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Warriors vs Cavaliers Preview: The champs return to the city where they were crowned

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Golden State heads to Cleveland for the first time since winning the title. Can the Dubs clean up their game to avoid a third loss in six days? Is this a must win game for the Cavs?

Draymond and Stephen sharing a moment during their last visit to Quicken Loans Arena.
Draymond and Stephen sharing a moment during their last visit to Quicken Loans Arena.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Matchup
Golden State Warriors
37-4 (18-4 ROAD)
vs
Cleveland Cavaliers
28-10 (15-1 HOME)
Details
January 18, 2016
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
5 pm PT
TNT | KNBR 680 AM
Blog Buddy: Fear the Sword
Projected Starters
Stephen Curry G Kyrie Irving
Klay Thompson G J.R. Smith
Harrison Barnes F LeBron James
Draymond Green F Kevin Love
Andrew Bogut C Timofey Mozgov
Key Injuries
James Michael McAdoo (doubtful)
None

★★★

The Warriors return to Quicken Loans Arena tonight for the first time since winning the NBA Championship in Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals. Perhaps the fond memories of their last visit will inspire the Warriors to a return to championship form after a dismal effort in Detroit on Saturday night, when the team shot a season low 37% from the field and recorded just 18 assists versus its average of nearly 29 per game this season. To get this one, the Dubs would be well served to stop forcing individual plays and instead adhere to the system of crisp passing, cutting, and teamwork that's responsible for the 2014-15 banner hanging at Oracle.

NBA fans are thrilled that injuries don't appear to be a factor in the second and final meeting of the regular season between these teams. Cleveland has won nine of its last ten games, with the loss coming in a close game in San Antonio - very respectable and an indication that they are playing well. While Kyrie Irving had only recently returned to the court for the Christmas Day game against the Warriors, he appears to be back to form now as the Cavs are rolling. Conversely, the Warriors have lost two of three games after enduring a stretch of injuries to several players in December and January, most notably the shin of Stephen Curry. But everyone for the Warriors is back today aside from James Michael McAdoo, who remains doubtful to play.

Since the stars for both teams are all reasonably healthy, our focus will turn to the lineups. The Cavs experimented recently with starting rebounder extraordinaire Tristan Thompson at center, but reversed course to put Mozgov back in the starting role versus the Rockets on Friday. Many Cavs fans will tell you that Thompson should be starting and playing more minutes than Mozgov and they're right. Thompson's energy is a huge asset and Mozgov has struggled this year to the point that Cleveland may be shopping him around the league. In battling for rebounds, Andrew Bogut will need to keep a body on Thompson and jump to meet the ball in the air rather than stand flat-footed, as he is prone to do.

As for the Warriors, Harrison Barnes returned to the starting lineup on Saturday night and performed horribly. He shot 2-for-11 and was blocked multiple times at the rim on drives to the basket. Hopefully Barnes just needs a little time to get back on track after his long absence while recovering from a sprained ankle, but he sure has taken a lot of shots on isolation plays over the past week. Barnes hasn't been the only person trying to do too much individually recently, which could partially explain the recent losses. As Tim Kawakami suggests in this conversation with Monte Poole, the best thing for the team right now could be the return of Steve Kerr to bring greater accountability to the players when they play outside of the system.

In that same conversation, Monte Poole suggests that this is a must-win game for the Cavs. The Warriors ripped the Cavs in the last three games of the Finals after going to the small lineup and beat them again in Oakland on Christmas. If the Cavs can't win this one at home, it has to do some damage to the team's confidence, especially since Cleveland doesn't have any injury excuses this time around. Meanwhile, the pressure is off of the Warriors since they're on Cleveland's home court, though they certainly don't want to lose a third game in six days with San Antonio hot on their trail in the standings.

The Cavs ought to be amped up for this one from the start. We'll see how Barnes does in trying to contain LeBron James to start the game and whether Bogut can keep Tristan Thompson off the glass. If all goes well, the bench will improve upon its recent efforts and the small ball death squad will make it clear that the champs still have a leg up on the runners up.