5 on 5: 2016 NBA Finals Preview

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By Stefan Anderson and Jazmine August

The match we’ve all been anticipating. The clash of the two best teams and arguably players in the world. After a devastating Finals loss in 6 games, The Cavs find themselves back in position to snatch the trophy from the defending Champion Golden State Warriors. Let the games begin.

What are the respective teams’ advantages and disadvantages?

SA: For Cleveland, I believe their shooters like J.R. Smith, Channing Frye, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving gives the help that was desperately needed in last year’s finals. Knocking down 42% of their shots from the field allows the penetration of LeBron James keeps the Warriors defense honest.

On the other hand those same players are vulnerable on defense to the Warriors constant Pick and Roll matchups. Among the work 2-man lineups in the postseason, Cleveland has eight of the bottom ten two man lineups in point differential. As well their best lineup featuring Irving-Smith-James-Love and Thompson has a -8 point differential.

For the Warriors, their shooting and pace that led to them 73 wins and an astonishing 3-1 comeback over the Oklahoma City Thunder, is simply a nightmare for any team. The death lineup (Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Iguodala-Green) can be what propels them to consecutive championships or can derail their story book season. The lineup relies heavy on switching on everything, which end up with situations with Stephen Curry guarding Lebron James, which will force defenders to help and can cause havoc with Cleveland shooting just over 43% from behind the arc.

JA: The Warriors advantage is their ability to score faster than any team I’ve ever seen score in all my years of watching basketball. They have arguably the two best shooters in the league in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They move the ball so effortlessly. This advantage is both a gift and a curse. When the Warriors aren’t raining threes they look like a one-trick pony. Their lack of versatility is what makes them most vulnerable.

What supporting cast is more important the team’s success? Why?

SA: Cleveland supporting cast is needed more, especially when Golden State bench’s is +14 in points per game. So if Klay, Draymond or even Barnes has a bad game someone off of their deep bench can find a way to replace some of that scoring. But Cleveland is complete a different team if Irving and Love do not show up for the Cavs. In games that Cleveland lost this season, the two combined for +31.8 +/- in wins and -28.7 in losses.

JA: The Cavs hands down. Without a good to great performance from the likes of JR Smith, Channing Frye and Tristan Thompson, it will be nearly impossible to succeed against the Warriors.

Who’s the X-Factor in the series for each team?

SA: For Cleveland it has to be Kevin Love, he will be needed to help spread the floor allow Irving and James the driving lanes needed to attack the Dubs best players on the defensive end. Also, Love will be forced to play center if Cleveland decides to downsize and matchup with GS’s Death Lineup. The UCLA product is notoriously known his lackluster defense and has been criticized for his awareness of the moment but has come alive if Cleveland has a chance of securing their franchises first title.

For Golden State, Harrison Barnes has to play a large role. Whether he has to come off the bench or start, his minutes are valuable. When Barnes gives effective minutes when he’s knocking down his shot from behind the arc and crashing the glass, the Warriors are a different team shooting 40% from 3 and at least a 45% percent of grabbing rebounds. In a game where each possession will be critical, Barnes has to prove he is worth a max contract worthy in the 2016 Finals.

JA: The X-Factor for the Cavs is a tie to me between K. Love and Lebron James. If Kevin Love can average somewhere between 18-20 pts a game, he will make a huge impact on his team’s success. Andre Igoudala is an X-Factor once again for the Warriors. The Finals MVP ability to contain James and limit his effectiveness in the paint could alter the game for the Warriors.

A Championship means more to what team? Why?

SA: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since his arrival two seasons ago, he left his empire on South Beach to bring the championship to hometown. To lose three straight finals and drop to a 29 % finals winning percentage will not tarnish the King’s legacy but will haunt him for forever. Ultimately, it will lead to another unwanted exit from the Land.

JA: I think both teams are hungry and motivated by different factors. However, I believe a championship is more important to Cleveland. If the Cavaliers are able to overcome the GSW, they will have ended a 50 year drought of championships in the city of Cleveland and will adjust the crown atop LeBron’s head as the King of the league.

We both agree that Warriors and Cavs have two different styles of play. Which teams style hurts the opposing team more?

SA: “We’re not going to slow the ball down and be at ease. We’re going to push the pace, try to get easy baskets early in transition but make sure we’re taking good shots.” said Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue.  Cleveland’s ability to dictate the pace of the game put them ahead 2-1 in GSW-CLE Part I, but ultimately they birthed the Death Ball lineup, where Golden State’s overwhelmed them. Cleveland trying to downsizing and playing into a shootout will ultimately take them out again this year. Therefore the Cavs have to own the pace in order have a chance to overthrow the defending champs.

