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Warriors vs. Cavs NBA Finals predictions: Why Golden State will overcome LeBron James to beat Cleveland

The SB Nation national team asked GSoM a set of questions to add insight to the NBA Finals coverage. We used those same questions as the basis for a roundtable preview of the series.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I'm still struggling to process the words I'm about to type: the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals tonight.

So either this is actually happening or I'm going to wake up from a dream to face a disappointing reality pretty soon.

We've typed quite a few words during the course of this week to get you ready for the Finals series, but today we wrap it all up with our final thoughts and predictions. Later on, we'll be posting a prediction from SB Nation's Cavs site Fear the Sword as well.

Our ever-changing panel for this round of predictions:

  • Andy Liu
  • Apricot
  • Arno Ferguson
  • Atma Brother ONE
  • Conrad Chow
  • Jared Stearne
  • Sam Sorkin

Once again, this got so long as is that I opted out, but I'll include my prediction at the end for good measure.

1. What do you think is your team's biggest advantage in this series?

Andy Liu: Stephen Curry. It's the easiest and most obvious answer but quite honestly, the best one. The Cleveland Cavaliers have no one to throw on him in PNR switch or isolation situations. Unless Matthew Delledova runs into his ankles or Iman Shumpert gets even lengthier, I don't see how the Cavs can keep up with Curry enough during his handle like a Mike Conley Jr. LeBron James will certainly have his time on him and that might be the difference in crunchtime, and the series.

Apricot: There are the usual strengths of Riley's dad, defensive depth and strong coaching combined with high IQ players who have bought into the system. Particular to CLE, the Warriors offense is built on off-ball movement and screening, and key cogs J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving are poor off-ball defenders. Expect whomever they are defending to get the ball off screens and cuts.

Arno Ferguson: The Western Conference. Compared to their playoff opponents thus far, the Cavaliers do not seem like a huge jump up. Facing the Spurs or Clippers (or Grizzlies/Rockets again) could almost be more intimidating. For Cleveland, the Warriors should shock the system after their sweep of the hobbled Hawks.

Atma Brother ONE: Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 are at the Roaracle where the Warriors are 45-3 this season. The Roaracle faithful will make this the biggest advantage the Warriors have in this series.

Conrad Chow: Roster versatility is the Warriors' biggest advantage. Golden State is blessed with a bevy of well-rounded players who can score, make plays, and defend. With multiple capable defenders, the Warriors' can give LeBron James different looks and minimize the use of a double-team.

Jared Stearne: Depth is the key to this series. For a Cavs team hobbled by injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, Golden State's clean(er) bill of health must look awfully unfair. If the Warriors push the pace, and keep moving the ball like they should, it's unlikely an already-taxed Cavs team will be able to keep up.

Sam Sorkin: The Warriors' biggest advantage is depth and health. While Cleveland, hampered by injuries, will be without Kevin Love until next season and won't have Kyrie Irving at full strength, the Warriors will have their core (barring an unforeseen setback in Klay Thompson's recovery) completely healthy. Furthermore, Golden State's bench is arguably the best in the league, and allows the team to play an up-tempo style that will exhaust a taxed Cavaliers squad.

2. What do you think is your team's biggest disadvantage in this series?

Andy Liu: When LeBron James becomes Peak LeBron James. There isn't necessarily a strategic move I see David Blatt making that punishes the Warriors in any manner. The Warriors can play big against their guy and go small against a James-at-power forward lineup. But if James gets Draymond Green in foul trouble, rains 3s regressing from a 15 percent rate in the postseason, the Warriors will have huge issues.

Apricot: Not having LeBron. At this stage of his health and career, LeBron has become the ultimate X-Factor. If LeBron's outside shot starts falling, he can't be stopped. CLE also has baby X-Factors of J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving who are both capable of getting hot from 3. And the coach is an X-Factor too: expect creative ideas and adjustments from David Blatt, an outstanding technical coach, but it's anyone's guess how much the CLE players will agree to follow the plan.

Arno Ferguson: LeBron James. Even though the Dubs may be one of the best-prepared teams to slow him down (#1 Defense, Draymond, Barnes, Iguodala), he can potentially send some of those key defenders to the bench with foul trouble. Then he can strategically exploit weaknesses with his versatility, and may draw double teams against smaller defenders in the post, kicking out to the 3-pt line to get his teammates going. Let's pray his midrange doesn't start falling.

Atma Brother ONE: LeBron James is on the other team. In the playoffs he's *only* averaging 27.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 8.3 apt, 1.3 blk, and 1.8 spg. (The GSOM team appointed me Captain Obvious in case you were wondering.)

Conrad Chow: Led by James, the Cavaliers have various players with Finals experience while none of the Warriors have ever tasted the championship round. James alone has made five Finals appearances and knows what it takes to win an NBA title.

Jared Stearne: Defensive rebounding. The Cavs attack their offensive glass like animals, and the Warriors have been merely decent on that end in 2015. Whether they camp out under the hoop to challenge Cleveland, or continue to leak out in search of transition opportunities may be the biggest strategic decision of the series for coach Kerr.

Sam Sorkin: The Warriors don't have many disadvantages in this series, but I'll go with being turnover-prone. All season, the Warriors have struggled with committing turnovers, and LeBron's overall defensive intensity, combined with the scrappiness of Matthew Dellavedova and the length of Tristan Thompson might swing a few key possessions Cleveland's way. Golden State has to be sharp as nails on the offensive end. If they aren't, it could cost them a game or two.

