best player in the game. If Klay plays like the fourth best player on the floor, the Warriors could see themselves winning in five games because he is a defensive stalwart and the second best shooter in the league, after Curry. However, if he continues to play at a subpar level the Warriors will be in trouble. This postseason, Thompson is averaging only 14 points per game, 8 points below his season average, on only 38% shooting. The Warriors need Thompson to score close to 20 points per game and shoot over 40% from three if they are going to play at their best. The extra rest and the desire to win his second title should drive Thompson to play at a level closer to his career average. Along with providing an offensive spark, Thompson will need to defend Irving. Thompson needs to take the challenge and fight through screens and not allow Curry to switch onto him and be abused like last season.

Outside of the Warriors big three, the rest of the team just needs to accept their role and they will be crowned champions. Draymond Green may not have the talent like Curry, Durant, or Thompson, but he has the most heart on the floor and he can do everything on a basketball court. Green may be only 6’6″, but he fights like a 7’0″ center. Green will need to keep his temper under control because the Warriors need him for his playmaking ability as well as his rebounding against Tristian Thompson. Besides Green, the most important role player for the Warriors will be Zaza Pachulia. Last season’s series showed the importance of having a big man near the paint. When Bogut was on the floor, Golden State was significantly better and gives the team someone who is actually bigger than James. In addition, he is an extremely dirty player and everyone should watch him.

Prediction: Warriors win in 6

Over the past two seasons, the champion has won on the opposite team’s floor and I believe that this will occur once again. The Warriors have an incredible amount of talent and determination to win, which is an extremely dangerous combination. The Cavs and Dubs both have outstanding offenses, but the Warriors have the more reliable defense. Cleveland fans should expect and all-time performance from LeBron, but he is already showing signs of fatigue while the entire Warriors’ team looks fresh. Green is not at risk of being suspended this series, which was one of the biggest reasons of the Warriors defeat along with Bogut’s injury. Even though he will not match James, I expect Durant to play at a level comparable to the potential GOAT and claim his first title.

Are we witnessing the greatest position player and pitcher at the same time?

Is it possible that we are watching the greatest hitter and pitcher of all time in the same city at the peak of their stardom? Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw continue to amaze baseball fans from around the country. Yesterday alone, Trout hit his league leading 15th home run while Kershaw threw nine innings of one run ball, while striking out 10 Cardinals and allowing only three hits. While Trout paces the Junior League in home runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging, and WAR, Kershaw has equally been able to dominate the Senior Circuit by leading the league in innings, wins, WAR, ERA, and WHIP. Since entering the league, each of these stars have accumulated draw dropping statistics and collected numerous awards to demonstrate their excellence. Even though they have dominated their respective leagues, their low key demeanor keeps them underrated among non-baseball fans.  Although neither player has reached their 30th birthday, it is time to consider if we are actually watching the greatest pitcher and position player to ever play baseball.

Even though Kershaw has only completed eight full seasons, he has the credentials and excellence to be considered one of the greatest pitchers. Kershaw has become the greatest pitcher of this generation and potentially ever because he has an mid to upper 90s fastball, deadly slider, and the nastiest curveball in baseball. Along with his trio of excellent offerings, Kershaw may be the most accurate pitcher to ever command the mound. In terms of statistics, Kershaw’s speak for themselves. Kershaw’s ability to limit runs allowed him to lead the league in ERA four straight seasons between 2011 and 2014. In addition, he is on pace to claim the ERA crown once again as his 2.01 ERA leads the entire NL. Since becoming a full time starter in 2009 at age 21, Kershaw has never had an ERA over 3.00 and over the past five seasons, his ERA has never risen above a microscopic 2.13.Among starting pitchers who have pitched 1500 innings, Kershaw has the lowest ERA in the history of MLB, 2.35. Along with his tendency to limit runs unlike any starter to ever grace the diamond, Kershaw is one of the premier strikeout pitchers. Kershaw is set to become the ninth pitcher to accumulate 2000 strikeouts before age 30 and he demonstrates no diminishing in his skills. In 2015, became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002 to accumulate over 300 strikeouts in a season. Kershaw is more unique than any other strikeout pitcher in the history of baseball because of his incredible control. Although he only pitched 150 innings last season due to a back injury, Kershaw posted a SO/BB ratio of 15.64. In order to truly appreciate his dominance, the next closest competitor to Kershaw was Phil Hughes with a ratio of 11.63. This season, Kershaw’s dominance is not as historical, but he still possesses a ratio of 9.00, which would rank as the 7th best mark in history. Kershaw’s amazing peak and ability to maintain his success for multiple seasons has him rivaling great pitchers with similar peaks such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and Sandy Koufax.

Along with his numbers, which solely alone put him in the discussion as the best ever, his awards give legitimacy to his success. Over the past six seasons, he has finished top five in Cy Young voting each year and won the award three times. In addition, he is currently on pace to win his fourth award, which would put him along the greats. Kershaw’s potential fourth Cy Young would tie him with Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux and put him only one award behind Randy Johnson and three behind Roger Clemens. Although Kershaw is unlikely to reach Clemens, especially without the use of steroids, he should be able to continue his extreme success over the next few because of his smooth delivery and tendency to remain healthy. Kershaw has separated himself from many of his peers because he claimed the MVP in 2014. Kershaw was the first starting pitcher to win the NL MVP award since all the way back in 1968 when Bob Gibson won during the year of the pitcher.