JA: Throughout the course of the playoffs the Cavaliers have been able to beat opponents both with their 3pt shooting and their ability to get points in the paint from there leading scorers. If both facets of the Cavs game is clicking they are virtually unbeatable.

Overall Prediction:

SA: I am going with the Warriors in 7 tough fought games. The reason why in the past two seasons, there was six teams defeat the Warriors at the Oracle Arena, Cleveland happens to be one of those teams. So they have the ability to do so again and Golden State went to Cleveland closed the Cavs, so they both know how to win on each other floors. But I know that either team wants to be closed out on their home floor, which would lead to epic game 7. But the Warriors are 12-1 following a loss which propel to the conclusion their magical season.

JA: I think this series will make up for the lack of competitive games outside of The Thunder and GSW series and moments of the Portland/GSW series. I see no huge blowouts. These teams are pretty evenly matched. From star power to scoring ability this should be a high scoring, intense and emotional series. I believe that Lebron will play his best basketball in this series and the of murmurs “he is now #2 to Chef Curry?” will be silenced. Kyrie will be consistent, closing the games when needed and Kevin Love will give the Cavs solid games. Look for Channing Frye or J.R. To have a big game as well. The drought will be over Cleveland. Cavs in 6.

Jazmine August is a Starting Point alum and now has ventured on to her own self titled site, http://www.IamJazAugust.com and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @IamJazAugust.

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Living in the Moment

By Stefan Anderson

The NBA is such a fickle league and often we caught up in the moment instead of taking  it for what it is. While being a prisoner of the moment, we are now succumbed to question greatness of the 2015 finalists, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and now are forced to decipher which team is better respectively.

It all starts with the teams superstars, Stephen Curry and LeBron James. After Curry was awarded the first ever unanimous MVP award, the uproar began on why he deserve such prestige as if he didn’t improve after earning the award last season. The Warriors star also improved to career-highs in scoring, steals, FG and 3-PT percentage, while leading the Golden State to the best record in NBA history.

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But now the question is being posed about how James is still the best player in the association. I agree that Lebron James is still the premier talent of the NBA but the league currently belongs to Stephen Curry regardless of the situation. It is reminiscent of when Steve Nash conquered two consecutive MVP titles and Kobe Bryant was the best talent in NBA.

Now that both teams are in the Conference Finals and inching towards a finals rematch that not only James would love to see, but we would all like to see. As the Warriors are currently in a gridlock series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland is now ahead 2-0 over the Toronto Raptors, gearing towards a sweep to finals.

Cleveland having an easier route to the finals, is discrediting what they have done thus far. To win 10 games in a regular season is impressive. To win 10 straight in the postseason, is out right astonishing. The Cavs only finished one game ahead of Toronto in the regular season, but in the postseason they are in another stratosphere. That is because Cleveland has excelled their play to another level by improving defensively and offensively beating opponents but 13 points, while shooting 45 % from 3 and 49% from the field.

Golden State has faced great competition facing four of the top 20 stars in the NBA and the 3rd and 4th highest playoff scoring offenses in their three series. Despite the competition, the Warriors are beating opponents by 11 points. It is hard for the Warriors reaching further than 73 wins, but they continue amaze spectators, while missing Curry for several games.

Regardless of who is better and who has played who and who is better, we’re on the brink of witnessing two great teams at full strength rematch for the Larry O’Brien. No disrespect to the Thunder or Raptors but let’s not live in the present and head to the NBA Finals we’ve waiting on since last June.

Ok, Now What

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By Stefan Anderson

Coming off an impressive win against the Los Angeles Clippers and showing signs of the alpha dog in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to make a huge change mid-season. After winning 10 of their last 12 games, only losing to the two best teams in the NBA, the Spurs and the Warriors, the axe has come down former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt.

Blatt, had to face the news of his firing on his day off, in what seemed to be the coming for a long time. Monday evening’s 132-98 massacre with Golden State might have been the last stop on the Blatt train but is one that doesn’t seem as farfetched.

From blatant disrespect from the league’s premier star and Cleveland’s prize possession Lebron James, after subbing himself mid-game during a match with Atlanta, calling his own audible on set plays and most recently sitting in Blatt’s chair on the bench, the message was clear that whatever the king says goes.