3. Which player needs to step his game up most for your team to win?

Andy Liu: Klay Thompson has been shooting well from 3 but has looked lost in his shot selection and even in off-ball defense. He was locked up by Tony Allen then fell victim to Trevor Ariza. The Warriors haven't needed him much on that end yet but if J.R. Smith is going off, the Dubs will need their own version of that to resurface now.

Apricot: Barnes and Iguodala will both probably have to cover LeBron, and also provide enough offensive power to punish the Cavs for hiding JR Smith or Kyrie on one of them. Bogut and Green will have to stay out of foul trouble while containing the excellent CLE offensive rebounding. I also expect CLE to take the ball out of Curry's hands, so Green will get his chances as a release valve, and he needs to make the right pass to the open man or mismatch.

Arno Ferguson: Harrison Barnes. ‘Step up his game' might not be the most appropriate here, since he has been ruthlessly effective lately. But he hasn't had to guard anyone remotely as difficult as LeBron, and he could see a big chunk of time on the King. Will he be able to deny some LeBron post-ups? Can he avoid foul trouble? Will he have enough left in the tank to stretch the floor with his corner 3's and Black Falcon his way to the hoop?

Atma Brother ONE: The NBA Finals are where hoops legends are made. Stephen Curry got next and will be the NBA Finals MVP. Expect NBA Finals 3pt records to be shattered and beautiful highlight clips.

Conrad Chow: Whoever guarding James is going to have to step up and slow him down. LeBron James missed the first regular season meeting between these two teams but dropped 42 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in the Cavs' February victory over the Dubs. The Warriors' preference would be avoid the double-team but instead throw a mix of defenders in which they can easily switch on pick-and-rolls.

Jared Stearne: This one is easy: whoever has to guard LeBron. The Warriors are certain to use a defense by committee approach to the star forward, and may send more than a few double teams his way. But whatever the Warriors do, they hope Barnes, Green, Iguodala and others are able to at least slow down King James a tiny bit, without fouling out.

Sam Sorkin: Draymond Green, who has been the "heartbeat" for this Warriors team all season. He needs to give everything for one more series. The Warriors will stick him on LeBron James, and have him battle the energetic Thompson for rebounds on the defensive end -- perhaps in the same possession; oh, and he's got to stay out of foul trouble. If Green is hitting shots, trash-talking, and playing excellent defense on LeBron, I can't see how the Warriors lose.

4. What is your series prediction and why?

Andy Liu: Warriors in 5. Whatever the Cavaliers can do, the Warriors can do better. The Warriors can adjust to any style and even force the Cavs to play in ways that they haven't the entire season. The offense the Cavs run is so 1990s that unless James plays like Michael Jordan, James, and Magic Johnson combined, there's little chance they can force the Warriors away from their comfort zone 4 times out of 7.

Apricot: I believe if both teams play an average game, the Warriors will win. All season long, the W's offense and defense have been elite, and the Cavs have only had an elite offense. (All bets are off if Dellavadova injures a Warrior.)

CLE needs two or more of these following conditions to win a game: Warriors go cold from 3, Bogut or Green are out with foul trouble, LeBron hits jumpers efficiently, Kyrie or J.R. Smith has a tremendous scoring game from 3, CLE converts many W's turnovers into easy fast break scores or CLE converts a huge number of offensive rebounds into second chance points.

I don't see this happening four times out of seven, so I see the W's winning the series.

Arno Ferguson: Warriors in 5. Hard for me to go against my statistical gut on this one; constructing game-by-game win percentages to make any other outcome more likely is challenging. The Cavaliers could easily win in Oakland, but it's also not that far-fetched that the Warriors take two in Cleveland. I hope the Warriors take it in 7.

Atma Brother ONE: Warriors in 6. The Cavs won the Leastern Conference. Big deal. The Warriors won the Western Conference. Big deal (no sarcasm). LeBron is amazing enough to get 2 wins himself, but not 4 wins.

Conrad Chow: Even without championship experience, the Warriors are the favorites and rightfully so. Kyrie Irving will probably not be 100% and the Warriors' depth is overwhelming with Klay Thompson officially cleared and Marresse Speights back in the fold. Having come this far, Golden State has relied on a steady defense and an efficient motion offense. Additionally, Steve Kerr and his staff have done a sound job making game-to-game adjustments and the team has never wavered during this title run. Warriors in six.

Jared Stearne: Warriors in 6. Kyrie and JR Smith are capable of swinging a game all by themselves, and despite a short rotation, the Cavs don't have many glaring holes. But that lack of depth will wear on Cleveland and cost them late in games. Additionally, Kyrie's knee injury, which still isn't 100%, could make him a defensive liability in switch situations. I just can't see him fighting through three screens to chase Klay or Curry, right now.

Sam Sorkin: Warriors in six games. The Warriors are better-equipped to defend LeBron James than the Cavaliers are to defend Stephen Curry, without sacrificing much on the defensive end. They haven't lost four-in-seven all season, are healthy, deeper than the Cavs, and have home-court advantage -- just three teams have beaten the Warriors at Oracle Arena this season. Golden State has been the best team in the NBA essentially from Opening Night; I think they finish the job decisively against an undermanned Cleveland team.

Nate P.: While I agree with Apricot that I don't see everything going right for Cleveland four times in this series, I also agree with Atma that LeBron James is capable of winning two games by himself. That makes the pick pretty easy on paper: Warriors in six. I'm tempted to say Warriors in seven because I just can't imagine LeBron dropping an elimination game in Cleveland this season...but that's really not supported by much of anything.

For more on the championship series, check out our NBA Finals section.

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