While Kershaw has left hitters in fear, Trout has given pitchers nightmares about the best way to get out the young right hand power hitter.  Trout has only completed five seasons in the major leagues. However, these five years may be the best five consecutive seasons in major league history let alone the best start to a career. Trout has been amazing because he is a true five tool player that can dominate a game in a number of different ways. Through his career, he has led the league in runs four times, walks twice, RBI, OBP, slugging, and steal once and is currently leading the league in home runs and average. Even though he has played for historically bad teams in Los Angeles and receives little protection in the lineup, he has consistently recorded numbers that continue to boggle the mind of baseball fans. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged 116 runs, 178 hits, 34 doubles, 33 home runs,  96 RBI, 28 stolen bases, .310/.410/.564, and 9.6 WAR. Somehow Trout continues to improve as he has increased his power numbers and stolen base numbers while decreasing his strikeout percentage. In addition to his offensive prowess, Trout is a dynamic defensive player and plays a premium position, center field. When compared to players of similar age, he is favorably compared to Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr, Ty Cobb, and Alex Rodriguez.

Similar to Kershaw, Trout has the hardware to compare with the best hitters to ever step into a batters box. During his short five year career, he has already won two MVP awards, rookie of the year award, five silver sluggers, and finished second in the MVP voting three times. If the Angels were more competitive, Trout easily would have claimed two more MVP awards since his statistics were better than Miguel Cabrera’s and Josh Donaldson’s numbers in 2012 and 2015, respectively. The amazing aspect of Trout is that all of these achievements have occurred before his 25 birthday. Although the Angels look to be not competitive once again, Trout will be in the MVP discussion throughout the season and should win his second consecutive award. One more award would put Trout in a tie for the second most MVPs in major league history. The only player ahead of Trout would be PED user Barry Bonds. By the end of his prime, Trout should collect at least one or two more MVP awards, which would put him in rarified air.

Three Best Bets for Week One in the NFL

  1. N.Y. Giants (+5.5) vs. Dallas

For the third consecutive season, the New York Giants will open up against the Dallas Cowboys in Jerry’s World. The previous two match-ups, the games have been decided by one point or less and they have split both contests. Over the past few years, the Giants have experienced great success against the Cowboys, which makes this line seem quite favorable. The Giants significantly improved this offseason by adding more offensive weapons in addition to solidifying their already daunting defense. On offense, the Giants were able to lure All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall away from the Jets while drafting star tight end Evan Engram in the first round. Those two weapons, combined with Odell Beckham Jr. and an improved Paul Perkins, will provide nightmares for any defensive, especially the Dallas Cowboys’ defense. Last season, the Cowboys improved defensively, but a majority of their success was due to the consistency on offense, which was one of the best in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliot’s ability to chew up time on the ground, while Dak limited turnovers, allowed the defense to be on the field for as short of time as possible and put their opponents in poor field position. The Giants should be able to hinder Zeke as they have in the past because they possess one of the best front sevens in the league and were very stingy when it came to rushing yards last season. Ultimately though due to the Giants’ offensive firepower and defensive strengths, I not only believe that they will cover the spread, but that they will win the game outright.

2. Carolina (+4.5) vs San Francisco

Although it is difficult to give points when you are on the road, I expect the Panthers to defeat the 49ers soundly during week one of the season. Last season, the Panthers had a down year, especially after going 15-1 during the regular season and reaching the Super Bowl. However, the Panthers still possess an impressive defense and Cam Newton remains the quarterback of the team. Newton had a relatively down year last season, but it was mostly due to the fact that he was frequently hit in the pocket and dealt with numerous nagging injuries throughout the season. This season, he has stated that he is already healthy and ready to wreak havoc on the league just as he had two years ago, when he was named NFL MVP. Along with Newton’s health the offense should be relatively dangerous because they maintained their core weapons, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, while adding do-it-all running back Christian McCafferty. In addition to the Panthers’ skill, the team will win comfortably because the 49ers are one of the worst teams in the NFL. Even though they had a quality draft, in which they drafted very good defensive players, their offense is non-existent because of their lack of playmakers and skill at the quarterback position. On defense, they are not much better as they lack the necessary star power and playmaking ability that once made them the best defense in the league. Take the Panthers and give the points.

3. Philadelphia vs. Washington (-2.5)

In another battle of NFC East foes, the Redskins will welcome the Eagles to FedEx Field for this week one match-up. Last season, the Redskins were able to defeat the Eagles twice, once at home by seven points and once on the road by five points. Outside of their wide receiving core, which lost two starters, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, the Redskins return most of the core pieces. In order to replace the duo, the Skins signed Terrell Pryor, who had a breakout year for the hopeless Browns last season, and Brian Quick, a tall and intimidating figure from the Los Angeles Rams. In addition, the offense kept stud tight end Jordan Reed and quality running backs, Samaje Perine, rookie, and Robert Kelley. Along with Kirk Cousins, the offense should not worry about scoring points, even against a defense that is as stingy as the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though the Eagles have an impressive defensive unit, maybe one of the best in the NFL, the Skins are not too shabby themselves, especially considering they possess stars such as Josh Norman, rookie, Jonathan Allen, Trent Murphy, Ryan Kerrigan, and DeAngelo Hall. This unit may not be the best, but they should be able to hold down the Philadelphia offense, which ranked toward the bottom half of the league last season. Take the Redskins and give the points.