Although he coached Cleveland to a finals matchup with Golden State even capturing two game with a diminished roster to choose from. To then returning to having the best record in the East sitting 30-11, was still not enough to satisfy King James.

But this is very similar a former star who James’ game emulates after, Magic Johnson.

Johnson grew frustrated with his head coach at the time Paul Westhead during the 1981 season, similar to James, Magic also had his franchise in his palms and ultimately had Westhead removed from his position.

Luckily for the Lakers, there was an assistant by the name of Pat Riley, who stepped in and carried the torch to what we know now as the “Showtime” Lakers. Tyron Lue, will now step in as Cleveland head after five years of being an assistant for Boston, Los Angeles and Cleveland to help restore faith for the Cavs. Lue, as a player was coached by Phil Jackson and is under the coaching tree of former Celtics and current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, and has the knowledge that can help lead the Cavs to the promise land.

The promise land won’t easy for the Land.

The Cavs have bigger fish to fry. Cleveland although remain on top of the East will have to win against either San Antonio or Golden State to win a championship. With the inconsistency of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love it will be a tough feat. The huge difference between Cleveland and the other top tier teams is depth and bench production.

San Antonio is 1st in bench efficiency; Golden State is 3rd and Cleveland ranks 24th, with the bench only accounting for 28.2 points a game. The Cavs will need the supporting cast step up or find pieces to help bolster their bench. Irving has missed 42 games over the past 3 season and has yet to play a full 82-game season in his short career, Love is currently battling an “undisclosed” injury, Iman Shumpert has only appeared in 19 games and Mo Williams has not played effective minutes in months. Once again, leaving the load on James to carry Cleveland once again.

Lue can be the solution for Cleveland, but their roster has to make some important changes that can that make sense of the 109 million dollar payroll. The overall goal has to be restore the relationships lost with Blatt and make your superstar, Lebron James, job a lot easier.

 

Watch The Throne

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By Stefan Anderson

June 16th caused a major shift in the balance of power for the NBA. The Golden State Warriors captured their first title in 40 years and the Cleveland Cavaliers still have that bitter taste of the finals loss.

Today on Christmas, we will finally get see the unanswered questions.

What if Cleveland had their big three? Would Stephen Curry be able to attack Kyrie Irving and make him look inadequate like the other guards he faced in the postseason? So many questions and now we finally get our answers today.

The most important question, has Lebron James’s crown been taken by Stephen Curry?

This is reminiscent of few years ago when Kobe Bryant was the alpha dog and an emerging Lebron James was coming to heir the throne and had to face off against him on Christmas day. James was 3-0 versus Bryant and ultimately took the NBA by storm. This win could be important for Curry as he puts his exclamation mark that he is the best player in the league.

Curry, fresh off his first championship and MVP award has shown no signs of slowing down and is playing at even higher level than the previous season. “Chef Curry” has seen a spike in each category other than assists and free throw percentage and his team is right along with him at astonishing 27-1 record.

But while Warriors are on a remarkable run, the balance of power in conferences has shifted as well. With the Eastern Conference being known as the weaker conference, we have seen more teams in the East improve as the 9th best team in the East, Boston, has same record as the 3rd best record in the West, the Clippers.

But as the East has gotten better, Cleveland still remains the best team in the conference and King James and Co, are headed back to full strength with the return of Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams and have to show that are just as superior as the Warriors.

The Warriors 1st ranked pace could be damaging for the Cavs 28th ranked pace, but it could also hurt Golden State as well. Unlike Golden State who has 13.5 point differential are not used to playing close like Cleveland. Cleveland has played in 8 games with the score was decided by 5 or less unlike Golden State that only played in four games.

But it will not be easy as King James is “Mr.Christmas”, averaging 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds and seven wins in his nine holiday appearances.

This will be an interesting matchup and will serve as an evaluation for the rest of the NBA to see who the real powerhouse team is.

My Bold Predictions for the 2015-16 NBA Season

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors

By Stefan Anderson

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, the countdown is finally over and the 2015-16 NBA season is here. Who’s going win it all? Who wins the MVP? Who stands out? I am here to give my Bold predictions for the 2015-16 season.

Golden State will not repeat: For the Warriors to repeat their success from last season would as easy as catching lightning in the bottle twice. Not to say that the Dubs won’t have a good season in 2015-16 campaign but I do not foresee the same luck they received last season. Golden State started the season winning their first 16 games, finishing 67-15 and only losing back to back once in the postseason. Crazy, when you really think how hard that will be to ditto. Doing so they would have to defeat one if not all the supreme teams in the West that includes the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.

