After nearly a year of subpar trash talk, useless MJ versus LeBron arguments, and an abundance of “3-1 lead” jokes, the two modern-day titans of the NBA are set to decide it all on the court, yet again. For the third year in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will face each other in the NBA Finals, becoming the first opponents to do so three consecutive years. Even for the biggest basketball purists and historians, this should still be considered a modern-day Celtics-Lakers. There is the absurd level of competition present, the two most talented teams in the game going at it, and frankly, these two teams don’t like each other, no matter how much most of the stars play it off.

The 2016-2017 NBA regular season was highlighted by incredible stat-stuffing numbers of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, yet LeBron had one of his best overall seasons statistically, and if KD stayed healthy, he would likely be in the MVP conversation as well. Yet, the two best players in the game have helped lead their respective teams to the final matchup, both without much competition within each conference. Alas, Cavaliers-Warriors: The Trilogy begins tonight, and there a few keys for the Cavaliers if they want to repeat as NBA champions, and show the world it’s not (all) about whoever can stockpile the most All-Stars on the court at a time.

LeBron James

It may sound too obvious, but the key to the Cleveland Cavaliers bringing home a set of championship hardware for a second consecutive season, is Ohio’s native son himself, LeBron James.

After “fans” badmouthed and disrespected James nearly seven years ago, he has risen back to the top of Cleveland’s hearts, both by his championship deliverance and behavior off the court as well. And at age 32, James has put together one of the best playoffs of his historic career, averaging nearly 33 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and a block in his 13 games of the 2016-2017 playoffs thus far, as Cleveland will need even more late-season heroics from the Akron native for them to pull off the “upset.”

Even as the Cavaliers are the defending champs, and the Warriors’ season wasn’t (quite) as historic as last year’s, James and Cleveland come in as the underdogs. LeBron is the best the NBA has seen since Jordan, and will now have to out duel Golden State’s all-star trio from last year’s 73-win team, as well as arguably the second best player of his era, in Kevin Durant. To do this, James will likely continue to play point-forward and spread the love, but like last year, cannot be afraid to drive and score himself to try to match the scoring juggernaut of Golden State.

Role players

LeBron and Cleveland have three All-Stars themselves, in James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, a threesome that is not new to scoring the ball. That being said, the role players for the Cavaliers will play a huge part in this series. For the defending champs to repeat, J.R. Smith must at least try to match Klay Thompson on both ends, and new additions like Deron Williams and Kyle Korver simply have to play their respective games, primarily hitting open shots on offense, and not being obvious liabilities on the defensive end.

However, the most important role player for the Cavaliers is their undersized but ferocious big man, Tristan Thompson.

In his short career so far, Thompson has already made himself a household name within the offensive rebounding and defensive aspects of the game, and his large contract speaks to that. With so many Warriors being able to score from just about anywhere on the floor, Thompson will have to continue to play big, as well as help on the defensive rotations as the anchor of the defense.

Thankfully for Cleveland, Golden State doesn’t really have a player that can match up well on Thompson, so at the bare minimum, TT should certainly get his money’s worth on the offensive glass. Defense comes naturally to the big man, but Thompson will have to be efficient on both ends for Cleveland to win this series.

 

Prediction

It will take another super-human effort from LeBron James, and maybe even a little luck, but the best player of our generation and his strong comrades will lead Cleveland to the championship for the second year in a row…Cleveland 4-3 Golden State.

 

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