The next Draymond Green? Not skill wise but the in the context of a role player that makes a statement for his self. In the 2015 season, I have to put Washington’s Otto Porter and Indiana’s C.J. Miles in that category. With both of their rosters transitioning into faster pace offense, look for these two wings to transform off of the changes in offense and the increase of minutes.

MVP: For the MVP, I would like to see a player like Anthony Davis win the award, but the New Orleans star has yet to play an entire 82 games in a season. Therefore, with the additional talent surrounding him, Chris Paul will finally earn his first MVP award to solidify his legacy. My dark horse candidates will be Kevin Durant and Paul George, with both forwards coming back off grueling injuries and have a lot vengeance in their games.

Can LeBron continue to his reign? We ask this question each year and get the same results, so yes LeBron James will continue to be the best player in the NBA. Playing in nearly 100 games for the past four seasons, James has consistently played at the same level, averaging around 28/8/7 each season. With the bitter taste of losing his second consecutive finals, a hungry LeBron will be back this season, I expect him to be amongst that MVP conversation this year.

First Timers: Magic guard Victor Oladipo, Detroit Center Andre Drummond and LA Clipper Center DeAndre Jordan will all make their first all-star appearances this year. Jordan after signing his major contract this season will have to prove his worth. Oladipo rejoining the young core that Magic have kept together will burst into the teams true leader. Drummond will now be a priority with the departure of F/C Greg Monroe and Coach Stan Van Gundy’s 4 out and 1 in system he favors.

Defensive Player of Year: DeAndre Jordan believed he was snubbed out of last year’s DPOY award. In the 2015-16, DJ will claim the award at the season finale. Despite his free-throw woes, Jordan is still one of the best defenders in the league and will have another chance to prove his ability as an anchor as he did last season, when he lead the league in defensive win shares.

Most likely to beat Cleveland in the East: Many will say Chicago; I’ve got Miami being the team to dethrone King James and Co. The Heat will be able to counter Cleveland in all positions, with a lineup of Gorgan Dragic, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. They also have a deeper bench and that player who can take over and win games for you in Dwayne Wade, unlike the Bulls. This pick is safe as long the Heat roster can stay healthy.

Most likely to beat Golden State in the West: OKC? LA? Houston? I’m going with the Spurs. San Antonio, always seems to find way to stay in the mix, now they are even deeper with the additions of David West and Lamarcus Aldridge. You’ve seen Memphis size give some issues to Golden State in the 2nd round of the 2015 playoffs , but the Grizzlies struggle with perimeter shootingand the Spurs do not lack in that department. I think they can force Golden State to play their tempo and have solid post players that can give Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut problems in the paint.

Missing the party: Brooklyn, Boston, Dallas and Portland were all playoff teams last season, however, this season will not be attending the postseason this year. These teams did not improve their rosters and have some questions going into the 2015-16 year. Portland losing nearly their entire starting 5 except for Damian Lillard, will have to depend on the young guard to lead them to promise land. Brooklyn, if Brook Lopez cannot stay healthy will have too much of a load for Joe Johnson to carry. Boston, has a good team similar to Dallas will have fight the teams on the cusp and doesn’t possess the talent to do so.

Joining the party:  Entering the playoffs this season will be Miami, Indiana and possibly Charlotte from the Eastern conference. In the West, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and I have a strange feeling about Sacramento being good this season (*Warning: this might be a reach*).

Finals Prediction: San Antonio vs Cleveland, Spurs in 6.

Defying The Odds

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By Stefan Anderson

The Golden State Warriors have completed the storybook nostalgic season with their 105 – 97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday evening. The Warriors completed the route to exceeding the doubter’s expectations that were set prior the season’s tip-off.

Defying the odds, would have to be the mantra for the Dubs and a true testament to the 2015 season.

An undersized, hardly scouted point guard, who transformed into the league’s shining star, and not to mention the Most Valuable Player, ended up leading a team into the promise land.

But it wasn’t just Stephen Curry but it was a group of unpredictable players that combined to make the league’s best team.

It was Curry’s running mate, Klay Thompson, who was used to replace to the franchise’s once prized possession in Monta Ellis. The untapped potential in Harrison Barnes that sometimes was a head scratcher and the DPOY candidate who speculators couldn’t imagine as a starting forward in NBA.

But not only the young talent that starred but it was a redemption story for many of the veteran’s on Golden State’s team.

Starting with the former #1 overall pick, who found himself settling into a role player/defensive anchor. Then witnessing the bench star a former All-Stars, Olympic Gold Medalist, and 6th Man of the Year in Barbosa, Lee and Iguodala, who all had to scratch for minutes at different parts of the season. And then there is a guy who seen his once promising career, who witnessed his career  come crashing down in a matter of seconds, finding himself a role player amongst a championship roster.

You put all of those intangibles into a rookie head coach, who was a part of the Bulls dynasty and even won a championship under the tutelage of Spurs as well. Steve Kerr, who never had coaching experience, but was under management in tenure with the Phoenix Suns, that helped bring the NBA a form of basketball that would revolutionize the game forever.

Although the Suns were a great site to see and great team for many years of the past decade, their style of play was always stigmatized due to the fact, they didn’t have enough of “this” or enough of “that”. But in his first year, Kerr was able to use the style of his play that was used in desert and revive it in the Bay Area.

Throughout the season, the naysayers would criticize the league’s best team often proclaiming “they couldn’t win a championship playing small ball”, but Kerr and the Warriors were on a rampage to start to start the season and continue prove all those who questioned wrong as they continued tally up win after win after win.

To quote the great Kevin Garnett “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” and with the right amount of talent and chemistry, the best teams always find a way to complete the season with the Larry O’Brien trophy.  The Warriors proved that one player cannot win a championship its self, and that it takes a great supporting cast to make it happen. On the nights where Curry was unable to explode, there were games where others like Green, Barnes and Iguodala were able to make their impact and that’s what great teams do.

A huge amount of respect is due to “the best basketball player on the planet”, LeBron James, on what he was able to accomplish on the Finals in his homecoming to Cleveland.

Despite the injuries and inefficiency of his teammates, James was able to shoulder the load and carry Cleveland to compete for every contest.  35, 8 and 13 are astronomical numbers for any player gathering the minutes James did and just makes his trip to Miami look even more valid.

Although, Curry was on the prowl of becoming the league next shining star, The King still remains supreme as the off season is set to begin and he has the option of becoming a free agent and will have the league at his heels once again.

With The Title on The Line

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By Stefan Anderson

Injuries, crowd silencing performances, legendary stat lines, and breakout games have all been a part of the rollercoaster of we call the 2015 NBA Finals and in a crucial game 5 the outcome will make the series even more remarkable.

Some question that reign over the heads as prepare for Game 5:

First will be whether MVP Stephen Curry searches for a way out of his shooting slump.  Curry shot well under his postseason average from the field as well as from behind the arc. Curry is shooting 39 percent from three and 42 percent from the field but he has yet to have a breakout game that we have the MVP provided previously. With the title on the line in Game 5, is the moment too big for Curry or will he rise to the occasion?

Who is going to be the supporting role for Lebron James? “The Chosen One” as we know him has been an unbelievable series posting 35 ppg, 8 apg, and 12 rpg throughout the 2015 NBA Finals. James has logged a staggering 183 minutes in the four games while performing while performing on such a high level is impressive but will become strenuous to sustain if he cannot receive support from other Cavaliers.  We seen the impact the front court players like Mozgov and Thompson but what happened to the backcourt players like J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and James Jones, we seen how impactful the 20 point performance was from Matthew Dellavedova.  Who will help shoulder the load on James and make the Cavs propel themselves to a championship ?

How will David Blatt respond to Steve Kerr’s small lineup? Will we see Blatt downsize or depend on his veteran’s similar to Kerr?  I do believe that Blatt will find a way to downsize but for not for long because they cannot go without the size of Mozgov and Thompson unlike Bogut who took the Warriors away from their style of high pace, motion offense which the 7-footer made stagnant.  The Cavs have players like Miller, Perkins and Shawn Marion who all have championship experience. If Blatt were to use any of his veteran role players, I would like to see Shawn Marion, because Marion could bring the perfect size and speed for Cleveland if they do choose to downsize and play small ball with the Warriors. Marion may not possess the same offensive skill he once showcased in Dallas or in Phoenix but can definitely give positive minutes similar to his Suns teammate Leandro Barbosa who has been +18 in his brief appearances this series.

Since 1985, 11 NBA Finals have been tied up at 2-2. The winner of Game 5 went on to win the series in seven of those 11 games. With those stats I will give the edge to the Warriors in tonight’s game which will force a wild game 6 back in the Q, where James and Co. will prevail and force a wild game 7 in which he will be awarded an legendary 3rd championship in an impressive 5 years.